1. prettyvisitors

    prettyvisitors New Member

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    unreliable narrators

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by prettyvisitors, Sep 15, 2018.

    Seeing as my protagonist is rather immature and has some delusions of grandeur, for me it makes perfect sense for the story to be written through first person and present tense to hear their train of thought throughout the story.

    I like the idea, present in novels such as Catcher in the Rye or American Psycho, of an unreliable narrator that presents the plot in a way that adheres to their own mindset.

    The trouble with this is how to present the story, such as the character's flaws and how others perceive the narrator (I think my character will be rather weird looking and will annoy others), without the narration overshadowing that. Any tips?
     
  2. DeeDee

    DeeDee Senior Member

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    First person narration from a colorful character will always overshadow everything. Did you mean foreshadow?What exactly do you mean "overshadowing"?

    Character flaws will be visible to the reader based on what the character does, says etc. How others perceive the narrator can only be shown via the way the narrator thinks they think of him, you know what I mean? A bit of Pride and Prejudice thing where someone may think something but they are wrong because it's just their impression of what the other person thinks not what the other person thinks in fact.
     
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  3. prettyvisitors

    prettyvisitors New Member

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    no i mean overshadowed. for example, if my character was talking about how charming they are and how much everyone loves them, I would want to somehow convey this wasn't actually true despite what the narrator says.
     
  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I think that that’s a large part of the skill of an unreliable narrator POV. I’m sure you’ve seen it in real life. The person who assured you that everyone agrees with them, while you nod and privately assume that everyone, like you, just nods to shut them up. The person who one minute talks about how charming they are and the next minute complains about how everyone treats them badly out of jealousy.
     
  5. fjm3eyes

    fjm3eyes Member

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    how do you define Unreliable Narrator?
     
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  6. Siberian

    Siberian Member

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    In a situation like this it's all about picking up on the other character's micro expression when they interact with the MC. For example someone like that in real life may not be as sensitive to other people's gestures that make it abundantly clear they are annoyed or irritated. Maybe the MC doesn't pick up on someone's huff, or eye roll, or widened eyes. Although, I think the MC's actions in general, such as the overconfidence in everyone's fondness of them, will allow us to infer that what they perceive of everyone around them is heavily biased.
     
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  7. DeeDee

    DeeDee Senior Member

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    Ok, I don't know your story but here's an example: He could be misinterpreting other's reactions. Like, if he's strutting around the hotel pool in a mankini and spreading his manly sweaty smell because he thinks that attracts women (obviously doesn't) and then takes their revulsion for shyness (oooh, so ladylike to say No), that will be obvious he's delusional and there's a difference between what he thinks of himself and what others think of him. But that's not unreliable narrator. Unreliable is when the readers don't know he's not telling the truth and the truth is only revealed later. In that case he'd read an article about a hairy man and only then he'd understand he's a joke and not a role-model. Or when the character tells the reader that things were not as previously described (a la Agatha Christie). In first person narrator there's no way to let the reader know directly what other characters think. Only through the eyes of the narrator. It's up to you to be inventive :p
     
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  8. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    I am not quoting an official definition, but for me, 'unreliable narrator' comes in two flavours. One is obvious. The other is subtle.

    The obvious one is like the narrator @prettyvisitors is describing—the Holden Caulfield type. This is the narrator who is full of himself, who thinks (or says) his view is correct, and yet it's obvious to the reader that he's out of step with reality. His view does not take into account what other people actually think of him. And his view may actually be incorrect in factual ways as well. But the reader is fully aware of this.

    It's more a matter of tone than anything else. The tone of the writing tells us immediately that this narrator is opinionated, and the reader knows 'opinions' are just that—opinions. They are not necessarily based on fact, and are an unreliable source of fact.

    A harrowing, adult example of an obvious 'unreliable narrator' is the chillingly excellent It Happened In Boston, by Russell Greenan. By the end of that book, I felt as if I were going insane myself, because this protagonist's paranoid narration was so convincingly written. And yet, all along, I was aware that it was normal to take a different view of the events and people he described.

    The subtle kind of unreliable narrator is much sneakier—again, achieved through tone. This is the narrator whom we DO believe, because the tone of their narration is calm, logical and seems plausible, but who later turns out to have been lying to us all along—for whatever reason.

    The best example of this kind of unreliable narrator that I can pull out of thin air at the moment is the protagonist Nina Todd, in Lesley Glaister's novel Nina Todd is Gone. That's one of the best examples of the sneaky unreliable narrator. The twist that comes at the end is well concealed throughout and makes a bit of an impact, when all the threads you've been following throughout the story suddenly take a very dark turn. I think this kind of 'unreliable narrator' is trickier to master.

    There is an assumption, when reading First Person, that we are inside the narrator's head, and that the narrator is more or less telling us the truth. A narrator can misunderstand or misinterpret information and get away with it, but one who deliberately witholds or disguises information, is skating on thin ice ...at least as far as the writer goes. A reader can become annoyed when they discover the narrator has been lying to them. However, if handled well by the author, this kind of unreliable narrator can also create a twist which leaves a major impact on the reader.
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2018 at 12:32 PM
  9. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributor Contributor

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    Best novel I've read in a long time that's told by an unreliable narrator, As Simple As Snow, by Gregory Galloway. It's a story that has very little of what I look for in fiction, and a whole lot of what I avoid, but I couldn't help myself, I loved it! One of the best endings to a mystery ever. In fact it's only because the narrator is a teenage boy, and worse, a teenage boy in love, that the plot works so well.
     
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  10. fjm3eyes

    fjm3eyes Member

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    I am presently involving myself in the writing of the things of metal illness, from a fiction perspective. I find that first person - the "i" effect, does quite well when writing about this. Would Richard Bateman, the American Psycho, be an example of the Unreliable Narrator. And can there be a Reliable Narrator?
     
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  11. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think most narrators ARE reliable, in that they are giving you a straight story from their perspective, which you, as a reader, are inclined to identify with.

    It's if they're NOT somebody whose perpective you are meant to share—a psychopathic serial killer, or a teenager who hates his nice parents who love him dearly, or somebody who has a good life but moans about it all the time—that they are considered 'unreliable narrators.'

    I have never heard the term 'reliable narrator' mentioned, except as a contrast to an unreliable one when discussing the issue. I think the default narrator is always 'reliable.'
     
  12. fjm3eyes

    fjm3eyes Member

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    Yes, I would agree. It's not as if they're giving you the real, or straight story, but that that they're giving it to you from Their perspective. Something can be real, or not, based on a character's perspective. I think, upon reflection, this is a strong part of what my story, The Dark, is about.
     
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