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  1. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    Barely Unreliable Narrators

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by John Calligan, Jan 25, 2019.

    These are the first three sentences of a WIP:


    Objectively in my mind as the writer, this is the statue:



    [​IMG]

    Just a plain old boring old statue of Demeter. It didn't move. It wasn't made for him. The POV character see's it this way because of his feelings about the goddess.

    So, is this an unreliable narrator? If no other contrasting description of the statue is given, does the text supersede the author's idea about the statue? Can a single POV character give an unreliable description of something if that description is never challenged in the text? Can the author die?
     
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'm not seeing the unreliable part. Do you mean "as if to keep them from me and mine"? To me, that's not an unreliable narrator; the "as if" makes it clear that it's the opinion of the narrator. To me, 'unreliable' means that you can't tell that it's their opinion.
     
  3. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    ...or that the narrator flat-out lies or withholds important information. That the narrator is poetic and prone to simile or metaphor is not something I would put under the umbrella of unreliable.
     
  4. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I was thinking more of the word "clutching," since it gives me a certain idea about the statue.
     
  5. Lilith Fairen

    Lilith Fairen Member

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    This is entirely bog-standard writing and has nothing to do with "reliability" of the narrator.
     
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  6. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I had to look up "bog standard," and I am like, just so fucking happy to have someone call a thing I wrote "bog standard" instead of all the other things it is normally called lol.
     
  7. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I still think that's well within normal narrator interpretation of reality, rather than unreliable narrator.
     
  8. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I guess that's the spectrum I'm not clear on. At what point does the window the narrator sees reality through become colored enough that he is no longer reliable?

    Or does "unreliable" only refer to narrators intentionally deceiving the reader?
     
  9. BayView

    BayView Not even a little tender Contributor

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    I don't think the deceit has to be intentional, but I think it has to be substantial.

    We're pretty used to narrative being flavoured with the POV of the narrator; I think you need to go beyond flavour.
     
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  10. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think a writer has to be TOO concerned about whether their narrator is 'reliable' or not. Reliability/unreliability is more a study/review issue than a writing issue—like naming 'theme,' etc.

    The writer just narrates a story, through a character's POV. I reckon it's up to the readers to determine whether the narrator's thoughts and feelings and perspective should be taken at face value.

    Of course it's fun for a writer to deliberately create an unreliable character for story purposes. But I wouldn't worry too much if your reliable character says flowery things or exaggerates. (That's different from an out-and-out lie or deliberate omission.) Colourfulness is just human nature.
     
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  11. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    In one of my early attempts at a novel, I wrote (in 1st person) about someone who had suffered a grievous loss in his teen years, a close friend with whose sister my mc was in love, and who was sent away shortly after her brother died. One of the subplots was of a young man trying to find his father many years later and turning to my mc for help. The twist is that the young man is my mc's son. But the only way to make it a twist was to hide the fact that he and the girl had slept together, which I really couldn't do in my usually-preferred 3rd limited (several years ago, Tom Rachman got taken to task in a review because a POV character had withheld a key fact in her life until the end, even though she was aware of it all along). So, I used 1st person, with the idea that my mc was so traumatized over losing the love of his life at such a tender age that he blocked her memory from his conscious mind.

    I think that is an example of an unreliable narrator.
     
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  12. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

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    There is a world of difference between allusions/metaphor and deception. The narrator would be unreliable if they made a more factual claim that turned out not to be true, like calling a real person a statue when the narrator is not using a figure of speech. Metaphorical language doesn't count.
     
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  13. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think an unreliable narrator has a need to tell the story in such a way. The presentation of the events is slightly off and the reader should be able to pick up on this even if the narrator is lying to himself or herself.
     
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  14. J.D. Ray

    J.D. Ray Member Supporter

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    Several of Daniel Keys Moran's novels rely on the perspective of a godlike character, "Name Storyteller", who tells you right up front he's a liar. Periodically throughout the text, he'll say things like, "When I told you that bit about that one thing, I was lying. I lied because it was convenient at the time, and here I tell you something that contradicts it." The reader may or may not figure out whether the contradictory thing is a lie as well. It establishes a sense of "meta-mystery" in the story.
     
  15. renkay

    renkay Banned

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    Your novel looks interesting. Recently i was interested in writing own stories, but i need to improve my grammar skills. Studying was funny and interesting. Btw I was not so big expert in writing thesis and essays at school. So, I used some help with writing them.
     

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