Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

The Unreliable Narrator in Weaving Magic

on April 24, 2012

One of the challenges in writing upcoming, YA Romance, WEAVING MAGIC (April 27, 2012), was shaping the character arc of main character, Shantel. While, teen boy, Christopher, had a lively journey in beginning his life new–clean and sober. Shantel seemed like the quieter character. So, after awhile, I went back to the drawing board, and did some re-visioning. What I came up with was that Shantel is an unreliable narrator. She uses a lot of denial and romantic fantasy to avoid dealing with her Mother’s death.

Unreliable narrators tell a story in a way that is misleading or distorted. The unreliable narrator’s version of the story is skewed from the true understanding of the story. For example, in the novel, Afterby Amy Efaw, Devon is unable to come to terms that she has just had a baby and left the baby in a dumpster.  In the novel, Lost by Jacqueline Davies, Essie denies that her beloved younger sister, Zelda, died when she was run over by a horse on the streets of New York in 1911. And in Chris Lynch’s story, Inexcusable,  Keir denies he has raped Gigi.

Unreliable narrators can also be found in picture book stories. One of my favorites picture book stories is Dear Ms. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School by Mark Teague. In the story, Ike sends letters home to his owner, Ms. LaRue. He exaggerates and tells her all of the awful things happening at obedience school.  Each page spread is split between what is really happening done in color, and what Ike is imagining done in black and white.

One writing exercise to explore if you are considering an unreliable narrator is the following:

1). Create a character with a secret. What is the secret? Why does the character have this secret?

2). Place this character in a scene with someone who is trying to expose that secret. Is it a family member? A friend? Why does this character want the main character to tell the truth? What happens when this character confronts the main character about their secret?

If you are in the Seattle area, on Saturday, May 5, I’m teaching a one-day class at Richard Hugo House called, Writing the Unreliable Narrator in YA. Bring your liars, thieves and unsavory characters as we spend the afternoon exploring how to craft a narrator who doesn’t quite tell the truth. I’ll be sharing tips I learned about unreliable narrators while working on my YA novel, WEAVING MAGIC. (Forthcoming April 27, 2012). We’ll also do some short readings and writing exercises. The class is also appropriate for writers working on middle grade novels or even picture books.

The class runs from 1-5 p.m at Richard Hugo House in Seattle.

Registration information for Writing the Unreliable Narrator in YA can be found here.

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