In Fiction Books, How Do You Know If You Can Trust Your Narrator?
I picked up Shelly Lowenkopf‘s eBook, The Fiction Writer’s Handbook yesterday off BookBub for $.99 and have been glancing through it as it’s designed to be used. It’s not a straight read. But in the “Revision” section a question jumped out at me I have never pondered before and I don’t recall an episode in fiction where it’s been used against those reading the book but the stark question or concept is this: In a work of fiction, how do you know if you can trust the voice who is narrating the work?
I’ve done my share of writing over the years, and I consider myself moderately well-read. I don’t read enough, at least in fiction, because mostly my work focuses on non-fiction, educational content, growing businesses, technical writing, etc. But I do enjoy a good story and stories are at the central point of what I feel is my purpose in life.
So I come to you now with this simple question. When you’re reading a work of fiction, how do you know that the voice/person telling the story actually has it all together? Do you have it all together? I don’t.
So if I began telling you a story, what do I have to do to establish to you that I know what I’m talking about? Even in a work of non-fiction, I assume this still would hold. Yes, I could roll out a litany of my past accomplishments and tell briefly my life story, but what if the author decided to jade them a little, unbeknownst to the narrator? What if the character, in what wasn’t said in the narration, purposely left off some of the details or skewed them?
Is that a compelling enough of a hook to keep the work going? But if the narrator isn’t able to say “hey, I’m messing with your head here and skewing some of this, so don’t believe everything I tell you,” then where are you as a reader? If you keep reading and then find out later, would that make you angry with the author or is that one of the special dynamics of the work that would make a better story and better experience for you?
It is an interesting literary situation.
So what do you say?