The Unreliable Narrator


To start off, here’s a list of unreliable narrators you might recognize:

  • Humbert Humbert, Lolita
  • Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye
  • Patrick Bateman, American Psycho
  • Alex, A Clockwork Orange
  • The Narrator, Fight Club

An unreliable narrator doesn’t necessarily mean that the narrator is lying; it just means that they can’t be trusted to relay the correct information to the readers. They might think what they’re saying is true, but we’re not sure if it is at most times. Using an unreliable narrator is a good way to create uncertainty in your readers and make them question whether or not the person telling the story can be trusted.

Here are a few tips on constructing an effective unreliable narrator:

The novel will generally be written in first person.

I’m sure there are ways an unreliable narrator can be written in another POV, but most of the ones I’ve seen have been written in first person. We expect a character telling us a story to be speaking the truth, so using first person is the best way to shock the readers by their deception. A narrator that deliberately withholds information or distorts the truth changes the story being told and makes us question what’s really going on. It can add an interesting element to your story and make us wonder who your character/protagonist really is.

Use the unreliable narrator to establish trustworthy characters.

The unreliable narrator will usually try to vilify the person who challenges them, therefore making them an antagonist. The reader will naturally trust the main character until they realize that something is up, which will be through trustworthy characters. Use the unreliable narrator to make your readers question whether or not they’re being truthful. A good way to establish a trustworthy character is to have them catch the unreliable narrator in a lie and have the unreliable narrator admit to it. This will make your readers doubt your protagonist.

Fully understand your unreliable narrator.

It’s impossible to write an unreliable narrator unless you really know what makes them tick. Put yourself inside their head and determine why they are the way they are. You might not flat-out tell your readers what’s really going on inside your unreliable narrator’s head, but you should know what’s happening. You can leave it up to your readers to question it if you don’t want to reveal everything.  For example, your character might lie because they want to make people believe they’re more successful than they actually are. They might exaggerate information or stretch the truth. Figure this out for your character.

-Kris Noel

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Roadmap to Immortality by Maria Konovalenko

  • Male Writer: Ah, anniversary jokes are so funny. Because chicks always hate it when you don't remember anniversaries! A plus gold very original
  • Male Writer: Mother in laws amirite?
  • Male Writer: My male character who is an author insert of myself pines after a woman I used to pine after in high school. Then they have sex. This is good literature.
  • Male Writer: Ugh female books are so romance filled
  • Male Writer: And girl fanfics, so mary suey
  • Male Writer: Now listen about this original middle aged man who is an expert in everything, suffers from ennui, looks like me, acts like me, and gets all the girls i want.
  • Male Writer: She was sexy in an alluring, boring way, filled with purple prose and riddled with objectification
  • Male Writer: If i make a female character parrot my misogynistic views, they cease to be misogynistic! Are you saying you don't respect my fake female characters opinions, feminists?
  • Male Writer: a good action girl is one who looks hot at all times
  • Male Writer: If the female main character got in an asskicking line, my work is Feminist with a capital F and no one can criticize me
  • Specifically White Male Writer: Heroic tropes are so overdone. I'm going to create a boring white guy with stubble to be a completely original antihero no one has ever seen before TM.
  • Same Guy: It's original because he is a jerk who gets away with bad behavior, just like I wish i could.
  • Another Specifically White Male Writer: It's in my universe to only have white men do things in my book. I mean, don't you care about historical accuracy
  • Same Guy: I mean, it's a generic fantasy verse with no real life time period equivalent and i haven't done any research, but i'm SURE that it's historically accurate. To that dark mideval dragon fighting europe period
  • Same Guy: Where in Europe? Who cares!
  • Male Writer: There is no better way to introduce a female character to a male character than by him saving her.
  • Male Writer: Characters hating each other is good sexual tension!
  • Male Writer: One female character and five male characters is a good team balance
  • Male Writer: If my female character chooses to act in a sexist tropey way, it's not sexist. In fact, because she CHOSE to do it, it is Feminist.
  • Male Writer: I am original


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Show vs. Tell 

Great description of the difference.

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