I haven’t heard it talked about much, so I thought today I’d share one of the most valuable skills I’ve found: Knowing how unreliable a given narrator is.
Well, that sounds a little English lit class, doesn’t it? You can take the nerd out of the classroom, but I guess you can’t take the classroom out of the nerd. It is what it is. Anyway, for those who aren’t familiar, the unreliable narrator is a literary device in fiction. In basic terms, when you have an unreliable narrator, the story is told by someone who is either lying or mistaken about the plot.
This can create some interesting plot twists and a-ha moments in a story.
Unreliable Narrators Aren’t Just a Literary Device
But over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate that the unreliable narrator is not just a literary device… it’s also a fact of life. The unreliable narrator is a staple of interpersonal interaction. And I realized as I thought over this that I’ve had friends that I know are just about as accurate as you can be… who I can trust to be dead on or close when they relay information to me. And then I’ve known lots of other people who… well… they warped every retelling. Sometimes because they were shady. But other times because they were very biased.
And I’ve known lots of people in between – particularly common are people who are relatively accurate when talking about neutral third parties but are really biased if it involves them or anyone they either really care about or dislike intensely.
Sorting Out Where People Fall Is Tricky… But Valuable
Anyway, sorting out where people fall as unreliable or reliable narrators can be tricky… but extremely valuable. There aren’t a ton of great shortcuts to this knowledge either. I’ve found that time and observation can be helpful.
The more I can slow down and watch someone telling stories in a variety of settings (especially if they’re talking about something I personally witnessed), the better I get at understanding them in this.
But yeah. It’s another reason that I take my time getting to know people (whether as friends or lovers).