First of all, congratulations to the winner of VANQUISHED: Nikkihasabookshelf!
Amy asked a couple of weeks ago to see a post on unreliable narrators and I thought that was a great idea.
First we need to understand what an unreliable narrator is. Does that mean the MC lies? Well, it can. But it can mean more than that as well. No matter who is telling a story, his own perceptions, memories, and feelings will influence what he recalls or even if he recalls what actually happened. So as a writer when I write in first person, I have to find the character's voice and experience everything from her perspective.
What am I saying? Character is everything in this situation. That and filtering through the character's eyes. If your MC is conceited, for example, a great way to show that is to have her make an obviously neutral situation all about her.
But if you're writing a story that needs an unreliable narrator for plot purposes here are some rules to remember:
- Don't keep vital information from your readers. That will only frustrate them. That doesn't mean you have to spill everything up front, but don't deliberately keep them out of the loop just so you can surprise them later. Plant clues by making it clear that the narrator may not be trustworthy. Drip in the real info like you do backstory.
- Stay true to your character. Don't take a truthful MC and suddenly have her lie for no good reason just because you need a way to do something. It's true characters can do surprising things, but if you've done a good job getting into his head, you will also have planted enough info that makes that unconventional act/decision natural and understandable to the reader.
- Have fun! Unreliable narrators can be a blast to write. It's a great opportunity to exercise that illusive voice. In fact, it's not a bad idea to go ahead and practice just for an exercise. Who knows? Maybe you'll end up falling in love and writing a whole book. ;D