One Writer’s Journey

November 8, 2018

Unreliable Narrators

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:52 am
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Yesterday I read a Writer’s Digest post about two truths and a lie. My own post has nothing to do with it but it is what led to my own post here.

When many of us write, we stick to the straight and narrow.  Our protagonists are honest and always tell the truth.  Unless they are talking to the antagonist.  Then, they might lie.  Maybe.  Our antagonists?  They lie like rugs.  After all, we reason, that’s what bad people do.

Strictly speaking, we all say something that isn’t true each and every day.  Sometimes its a lie.  Other times?  We’re just wrong.

And really good books mirror this.  I just finished reading The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor.

Hmm.  I’m thinking the rest of this post is probably a plot spoiler but you’ve been warned.

Before the story begin, a neighborhood boy dies when he falls from Mason’s tree fort.  The boy just happens to be Mason’s best friend.  This happened just over a year ago.  Mason’s learning disabilities make it hard for him to tell his story to the police.  He tries but the Lieutenant keeps interrupting.

The Lieutenant believes that he knows what happened.  This Truth that he has in his head, skews the investigation.

Mason tells the Lieutenant all that he remembers but he leaves out something that happened earlier in the day.  Without the experience of an adult, he doesn’t understand the importance of part of his story.  Not a lie, but a misunderstanding. Even the characters who lied end up being sympathetic.

Misunderstandings.  Assumptions.  Miscommunication.  All of these things can make your story both more real but also more interesting as your character works to unravel the misinformation to get to the truth.



June 8, 2018

Picture Book Writing and the Unreliable Narrator

I just finished reading Whobert Whover by Jason Gallaher, illustrated by Jess Pauwels.  I picked it up because an agent I’m scouting recommended it as a great picture book mystery.  Picture book mystery?  You bet.  And it is totally age appropriate.

Whobert Whover is a detective but he’s not the best at his job.  In fact, he keeps finding clues that he’s sure mean something but they don’t.  He’s an unreliable narrator.

Typically, we think of unreliable narrators in teen and adult books.  These are narrators who intentionally deceive the reader.

Whobert is certain that he is telling the truth but he is woefully mistaken.  Because of this, what he says is misleading.  A young reader who doesn’t look at the illustrations will be fooled.  A reader who does study the illustrations will be a step ahead of Whobert.

For example, Whobert sees Perry lying on the ground.  Perry doesn’t move when Whobert prods him so Whobert assumes Perry is dead.  Perry, a possum, is only playing dead as observant readers will note when they see his eyes follow Whobert across the page.  Whobert gets so excited that he molts.  When he finds his own feathers, he thinks they are a clue and accuses a duck of attacking Perry.

This goes on for one clue after another.  Whobert doesn’t mean to mislead anyone.  He’s confident that he is correct, but he is oh so wrong.

How else might a picture book character be unreliable?

  • Perhaps the characters misinterprets or misunderstands what is said ala Amelia Bedelia.
  • The character might also misremembers something that was said or get things in the wrong order like a game of telephone.
  • Perhaps the character only has part of the information needed to fully understand what is going on.
  • Or the character might have misread something.

A picture book character can be unreliable while doing their best to be just the opposite – no duplicity needed.  Of course, a small like to keep from getting into trouble?  That could blossom into something huge.




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