I love unreliable narrators because they go hand-in-hand with surprise endings. No matter the genre, when a narrator is not telling the truth there is mystery in the story.
3 Tips for Writing Unreliable Narrators
Track the truth. Whether the narrator is lying on purpose or not, you the writer need to keep track of what really happened. Depending on how complicated the plot is, this might require a simple list or a detailed spreadsheet comparing the real truths versus narrator falsehoods.
Conviction. To make an unreliable narrator believable, everything the narrator relates must be done so with conviction, either because the narrator believes his own lies or convincingly acts like he does. That said, always write like you believe the lies too!
Consistency. Going hand-in-hand with conviction is consistency. The narrator should be unreliable in the same way all the time. This creates a pattern that makes the narrator believable, whether readers know the narrator is unreliable from the beginning or they don’t find out until the end. Yes, believability is important even if the reader is aware the narrator can’t be trusted.
2 Examples of Unreliable Narrators
CODE NAME VERITY. This novel is an excellent example of conviction. The narrator makes not only the reader believe her story, but the other characters involved. After all, her life depends on it!
DANGEROUS GIRLS. This novel is an excellent example of consistency. The narrator never wavers from her story, even when others doubt her, even when the evidence is stacked against her, so much so that the reader can’t help but believe her! So when the truth comes out at the end, even though we suspected it, it’s still a surprise.
1 Link for more help
Here’s a post on the do’s and don’ts of writing unreliable narrators in 1st person POV who are purposefully lying. How can narrators lie if readers are in their heads? Read the post to find out!
If you’re just joining us, here’s a list of more BLASTOFF to Stellar Writing posts from last week: