Writing an Unreliable Narrator

Hi, guys!

Today, we’re talking about something that can be really fun to write.

Unreliable narrators.

They can lead a reader down a pretty wild path, and they’re not terribly difficult to write as long as you stick to their personality. You can write them in just about any style, whether you write as if an outside source is telling the story or from the perspective of a character.

Personally, I prefer first person, present tense, which drops you right into the mind of the main character. Everything is seen through their eyes, experienced through the lens through which they view the world.

And if you strive for any level of realism, your characters, much like real people, will NOT see themselves 100% accurately. Whether they have low self-esteem or are overly cocky, whether they have body dysmorphia or Stockholm syndrome, depression or maybe they’re just your average Joe…

They almost certainly are not perfectly self-aware.

On average, people rank themselves as being above average. Which is statistically impossible.

And yet, we all have something, some little thing we hate about ourselves that we focus on way too much and try to overcompensate for.

We all have some strange little thing that we learned in childhood that we thought was just… how everyone did things. And we don’t even think twice about it until we meet someone who has no idea what the fuck we’re talking about.

And if your characters are realistic, they’ll have all these little quirks, too.

Much like real people, their perception of themselves colors how they see the world, making their view of the world rather skewed, as well.

Which is where we get unreliable narrators.

Some personal bias they hold casts shadows on certain things, painting them as terrible or perhaps ignoring them completely, while putting too much praise on other things.

Maybe the character is racist, and they describe people with negative or positive traits depending on their race, regardless of the truth.

Maybe your character grew up rich in a happy home, and now, they don’t see any of the problems in their world until some other character pulls the blinders off and forces them to see their actions and their world for what it is.

I won’t say what story this character is in because spoilers (hell, I’m not even going to tell you their gender), but I’ve written one with full-on Stockholm syndrome. It shapes their entire perception of themselves, their world, their religion, their peers. Literally everything is shaded by this veil over their eyes, and it takes the entire story for them to see the truth.

In order to pull off an unreliable narrator, you have to dive deep into their mind. You have to stick to your guns and write everything how they would see it, not how it actually is. You have to know how it actually is, as the writer, then write it how that character would see it.

Only when that “Ah-Ha” moment hits do you really show the world and the character for what it is. Then, the reader can think back over it, and see what actually happened and how things were actually going down.

You need to find a balance with the details you put in before that eureka moment, though. There needs to be enough accurate detail for the reader to see it properly later on, but not so much that it stands out like a sore thumb at the time.

Beta readers, critique partners, and editors can help with finding that perfect balance.

And so can studying psychology.

The mind is a maze laced with mines, dead ends, and trap doors. It holds pitfalls and skylights placed directly under the balcony of someone else’s apartment, blocking the light. Its full to the brim with steep descents and hairpin turns.

Memories, constantly relived or questioned by others, can be shifted and tweaked. Things lie forgotten in our past.

It’s a mess.

And it paints a mess across the entire world.

Personal bias makes us all a little unreliable, so it makes sense for a narrator to be unreliable, as well. And it can make for a hell of a twist in a book.

So, have fun with it. Write a character that doesn’t see the world accurately every now and then.

Now, as for what I’ve been up to.

I’ve been getting so much done while I’ve been laid off from work. I finished writing Allmother Rising, finished a round of edits on Where Darkness Leads, and did a complete round of edits on A Heart of Salt & Silver. I’m almost through the first round of edits for Allmother Rising, and I just started the last round of edits on A Heart of Salt & Silver this past weekend. It goes off for proofreading next month.

I also got a finalized design for the cover for A Heart of Salt & Silver, which is super exciting. I have to adjust the size of it after formatting the manuscript for trims sizes and all that, but the design is done.

And if you somehow didn’t see it, World for the Broken is officially out, now! As of last Tuesday, it’s out there for you all to read. You can order it wherever books are sold, but here’s the Amazon link:

mybook.to/WorldForTheBroken

Anyway, it’s time for even more editing. : )

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

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