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The Unreliable Narrator

Surprising Twists And Turns

The unreliable narrator deserves much more attention. It is an exciting opportunity for the author to tell surprising twists and turns to the reader, it’s like messing around.

But does the reader want that? And how and when does it make sense to use the unreliable narrator in conjunction with what narrative perspective?

Intent Or Not?

The unreliable narrator is, as the name suggests, a type of storyteller who doesn’t always tell the reader the truth. Either withhold relevant information or directly provide him with false information.

The first question that arises in this context is, does he do this deliberately? Or does he do it unconsciously without being aware of it? Especially with stories that are written in the first-person perspective, the latter is almost automatic.

Because if the reader sees the story only from the first person’s point of view, misinterpretations and misunderstandings are hardly avoided. After all, even the smartest hero doesn’t know what exactly happens in the head of the antagonist?

However, he can also deliberately say the untruth, for example, if he wants to present himself better than he is. I never lie to harm someone, for example, everyone likes to claim, but not always must correspond to the truth.

At the same time, the unreliable narrator allows for surprising twists in the ego perspective. When someone, for whom he has always put his hand in the fire, turns out to be a traitor. Or a supposedly honest friend turns out to be the biggest liar.

In these cases, he just didn’t know better, and at the same time it tells us something about his character. Maybe that is too much confidence in his environment the significant weakness of this narrator, this figure.

Consciously Unreliable

It becomes difficult when you tell a story from the third person. You consistently need to decide what information you give the reader and what you want to withhold.

An omniscient narrator, for example, who can look into every character, but then conceals the reader that the protagonist’s best friend is a traitor, usually encounters rejection, because the reader feels deliberately deceived in this case.

This willful delusion may be intentional if it is part of the message of the book. Or if the narrator, in general, strikes a sarcastic or cynical tone towards the reader. But in most cases, an unreliable narrator sounds clumsy, like cheating, like an uneven match.

If you write in the limited third person, i.e. with a narrator who is limited to the view of a character or a group of figures, then similar rules apply as in the first-person narrator.

The Unreliable Narrator

At the same time, however, you should always ask yourself what you could gain and lose if you withhold this or that information from the reader! Do you do it to create tension or to build a good gag? These are legitimate reasons.

But if you are solely concerned with confusing the reader with a big twist, the unreliable narrator may be reluctant. Because one thing must not be forgotten, the reader usually wants to find out stuff while reading!

In crime thrillers, the reader wants to identify the culprit in advance, on his own. To guess the end in thrillers and love stories and to project the story in his mind. If you give no real information at all, the reader may feel excluded or even betrayed.

Therefore, even with an unreliable narrator, always weigh well whether the reader shouldn’t get at least one or the other detail in the form of small, open hints. At least in retrospect feel that he could theoretically have come to the truth if he had paid a bit more attention!

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The Unreliable Narrator

One Comment to “The Unreliable Narrator”

  1. mique capel says:

    This article comes like the dot on a ‘i ‘. Just finished reading a free try out female sleuth mystery by highly acclaimed and succesful writer. She is compared to several writers I know and like very much. This one made me feel sick to my stomach, like she turned their novels into something stupid and nasty (they are worldwide loved and sold) . Whether a narrator is first or third person, twisting or turning, there is also the art of writing and what Kurt Vonnegut calls “writing with style”. All fiction is lying.

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