It’s April again and that means it’s time for the A to Z challenge and this year, my theme for the A to Z Challenge is characters and narrators.
“Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see”
We know that there are people who lie and chances are, you know of a person who deals primarily in lies. But for whatever reason, when we read books our automatic assumption is to believe the narrator (or at least mine is, but hey maybe I’m naïve).
How could we not trust our narrators? They are our eyes, ears, and entrance into a world we cannot see.
So we listen to them and depend on them for information. But we shouldn’t always.
Sometimes it’s obvious at the start that we’re listening to an unreliable narrator – the author gives us a smirk and a wink right away by revealing in a bit of dialogue with another character that our narrator likes to embellish or perhaps the narrator him/herself will tell us straightaway that they like to fudge the facts.
There are some stories where you begin to have a sneaking suspicion that the narrator isn’t on the up-and-up. Then there are other stories where the unreliability of the narrator is key to the plot of the story, and so the big reveal comes either at the end or a big turning point in the story.
But the art of the reveal is key in these matters. Do you want the readers in on the reveal halfway in and allow them to see the truth for the second half? Or do you want the reveal at the end, and have them wondering if anything they’ve been told is true?
Tricky, tricky, methinks.
My feeling is that it depends on the genre. My favorite genres, romance and women’s fiction (if they indulge in unreliable narration, which is rare), would let the reader in on it at least halfway through the story. But if you’re writing general fiction/literature, drama, or mystery – you’ve much more flexibility on when/how you decide to reveal your narrator’s true nature. But be careful – if you haven’t left at least a few breadcrumbs along the way, your readers could be hurt or annoyed that you didn’t give them ample information to figure it out. ;)
Unreliable narrators/characters (and ummm…spoiler alerts):
- Verbal, The Usual Suspects
- Amy, Gone Girl
- Natalie, Running in Heels
- Narrator, Fight Club
- Pi, Life of Pi – though honestly, I like his unreliable version way better, which was kind of the point.