Friday, November 25, 2016

The Unreliable Reliable Narrator

All characters, however remote their participation in a specific narrative, have motive for being there. In some cases, the character may appear in a story without wishing to be present, wishing instead to be allowed to retreat to the shadowy assumptions of other involvements.

Other characters wish to proceed as though their already rich sense of entitlement signifies the need to tell their story rather than the ones he or she was brought in to augment. When you see the need to introduce a new character and begin figuratively moistening and articulating the clay that will become this individual, you are often too quick to skip over a significant factor that will later come back to bite you.

Sometimes the need for this character is so urgent that you give the character the benefit of the doubt by assuming she or he is a reliable narrator. With little or no thought beyond the need for a new character to set foot within the landscape you're constructing, you assume they have a place in the story, otherwise why would you have considered them?

Good at his or her job, yes; truthful-but-leaning-toward objectivity? Not so much. Indeed, this character you're bringing forth, however polar from you as an individual, steps into the early drafts with the presumption of reliability, of truth telling, of inherent honesty, of fairness, and no inherent bigotry or moral laxity.

Good luck. However nice that the character is not recognizable as you, no good can come of the relative certainty that this character will not be reliable. Like you, this character will be at work accommodating some biases while trying to cope with others. This character may even become steadfast in refusing to tell you what he or she wants.

You've had to cope with the fallout implication here that you are no paradigm of narrative regularity, which takes you to fretting about the validity of the landscape you saw fit to create. One or two of the characters who are already in place may may seem overdone in their unreliable natures, but there is no surprise to you that they are indeed lacking reliability.

Over thinking such themes can bring the entire dramatis personae, the created landscape, and the accurate parallels to human behavior crashing down about you, leaving you to glower at the segments of your own landscape you refer to as Inner Editor and Middle School English Teacher, both of whom find occasions of great mirth in your behavior related to teaching yourself to compose effective fiction.

From time to time when you have thought your way into such a sulk, you identify with the highly unreliable narrator, Montressor, from Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," devising ways to lure said Inner Editor and Middle School English teacher into some suitable trap from which they cannot escape. 

One of the more pleasurable ones was set on the campus of California State University, Channel Islands, which used to be The Camarillo State Hospital, a significant repository for individuals afflicted with unreliable personality or, in the case of one patient of whom you were aware, personalities.

Your Inner Editor could be lured to a previously undiscovered vault with undiscovered manuscripts of value. Your Middle School English teacher could be lured there to see a poem etched in a concrete wall that could have been Robinson Jeffers handiwork or, better still, an uncatalogued poem from Dylan Thomas.

But unreliability is not restricted by boundaries; these two individuals are each in his/her own way every bit as unreliable as the rest of you. And once again, you are turning the lights of inquiry on those galloping, raucous individuals who are so intent upon their own existence that they cannot see how unreliable they have always been.

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