sofiaviolet: Auriel: illustration of sun and stars (Auriel)
[personal profile] sofiaviolet
requested by [personal profile] blnchflr

Unreliable Narration in Auriel, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Protagonists' Issues

Background: When I refer to Auriel as a body of work, I refer to a group of unfinished (and, in some cases, unstarted) novels and stories about several characters, tied together in some cases by relationships between characters and in other cases simply by all happening in the same city around the same time.

I write almost exclusively in tight third-person: Protagonist thinks foo, feels bar. Other characters seem to think baz and feel quux, based on Protagonist's observations.

Some of my characters make fairly reliable narrators, but most don't. I do this on purpose. It's particularly handy when two characters want to relate the same event; by giving multiple memories/interpretations/experiences of the same event, I don't have to write the same thing twice, and my hypothetical reader doesn't have to read the same thing twice, and the differences can say important things about the characters.

(It also (and this is cheating) helps me to smooth over certain kinds of worldbuilding gaffes and discontinuities. If I can somehow imply that one or more characters is misinformed, misremembering, or flat-out lying about what roads one can take to Livony/whether Annabell's serves eggs/how many books are in Argent University's alchemical library/whatever, then I can stop waiting for all of the worldbuilding to be done before I finish any of the stories.)

Some examples of protagonists, of varying degrees of unreliability:

* Lissa seems like she ought to be hugely unreliable. She has a very alien understanding of the world and she communicates mostly in poetry; she reads as crazy. But her observations are factual, her memory is clear, and she doesn't hide things.

* Marcus is unreliable about himself and people very close to him. He's an addict with a raging case of impostor syndrome. His observations about other people get progressively better, more or less as he does, to the point of "fucking uncanny."

* Gwyneira is perhaps the least reliable of all my characters. She retcons everything: her suicide, her family, her everything.

* Joe is unreliable-by-omission about his body, which he deliberately avoids thinking about, and he's also unreliable-by-retcon about his past.

(The twins, Gwyneira and Joe, actually provide checks on each others' unreliability. They have both "been there" for many things, and they each want to forget/cover up different elements of their lives.)

So, in short, I love the idea of characters who pass incomplete, flawed, delusional, or false information to the reader, and I love writing them.

Date: 2010-05-04 09:13 (UTC)
redsnake05: Art by Audrey Kawasaki (Happy: Awesometastic)
From: [personal profile] redsnake05
I love unreliable narrators too, though I don't write them particularly often - certainly not as often as you do, by the sounds of it. I think that the way you use them is awesome - I love revealing characterisation by the flaws or gaps in a person's narration. I think that having a character like Lissa, who seems like she should be unreliable but actually isn't, is an especially good twist to the whole thing.

Thanks for writing this. I love reading what other people write about their writing.

Date: 2010-05-04 11:25 (UTC)
pendency: dog (Default)
From: [personal profile] pendency
Unreliable narrators are a lot of fun to read. I like the unreliable narrators as that little bit of a 'flaw' in them makes them easier to get to know. Learning to know a character by what they don't say, rather than what they do, I suppose?

I particularly like the idea of using that unreliability to give yourself a bit of freedom with the worldbuilding. I hadn't thought of it that way before.

Date: 2010-05-04 12:45 (UTC)
heartequals: natasha from the avengers against an orange and yellow background (Default)
From: [personal profile] heartequals
I really want to read everything in Auriel, someday.

Date: 2010-05-04 12:59 (UTC)
languisity: of me, by me (Default)
From: [personal profile] languisity
huh, this is really cool.

i was actually talking to a friend about why certain bandom characters are easier for me to write, and this topic came up. like, i have a hard time writing character you'd assume would see things more or less as they really are (patrick to name one, though i do enjoy writing him when i can). i have an easier time with characters like pete, though, because it's more or less common knowledge that he isn't wholly reliable. and, aside from the lens through which he views the world being a little warped, he also provides the opportunity for about four or five different ways to express that.

i only have one original character that compares (or exceeds) my favorite fannish one and she's my favorite. you can't even really tell if the people she remembers talking to even existed (or were talking to her, or if she was the one talking and they were the one listening).

sometimes i wonder if it's not hard to keep the balance between being unreliable enough to keep readers tempted to keep reading and unreliable to the point where readers are frustrated, though.

Date: 2010-05-05 03:43 (UTC)
wishfulclicking: moving gaga clip from Telephone (gaga AOK)
From: [personal profile] wishfulclicking
I liked reading this. Unreliable narrators are a thrill for me to read in fic and in published stuff. The most recent example that had me grinning was The Gentlemen by Michael Northrop (I think I got that right).

Date: 2010-05-06 14:35 (UTC)
wishfulclicking: stack of books (books)
From: [personal profile] wishfulclicking
It's YA and it's not a long book.

Here is where I talk about it without spoilers.

Date: 2010-05-08 14:22 (UTC)
blnchflr: Livejournal taught me to read between the lines (Read between the lines!)
From: [personal profile] blnchflr
I like unreliable narrators in small doses, but by and large I prefer not having to second-guess everything. But there are definitely instances where it works really well!

Date: 2010-05-13 13:24 (UTC)
blnchflr: Captain America Civil War (Default)
From: [personal profile] blnchflr
(I re-watched the Buffy episode "Normal Again" the other day, and this is an instance where the unreliable narrator does not work for me. If the series is nothing but the institutionalized Buffy's delusions, it makes it infinitely poorer for me, not clever.)

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