Our Masterpieces...Err, Our Novels

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for...Unreliable Narrators

Controversial Song of the Day: "Liar" by Henry Rollins Band

For the entire month of April, we'll be participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Our theme for the month? CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS IN YA. Check out the link above for other awesome blogs participating. 

Photo taken from litreactor.com
Unreliable narrators are a rare commodity in novels. Mostly because it's so hard to get this kind of character right. The writer must create a character that readers will empathize with, even when they are aware that the narrator is not completely honest with them.

Although some don't enjoy reading novels where the MC is lying to them throughout the entire story, these people DO exist. So, why can't we write about them? Working in education, we come across teenagers who are compulsive liars. Some of them going as far as telling stories that could harm another person's reputation. Notice, we said we come across teenagers--not just ONE! Since these people are real, it is only fair that they are represented in novels.

Here are a few books where they are:

Liar by Justine Larbalestier
* The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
* Inexcusable by Chris Lynch
*The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Do you get mad when you read a novel with a narrator who fibs a lot? Does your own novel have an unreliable narrator--in a sense, are ALL narrators unreliable?


Beth Camp said...

Interesting that we both wrote about building character today. I didn't think about unreliable characters. Neat concept to remember, for sometimes I think characters are like chameleons, shifting colors with their settings -- until we come to truly know them. Probably the issue of evil doesn't come up too often in YA writing. Or does it?

Rebecca B said...

I love unreliable narrators--but they are so hard to pull off. Thanks for the recs--I hadn't heard of some of those titles!

Jaime Morrow said...

I'm not sure if I've really read too many books with unreliable narrators. I think it would definitely be interesting to read more,though. It could be a great way of building mystery in the story. A big reveal where you find out the truth in the end, and that the narrator was hiding stuff from you the reader would be awesome. :)

Katy Upperman said...

More often than not, unreliable narrators make me angry -- unless they're pulled off very well. I thought INEXCUSABLE was fabulously done. The ending shocked me which, I suppose, was the point!

Unknown said...

I like trying to separate what's really happening from what the MC is trying to get me to believe is happening. Books like this usually have a good twist.


Sarah said...

Unreliable narrators are far and few in between. This probably helps them have a certain affect on a story since the reader will not see it coming. You are correct though. This type of character is difficult because they can't give anything away yet the author can't smack a big LIAR sign on the characters forehead halfway through the book. The character must have the propensity to be unreliable. It must be within their character to be misleading.

While I don't have an unreliable narrator I hope to someday take up the challenge and write using one.

Heather Spiva said...

Unreliable narrators can be both good and bad. They can frustrate the heck out of me, and at other times, make me marvel at what they "hid" from me. Pure genius.

Great post!

Unknown said...

Oh good choice today. My MC isn't unreliable but I have liked books where the character is unreliable. I actually really like when an author that can pull off an unreliable narrator well.

Alison Miller said...

I don't mind an unreliable narrator as long as they're either likeable or I can empathize with them. And I loved MARA. Can't wait for the next one!

Stephsco said...

Interesting post; this might be why I had trouble with the Mara Dyer book. I wanted to like it so much but it ended up being a very different story than I anticipated from the opening chapters.

Carissa said...

I just read Liar, and I don't know I guess I really enjoyed the book on a theoretical level (if you can do that) because the character was unreliable. But ... because the character was unreliable and I couldn't connect, I didn't enjoy the book as much on a personal/emotional level. I'd enjoy reading an unreliable narrator every so often, but not every day!