|An unreliable narrator - First edition cover of|
Huckleberry Finn, E.W. Kemble, Public Domain
An adult narrator could also be unreliable through their own lack of experience or knowledge.
Even if part of the story is told accurately, the unreliable narrator will interpret the meaning in a weird way. Readers may disagree on the unreliability of the narrator and this makes for an exciting debate in literature classes.
In order to write in the voice of the unreliable narrator, you first need to look at the technique of using the modified objective viewpoint. We’ll start with the basic objective viewpoint.
You narrate as though you are reporting. You must describe the action as though it is being played out in front of you in a theatre. The disadvantage of this viewpoint is that the reader will have no clear sense of the subjective viewpoint of your character, how they think and how they feel. This viewpoint works if there is a mystery involved. When moving on to the modified objective viewpoint, matters become a little more complicated.
Modified Objective Viewpoint
The Narrator is Not the Author
When we use the term “narrator”, we mean the voice that the author is using in this particular work of fiction. Author and narrator are not usually one and the same.
Other examples of unreliable narrator are Henry James’ "The Turn of the Screw," Robert Pirsig’s "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and Vladimir Nabokov’s "Lolita." In every case of unreliable narrator, the main premise is that s/he is unlikely to share values with the reader (and, indeed, the author). S/he may be lying out of self-interest or may be insane.
If you want to try this technique, it would be helpful to read several works of fiction written from the unreliable narrator viewpoint and start off with a short story – just to see if you’re ready to tackle a longer piece of work.