Writing: Unreliable Narrators


  1. Drugs, insanity, and lying
    are not the only reasons a narrator can be unreliable.
  2. All first-person narrators
    should be unreliable. No one ever knows everything, and everyone has biases about what they believe.
  3. Unreliable narrators rely
    on the difference between what is being “shown” and what is being “told”
    to work.
  4. A narrator doesn’t have to
    be first-person or the narrating perspective to be unreliable.
  5. A reader should
    have some evidence of the unreliability of the narrator. Plot holes are not enough evidence.

As readers and writers, we grow accustomed to having omniscient narrators. Think about the first Harry Potter book. (Spoilers??) The entire time, Harry thinks Snape is out to get him. He never thinks that Quirrell is suspicious at all. But guess who had Voldemort on the back of their head? Right. It was Quirrell. Every thing that looked suspicious of Snape was just Harry’s bias because he didn’t like him. But it was Quirrell who he should have been worrying about.

Think about Katniss. Do you think Katniss ever had any idea what was going on until toward the end?

These characteristics are what make narrators unreliable if they’re in the first-person perspective.

It’s also more interesting! If Harry was able to immediately discern that Quirrell was working with Voldemort, it would have been a very short book indeed!

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