Dealing with Narrator Bias

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The terms ‘Narrator Bias’ and ‘Unreliable Narrator’ come up from time to time.  In general, they denote that a story is being told with a skewed point of view.  You get a sense that you aren’t seeing events as they really happened or there are aspects that are being left out.  Either the narrator didn’t have this information or they are purposely leaving things out that don’t fit their version.  I’m sure I’ve already got a few people ready to bring this issue into reality.

I’ve noticed that you can’t always tell if narrator bias is happening.  Not only the audience, but the author as well.  If you’re working with one perspective then you’re not going to have any outside information.  This is especially true for 1st-person POV, but can happen in 3rd-person as well.  One could even say it’s inevitable since you can’t write a story that shows everyone’s perspective at the same time.  That would lead to mind jumping every paragraph and it being difficult to keep track of who is showing you what.  This is why authors tend to choose a specific POV for a story/scene/chapter.

Now, you might be ready to argue that a POV character isn’t always the narrator.  You’re right, but the narrator bias falls on whoever is showing the events. If the narrator is simply doing exposition and describing the physical scene then the doubt would be aimed at whoever is speaking.  It is harder to believe in narrator bias here since it would be primarily through actions and dialogue.  One could shift the suspicion back to the formless/nameless narrator again.  This is what makes this rather confusing.

It doesn’t help that an author doesn’t have to intentionally add narrator bias.  By making deep and multidimensional characters, one can inadvertently get the audience to think they’re being lied to.  This happens a lot when you write a villain who is supposed to be sympathetic or make some kind of sense.  For example, the villain is trying to help humanity deal with limited resources by going on a murder spree instead of trying to create more resources.  A reader who thinks this is a good idea might think the heroes, who would be the main source of information, are skewing reality.  They’ll look for hints that this isn’t the real story, which can make for interesting conversations.

Now, say that you want to make a narrator come off as unreliable.  There are several tricks that you can use, which I’ll go over on Wednesday.  You need to garner some level of trust even if you also want some doubt.  This tactic works best if the audience isn’t sure that they’re being tricked.  Of course, this isn’t easy to pull off and you may need to do edits specifically to make sure you’re both hiding and revealing the truth.  It does help to decide on if the narrator is being honest or not too.  If the author isn’t sure on some level then the whole thing can fall apart.

So, what do you think of narrator bias?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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7 Responses to Dealing with Narrator Bias

  1. Pingback: Dealing with Narrator Bias – 254-Mark-Writes

  2. I want to do a story with narrator bias. Can’t wait for Wednesday


  3. The thing with unreliable narrators is that in some way the reader has to be clued in to the skewed perspective. The deception becomes more shocking once readers figure out they aren’t being told the whole truth.


    • That’s a real trick. I’ve read that it’s better to make the clues subtle and never fully admit to them being a biased narrator. This way, readers can discuss the possibility and read the stories again to search for more clues.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is another cool topic. I’ve never explored this and look forward to more.


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