Thoughts On The Unreliable Narrator

This post by Susan Crawford originally appeared as a guest post on Writer’s Digest on 5/15/15.

Dana is the main character in my book, The Pocket Wife. She is bipolar and off her medication; she’s also going through lots of “stuff,” and this toxic mixture is beginning to bring on a manic episode. In Chapter One, Dana is poised for flight. Still, she is quite lucid. In fact, except for a few oddities–reading a novel in two hours, feeling the “offness” of things in the air– she is a fairly normal housewife, bored, missing her son who has recently left for college, and annoyed with her workaholic husband.

Many stories told from the unreliable narrator’s point of view are written in first person. The Pocket Wife is told in third person, so Dana isn’t speaking directly to the reader. Nonetheless, we are often in her head and privy to her thoughts and conversations.

I think it’s important not to open a story or novel with the unreliable narrator already obviously a bit wonky because then the reader is less apt to really invest in him, or, for the sake of simplicity and because Dana is a woman, in her. If she’s too bizarre right off the bat, we’re far less likely to relate to her, and relating to a character, at least for me, is necessary if I’m going to climb inside her life for the next 300 or so pages. For me, this has very little to do with age or race or gender. E.T. was one of the most popular movies of all time. Its main protagonist, for whom the film was named, is a very short, mud-colored alien. But we can relate to him!


Read the full post on Writer’s Digest.