We’ve all watched a film and been intrigued by the character whose take on the story seemed a little…off. Maybe it was their accent that threw you off, or maybe they were just so incredibly strange.

Yes, we’re talking about the unreliable narrator, and if you’ve ever wondered what exactly they are or how exactly they work, this is the post for you.

What Is an unreliable narrator

What Is an unreliable narrator in literature and film?

An unreliable narrator is a story-teller whose credibility has been compromised.

This can occur at many levels: the narrator may be misperceiving or lying to the audience (that is, to the reader or viewer), narrating from beyond the grave (the dead tell no tales), or recounting events that happened when they were too young to have reliable memories of them.

The concept of an unreliable narrator is important in lots of different kinds of fiction, including novels and films.

But it’s most often associated with mysteries and thrillers, in which tales are told by people who turn out not to be trustworthy.

These stories often depend on the “twist” at the end, where everything you thought you knew about the story turns out to be wrong — and where, therefore, all that you’ve been told so far has turned out to be suspect as well.


In other fiction — for example, in novels of psychological realism — unreliability is not so much a matter of deliberate deception as it is of perspective: how things seem to one character may not be how they seem to another.

And in some works of fiction—for example, Franz Kafka’s.

What Is An Unreliable Narrator?

An unreliable narrator is a literary device used in narrative fiction in which the story is told through a first-person perspective, but that perspective is not reliable–that is, what we’re being told isn’t always true.

In fact, it can be downright deceptive.

If you’re looking to create an unreliable narrator in your own writing, there are two ways to do it: have the narrator tell us something that’s untrue (like an outright lie) or have them tell us something that’s true but misleadingly incomplete.

Why Do We Need Unreliable Narrators?

Narrative fiction relies heavily on characters observing and explaining the world around them in order to move the plot forward and reveal important details to readers.

But when those details are filtered through one character’s perception of things, there’s no way to know what parts of their story are

What Are Some Unreliable Narrator Examples?

An unreliable narrator is a character in a story who tells about events that are supposedly true, but the reader discovers that the plot is actually based on their own false perceptions or misunderstanding. The plot cannot be trusted because of the narrator’s unreliability.

Totally unreliable narrators are ones whose unreliability is so profound that it might be difficult to work out the truth. It’s a bit like how certain religions believe that we can never know the real truth behind God and his mysterious ways. Totally unreliable narrators can be found in crime novels, mysteries, and thrillers.

Partially reliable narrators are more common and arguably more effective as they allow us to be sure of what is happening in the plot as well as being able to explore a character’s inner thoughts and emotions. But they can still present some surprises by having twists and turns only revealed at the end of the story


Some examples of partially unreliable narrators include:

In “The Great Gatsby” by F Scott Fitzgerald, Nick Caraway is Gatsby’s neighbor who claims to be an honest narrator who has no reason to lie about what he has seen but he still holds something back from us. 

Different Types Of Narrators

In this article, I am going to talk about the different types of narrators and how they can be used to achieve the desired effect. I will also include several examples of each type of narrator from books that I have read.

Author’s Narrator:

This is a narrator that tells the story in first person. It is usually the author themselves. Example: “I am Lenny Small. My father was a barber and my mother was a waitress at the local diner until she made me.”(The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time)

An Unreliable Narrator:

This is a character within a story who gives us information but the reader finds out later that the information they were given wasn’t true. This narrator can be unreliable because they are lying or deluded or have faulty memories.

They might also be unreliable because they are telling a story from their perspective which means they may not know all of the details of what happened. Example: “I didn’t get paid for it – not right away, anyway.”

The money came later in other ways, if you know what I mean.” (“Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov)

Reliable vs. Unreliable Narrator

A reliable narrator is a narrator who can be trusted to tell the truth about everything that happens in the story.Reliable narrators are always reliable.

In other words, what they say is always true. They never make mistakes and never change their minds about what they say.This type of narrator is not common in literature, because most authors wish to give their readers more than just the facts of a story; they want to give them an experience as well.

In order to experience things through the narrator’s eyes, you must be able to trust that what he or she says is true. An unreliable narrator, on the other hand, is just like any other narrator, except that he or she occasionally lets his or her own beliefs get in the way of telling you the truth about the story.

Unreliable narrators may make mistakes (either intentional or unintentional), or they may hold back certain information from you for one reason or another. The main purpose of using an unreliable narrator instead of a reliable one is to gain a different perspective on a story by having someone who is not necessarily trustworthy describe it to you.

An unreliable narrator gives you not only the facts but also his or her opinions and feelings about those facts, which can change depending on how she feels about

Characteristics Of An Unreliable Narrator

Characteristics Of An Unreliable Narrator When there is an event that is of importance to the plot, the narrator does not give us a clear description of what happens. Instead, the narrator has either a lack of knowledge or a lack of interest in telling us about that event.

He or she tends to hide behind a mask and gives us the impression that he or she is lying to us. He or she may be an unreliable source of information because he or she often mixes up facts due to lack of attention and concentration, which may be caused by his or her character traits, psychological problems, and other factors.

The narrator’s version of events provides more description than is necessary for the reader to understand what is happening; this may be because the narrator has mixed feelings about what happened and tries to justify his or her actions in some way. The narrator tends to exaggerate feelings and emotions without being aware of it so that he or she gives us the impression that he or she is portraying himself or herself as better than he or she really is.

The narrator tends to hide behind words and phrases instead of telling us what happens directly; this may be why it takes him or her so long

How The Unreliable Narrator Is Written In A Screenplay

“The camera is an objective device, it doesn’t lie,” Alfred Hitchcock famously said. However, the filmmaker was wrong – not only can the camera lie, butit can also tell the truth.

How The Unreliable Narrator Is Written In A Screenplay

The unreliable narrator is a narrative device used in novels, film and TV to deliberately mislead the audience by presenting them with a false perspective on a story. As a result of this deception, the audience is forced to question every aspect of what they’re seeing.

The unreliable narrator has been used as a literary device since Edgar Allan Poe first wrote short stories in which the narrator was either insane or intentionally deceiving the reader. This technique has grown in popularity since then and is now regularly seen in films and television shows as well as books.

In literature, an unreliable narrator may be intentionally deceitful or deluded. They may be lying or simply misinformed about certain aspects of the story. A book written in first person allows for greater opportunity of un-reliability because it’s difficult for the author to deceive their own characters and perhaps even trick themselves.

When used in film and TV, an unreliable narrator can be established through voiceover narration from one character that is contradicted by events shown on screen.

Examples Of Unreliable Narrators In Films

Some of the best films ever made utilize the device of an unreliable narrator to drive their plot. Unreliable narrators are used to great effect in both film and literature. It adds a layer of intrigue and mystery to your stories.

Telling the story through an unreliable narrator can be very powerful. But how do you do it? And what makes a narrator unreliable? Let’s dive into some examples of unreliable narrators, and unpack why they are so effective in story-telling.*Unreliable Narrator Examples in Film

“Memento” (2000)

“Memento” is a famous example of an unreliable narrator. The entire story is told out of sequence. The main character has short-term memory loss, so he cannot remember anything that happened more than a few minutes ago.

This means that he constantly has to find ways to remind himself about key events from his past. As the film progresses, we find out that the main character is on a quest for revenge against the man who murdered his wife.

Understanding A Flawed Narrator

When it comes to great fiction, there are plenty of reasons to write about outsiders and misfits. These characters can serve as a window through which we see our common humanity, or they can point out the differences between ourselves and others.

But one other reason to put these kinds of characters at the center of a story is because they’re fun to write.Troubled narrators make for fun reading. 

This can be true even if their troubles have nothing at all to do with their circumstances.

There are plenty of reasons for this, but one that I think is worth exploring here is this: when you know your narrator is unreliable, you can manipulate the reader’s feelings on purpose. I’m not talking about techniques like foreshadowing or red herrings.

I mean when you know that your narrator isn’t reliable — that he’s concealing something, or twisting facts — you can take advantage of this knowledge in order to play with the reader’s expectations and emotions. By knowing how unreliable narrators work, you’ll be able to identify them more easily in your own writing and understand how they work.

How To Write An Unreliable Narrator

The concept of an unreliable narrator goes back to Poe. The idea is that the narrator isn’t telling the full story or isn’t honest with the audience because they have some sort of ulterior motive or are mentally unstable.

This has been done a lot, but it’s still a powerful device that can keep the reader guessing and make them think more critically about what they’re reading.

Telling a story from a first-person perspective lends itself to unreliable narrators very well, so you may want to consider going with a first-person narrative if you decide you want your protagonist to be unreliable.

Here are some tips for writing an unreliable narrator:

  • Make their unreliability clear early on in the story. You don’t want readers to have to read through the whole book before they figure out you’ve used this narrative device. It needs to be clear fairly early on that this narrator isn’t being entirely truthful about what’s happening.
  • Make them as flawed as possible. If you’re going for an unreliable narrator, it helps if they have some major character flaws. This could be anything from abuse problems to alcoholism or even just general bad luck.

Signals Of Unreliable Narration

No matter how many published stories you read, it’s hard to predict how a writer will present his or her characters. Some writers are very subtle and others are very obvious in their presentation of unreliable narration, and this can be quite frustrating for the reader. 

Here are some of the most common signals of unreliable narration and how they’re used:Pessimistic words. Many writers use the words “no” and “never” as red flags that a narrator is unreliable. For example, if a narrator says he will never eat again after his first bite of food, then you know something is up with him.

He may be remembering events incorrectly or he may have an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa.

The author’s tone.

If the story is told from a first-person perspective, then you can often tell if the narrator is reliable or not by the way he or she talks about what happened. If someone is using too many exclamation points when describing something positive (like a person winning the lottery) then it’s likely that something negative is going to happen soon (like possibly being murdered).

Time frame conflict. This happens when a narrator says he or she did something at one time, but another character remembers it happening at another time.