Monday, January 3, 2011

The unreliable narrator

I once mentioned to another author that I’d love to someday write a story with a protagonist who’s an unreliable narrator. The author chided me, saying something like she could never write such a character because she wrote only heroines.
But to me, that’s not an accurate view of an unreliable narrator. The protagonist might find herself in a totally foreign situation, and not even know herself what was true or false. Does this make her less than admirable? No. In fact, I believe it makes her stronger. It’s one more obstacle to overcome.

Have you seen the movie Inception? While my hubby and I were on our cruise, the ship offered the movie on its television network (in Portugese, Spanish, Italian, German and – finally – we caught it in English). In any case, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is a great example of an unreliable narrator. He’s never quite sure whether he’s in a dream state or awake, so, like the viewer, is never sure whether what’s taking place is real or a dream.

I began a new story a few months ago, and just realized I had gotten my wish. My protagonist’s an unreliable narrator. Which is not to say she’s not a heroine; she most definitely is. But for reasons that aren’t clear to her – or the reader – until later in the story, she’s in a situation she can’t explain. Her memory’s erased, and she sometimes wonders whether she’s lost her mind.

Is she insane? No. But I’m not going to give anything more away. :) Suffice to say she’s an unreliable narrator AND a heroine (a kickass one to boot). She’s one of the strongest characters I’ve ever written, I think. Awhile ago, I mentioned on Facebook that I was writing a snarky character, and suspected she’d taken over my brain.

As you can probably tell, I’m excited about this story. And about the heroine. She may be an unreliable narrator, but in a pinch, you can definitely rely on her.

I can't wait to introduce you to her, though I'm only about 30k into the story, so it may be next year, by the time it goes through revisions and critiques. :)


Cellophane Queen said...

I have unreliable secondary characters. I use a Rashomon technique in my suspense/mystery. The MC is being told what had happened in the past. Everybody's version of the events is different. Some readers hated it. I kind of liked it myself.

Another deCaprio unreliable narrator in Shutter Island.

Sheila Deeth said...

Sounds an intriguing challenge. I agree about Inception; excellent example.

Cate Masters said...

Sorry for the late replies, I have been sick as a dog, to use a cliche.
Your story sounds cool Marva. I haven't seen Shutter Island, it looked too creepy (and I'm a wimp). :)

Thanks Sheila. It is a bit of a challenge but I love the story and how it's coming together. Always a good feeling.