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Can You Believe This?!

There are a number of different ways an author can choose to tell a story—a wide variety of point of views to pick from. But that is a post for another day.

One thing that remains nearly constant across all different points of view, for the reader, is that the reader starts out taking everything the narrator says at face value. For most stories, this will cause no problems. The narrator, in their own peculiar way, will tell you exactly what is going on when it is, when you need to know it is, or when they know it is.

But this rule does not stand all encompassing. Sometimes, the narrator’s words need to be taken with a grain of salt and a touch of disbelief. Sometimes the narrator tells you what is going on with a bit of embellishment. Sometimes the narrator straight up lies.

An unreliable narrator is great fun in writing and in reading. But you have to be careful to pull it off. Done incorrectly, you’ll frustrate and alienate the reader, appear inconsistent, or just seem like you don’t know what you’re doing.

Unreliable narrators are the more rare in the narrator stock, but they still exist more commonly than people would think.

The example foremost on my mind is the tailor from Enbizaka, from the song “The Tailor Shop on Enbizaka.” This song is written by Mothy P and performed by one of the Vocaloids. Vocaloid is a computer program that can create full songs including vocals and music. The Vocaloids are a large range of products. Each packaged voice has a different character associated with it. Luka, the program used to “sing” this song, is just one of many.

The song tells about this tailor who is renowned for her skill, but she’s unhappy because her significant other never comes home. She comforts herself with continuing her work. One day, she sees her lover with another woman with a red kimono. She goes back to her work, trying not to let her tears ruin the kimono she is working on. The next day, she notices the neighbors talking about the rising murder rate, but she’s distracted by seeing her lover with yet another girl. It continues on from there. You can check out the song below.


A more common example of an unreliable narrator would be Huckleberry Finn.


Due to his naivety and generous nature, he gives people far more credit than then deserve. The audience quickly figures out that he’s not completely accurate because they themselves were children at one point and can easily remember that time of embellishing and misinterpreting.

The narrator from Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” is another example of an unreliable narrator. He assures the reader that he can tell the story calmly and clearly, then goes on to prove how insane he is. Unlike some of the other unreliable narrators I’ve pointed out, the reader is in no danger of believing his words.


On a television scale, the Doctor from Doctor Who can be viewed as an unreliable narrator. He avoids at all possible chances telling the truth about himself. Every time he gives his age, it is incongruous to the last time. He’s actually been called out on it before. He avoids telling about his past exploits unless someone else specifically calls it out. And yet he’s the titular character and so the one we follow through the story. How much of what he tells us of how the universe works and of himself can we actually believe?

My favorite division of unreliable narrators are as follows:

  • The Picaro: A narrator who is characterized by exaggeration and bragging
  • The Madman: A narrator who has a severe mental illness that limits their ability to tell an accurate story
  • The Clown: A narrator who does not take narrations seriously and consciously plays with conventions, truth, and the reader’s expectations
  • The Naif: A narrator whose perception is immature or limited

There are a number of reasons for choosing an unreliable narrator to tell your story and a number of ways to do so. An unreliable narrator is not the worst choice; it does have its uses. If you couldn’t tell by Ethan’s blog post two days ago *double checks the cage lock*, Ethan is not the most reliable of narrators. He errs on the side of being a Picaro. Due to his insufferable ego, not everything he says is correct, though he is more honest with the audience than he is with those he speaks with. But you still need to be a bit wary when you read his tale; I cannot be held responsible for the validity of it.

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Hijacked Post

Hey, all. Sam’s ridiculously stressed out over some stupid papers—dunno why she bothers. Writing about me is way more fun. But she can’t be pulled away.

So of course, I’m looking on the bright side: No Sam to block me out from you lot like she usually does.

In case you haven’t been able to tell, this is not your normal post. I’m taking it over for the day. My name is Ethan. I know she’s mentioned me a few times, when she tells you about Stealing the Crown (if only I could get her to get rid of that ridiculous title).

Really, she should talk about me more. She’s been completely ignoring me lately. Every time I try to get her to write more, she mutters something about “dead week.” Not enough murder present for me.


….
……

Look, while I’ve got you all here, can I ask you something? You can’t tell Sam. You definitely can’t tell Mira. If you breathe a word of it, I will hunt you down and gut you. Got it?

…Right, anyway… I… I don’t know how to deal with Mira. It would be a hell of a lot easier to get her back where she belongs if she’d just go along with me. The faster I get rid of her, the faster I can get on with my life.

But she’s just so damned stubborn. She won’t listen to a thing I say. She has to ask why on everything. She acts like she’s so bloody entitled.

OK, so she’s a princess—by law, entitled—but that’s not the point!

What am I supposed to do with her? Sometimes I feel like I’d be better off if I just ditched her. Forget the money, you know?

You know what she did the other day? This still gets me. She woke me up in the middle of the night, said I was screaming. Me, screaming! Like that would ever happen. Alright, so I happened to be having another one of those damned nightmares that don’t let me get proper rest, but she just kept looking at me, wouldn’t leave me alone. Said she was worried about me. Someone, worried about me. Can you believe that? Not even Sam cares what happens to me.

… I’ll never admit it to her, and if you ever breathe a word of it, you will die a very slow and painful death! But, ever since Mira’s been sleeping next to me, the nightmares haven’t been there. I’m actually succeeding at pushing them into the back of my mind, where I don’t think about them as much.

You know what, forget this post ever happened. I don’t need your advice. Life’s about getting out there. Oh shit, I think I hear Sam coming. Bye, all!

Don’t Eat Sugar Before Bed

In the end of the first chapter of Ethan’s tale, Stealing the Crown, everyone dies. Ethan returns to the thieves guild to find all his fellow thieves, those that he lived his daily life with, brutally murdered.

At the delivery of my first chapter to my critique group, the top complaint I got about this scene was that they didn’t know enough about those characters to care that they were all dead.

Never fear! I will give Ethan nightmares, throughout his journey, for two purposes: 1) Ethan needs to be more tormented. 2) You get a better sense of those he lost at the beginning as you get to see them in his dreams.

Yesterday, during my push to get to 10k, I wrote his first nightmare. Here, you get your first look at Stealing the Crown, without heavy and major revisions. Read it, let me know what you think. Is it understandable as a dream? Is it too terrifying? Keep in mind, the dreams will only get worse from here on out.

 

***
“Ethan, what’s going to happen to us?”

“What do you mean, Harris?” I stretched out in my hammock, rolling my head to pop the muscles in my neck. I cracked an eye open to peer at him across the dimness of my room.

He sat in the corner opposite me, his knees drawn up under his chin like they always were. For the life of me, I didn’t know why he’d sought me out rather than staying with the others in the next room. A sleepy man who’d just gotten back from a heist couldn’t be much fun to hang around. But then, Harris never really had wanted to be around others.

A big chunk of his black hair slipped out from behind his ear to cover his face and he didn’t bother brushing it away. “When you leave us. Who’s gonna do your job?”

I frowned, feeling the skin across my forehead wrinkle in that way I really hated. “Who said I was going anywhere?” Maybe he’d mixed me up for Matthew and Nathan, who were planning to set out on their own next month.

He scuffed the heel of his boot across the floor as he looked anywhere but at me. “The men downstairs. The smoke-bringers. They said you wouldn’t be with us anymore.”

I sat up, my bare feet scratching against the rough floor of my room. “What men?” Smoke-bringers? I’d never even heard of a term like that.

Before he could answer me, a curl of smoke wound its way under my door. Harris watched it dissolve in the air for a moment before looking at me with scared and sad eyes. I moved to the door, throwing it open. The troop of kids that had been playing in here a moment ago, climbing over the tables and chairs, had vanished. Joan stood in the corner, stirring a pot of soup over flames that had lost their color. Without even looking up at me, she sighed, pounding the spoon against the rim of the pot. “It can’t be helped; you’re too late to do anything about it, you know.”

I stared at her as thick smoke filled the room. Coughing against the weight and heat, I stumbled towards the far wall. Real fire, burning red and hot, was climbing the stairs. The familiar roar was doing its best to mask the screams from the missing children. I tried to run down the stairs, tried to find them and get them out of the building, but the fire pushed me back up to the second floor.

A large crack behind me made me turn around. The floor between me and my bedroom had caved in under the heat. Black smoke billowed into my view, blocking out the rest of the floor. I pressed against the back wall, coughing into my arm. As the air cleared a little, I could see Harris standing in the doorway, back to me as he looked out the windows. “Harris! Get out of here!”

My words cut off as he turned. A line of red crossed his neck, spilling blood onto his shirt. He held a hand out to me, a hand that was already smoldering like the logs of a dying fire. “What’s going to happen to us, Ethan?” His words echoed in my head, pulling me towards him.

“It’s going to be alright, Harris. I’ll get you out of here. I’ll—” The floor beneath me caved in, dropping me towards the fire below.

I jerked as the cart beneath me hit a rough bump. The sweat across my face had the hay sticking to me. I swatted it away, trying to untangle the cloak from around me. Sitting up in the cool night air, I groaned as I rubbed at my eyes. So much for getting a decent night’s sleep.

***

You get a very small glimpse into life in the thieves guild here. More nightmares will expound more on how they all relate to one another. Does this fit the bill for an introductory nightmare?

What’s the most terrifying nightmare you ever had? What made it scary? Regal us with your tales of horror in the comments below. And remember, don’t eat sugar right before you go to bed. It’s not a recipe for a happy night’s sleep.