Unreliable Narrators: Really Useful Links by Lucy O’Callaghan

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Lucy O'Callaghan

Lucy O’Callaghan

An unreliable narrator is one who misleads, withholds information or lies to the reader. This storyteller could be doing this intentionally or unintentionally. While using an unreliable narrator can add an extra layer to your story, they can be a tricky craft to master as you need to keep the reader connected to the story; you don’t want them to be confused and lose interest. I have put together some articles and podcasts that I think you will find useful when it comes to creating your unreliable narrator.

  1. https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/8-tips-to-writing-unreliable-narrators

Every human being is, to some degree, an unreliable narrator. When we tell stories to others, and even when we tell our stories to ourselves, we create our own version of events and of our lives as a whole. Crafting an unreliable narrator has to be done with deliberate care. The aim of creating an unreliable narrator is to generate just enough suspicion, to withhold just enough information, without losing the reader’s connection to the character. This article from Writer’s Digest shares 8 tips for writing unreliable narrators. It tells us that not only can you make your character a liar, but you can also have them lie by omission too; have them withhold critical information.

  1. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-an-unreliable-narrator-4-ways-to-create-an-unreliable-narrator-in-writing

An unreliable narrator is a storyteller who casts doubt on the narrative. Masterclass explains the 4 types of unreliable narrators: Picaro, Madman, Naif, and the Liar. The article provides examples in literature and goes on to share 4 ways to create unreliable narrators.

  1. https://writersrelief.com/2021/09/30/writing-an-unreliable-narrator-our-best-tips-writers-relief/

Using an unreliable narrator adds a layer of deception to your story. This article from Writer’s Relief differs from Masterclass in that it believes there are 5 different types of unreliable narrators. It explains each of these and also shares 4 tips on creating an unreliable narrator, including, being unreliable from the start, using other characters to corroborate or deny, and using varying levels of unreliability. Writer’s Relief also warns you to be mindful when using an unreliable narrator; there is a fine line between challenging your readers with select information and having them lose interest because they don’t understand what’s going on.

  1. https://jerichowriters.com/the-unreliable-narrator/

Jericho Writers discuss how to choose which type of unreliable narrator is the right one to use for you. They dissect some real-life examples and look at how they impacted the storyline. The article also discusses the effects of using an unreliable narrator, why an unreliable narrator is right for your story, and shares tricks to creating great unreliable narrators.

  1. https://industrialscripts.com/unreliable-narrator/

While this article is aimed at screenwriters, it has some great points and is worth a read. Like other articles, it explains the different types of unreliable characters with examples and then goes on to look at some of the fundamental building blocks of writing an unreliable character. The article advises the writer to start early and seed your narrator’s unreliability into the first act by hinting at aspects of their character and personality that give clues to their unreliability.  By allowing for other characters’ perspectives, you can help heighten and sharpen your protagonist’s personality. The last point the article makes is that subtlety is the key. If it is too obvious the reader is likely to lose their reason for investment. Each stage is explained with examples of unreliable narrators in films.

  1. https://self-publishingschool.com/unreliable-narrator/

Self-publishing asks you to keep in mind that unreliable narrators are not necessarily liars, and they also aren’t necessarily villains. Unreliable just means that they’re not relaying events to the reader exactly as they happened. They are misrepresenting them somehow. Adding an unreliable narrator to your story creates an additional layer of conflict for the reader to sort through, which adds to the overall tension. This article discusses which perspectives can be unreliable and breaks the different types of unreliable narrators into two basic categories: the intentional and the unintentional. It goes on to explain both and provides examples.


  1. https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly93cml0aW5ncm9vdHNwb2RjYXN0LmNvbS9mZWVkLw/episode/aHR0cHM6Ly93cml0aW5ncm9vdHNwb2RjYXN0LmNvbS8_cD04NzIz?hl=en-IE&ved=2ahUKEwjlupaK-q_7AhXRPsAKHeHvCJgQjrkEegQIChAI&ep=6

This podcast from Writing Roots tells us that having an unreliable narrator lends itself well to genres such as mystery, crime, and psychological thrillers. In this episode, they discuss how to use this trope.

  1. https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkcy5jYXB0aXZhdGUuZm0vd3JpdGluZy1wdXJzdWl0cy8/episode/MjUwZTJlM2YtZmMwYy00NmRkLTk0ZmYtYTk4YWI4MjUxNWU0?hl=en-IE&ved=2ahUKEwjlupaK-q_7AhXRPsAKHeHvCJgQjrkEegQIChAL&ep=6

Writing Pursuits podcast explains that every writer needs to have an unreliable narrator in their toolbelt. What are unreliable narrators, what categories they fall in, and how to write them are all discussed in this episode.

  1. https://writingexcuses.com/2009/12/13/writing-excuses-season-3-episode-30-unreliable-narrators/

This episode from the Writing Excuses podcast talks about how to use unreliable narrators in your writing and provides a writing prompt for you to try.

There are plenty of examples of unreliable narrators to be found in both literature and film which will give you a good idea of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to crafting them. Trying to put your unreliable narrator into a variety of situations and seeing how they react is good practice too. I hope you have found this week’s column useful. Please get in touch if there are any topics you would like me to cover.

(c) Lucy O’Callaghan

Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31.

Facebook: @LucyCOCallaghan

Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

About the author

Writing since she was a child, Lucy penned her first story with her father called Arthur’s Arm, at the ripe old age of eight. She has been writing ever since. Inspired by her father’s love of the written word and her mother’s encouragement through a constant supply of wonderful stationary, she wrote short stories for her young children, which they subsequently illustrated.
A self-confessed people watcher, stories that happen to real people have always fascinated her and this motivated her move to writing contemporary women’s fiction. Her writing has been described as pacy, human, moving and very real.
Lucy has been part of a local writing group for over ten years and has taken creative writing classes with Paul McVeigh, Jamie O’Connell and Curtis Brown Creative. She truly found her tribe when she joined Writer’s Ink in May 2020. Experienced in beta reading and critiquing, she is currently editing and polishing her debut novel.
Follow her on Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31. Facebook and Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

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