In Fiction Books, How Do You Know If You Can Trust Your Narrator?

Jan 22, 2014 by

In Fiction Books, How Do You Know If You Can Trust Your Narrator?The Fiction Writer's Handbook

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?

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