U is for Uhh….

Yeah. I was at a loss again. What was I going to write about for U? I didn’t have a clue (hey that rhymes) what to do, but then I knew (okay I’ll stop). This A to Z Challenge is starting to have an effect on me. I’ll let you decide what kind.

Anyway, let’s talk about unreliable narrative.

UU is for Unreliable Narrative

What is unreliable narrative?

Unreliable narrative occurs when a character describes his experiences, but misinterprets the true nature of events. It’s accurate from his perspective, but distorted for reasons such as the following:

• Naivety
• Ignorance
• Prejudice

The author will often provide clues, if it’s not already obvious, that the narrator’s viewpoint is off.

Why use unreliable narrative?

Unreliable narrative can make your character more believable. A good example of this is a story told from a child’s point of view (naivety). If the child sounds like an adult, then the character doesn’t ring true to the audience.

Unreliable narrative can reveal the true nature of a character, be it the twisted mindset of a villain or the naive benevolence of a mentally challenged protagonist like Forest Gump.

In fact, let’s look at Forest Gump as an example of unreliable narrative. He is one of my favorite characters played by one of my favorite actors (I don’t know any actor except Tom Hanks who could pull off this role).

Here is Forest Gump’s perception of the following events:

On being named Forest:

“Now, when I was a baby, Momma named me after the great Civil War hero, General Nathan Bedford Forrest. She said we was related to him in some way. And what he did was, he started up this club called the Ku Klux Klan. They’d all dress up in their robes and their bedsheets and act like a bunch of ghosts or spooks or something. They’d even put bedsheets on their horses and ride around. And anyway, that’s how I got my name, Forrest Gump. Momma said that the Forrest part was to remind me that sometimes we all do things that, well, just don’t make no sense.”

On Jenny’s father:

“Was some kind of a farmer. He was a very loving man – he was always kissing and touching her and her sisters.”

On Jenny hiding from her father:

“Mama always said God is mysterious. He didn’t turn Jenny into a bird that day. Instead, he had the po-lice say Jenny didn’t have to stay in that house no more. She was to live with her grandma, just over on Creekmore Avenue, which made me happy, ’cause she was so close. Some nights, Jenny’d sneak out and come on over to my house, just ’cause she said she was scared. Scared of what, I don’t know. But I think it was her grandma’s dog. He was a mean dog. Anyway, Jenny and me was best friends all the way up through high school.”

On serving in Vietnam:

“Now, they told us that Vietnam was going to be very different from the United States of America. Except for all the beer cans and the barbecues, it was.”

“I got to see a lot of countryside. We would take these real long walks. And we were always lookin’ for this guy named Charlie.”

On being shot in the buttocks (you must pronounce that but-tocks):

“They said it was a million dollar wound. But, the army must keep that money, cause I still ain’t seen a nickel of that million dollars.”

On John Lennon’s assassination:

“Some years later that nice young man from England was on his way to see his little boy and was signing autographs – FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON AT ALL – somebody shot him.”

On John F. Kennedy’s assassination:

“Sometime later – FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON – somebody shot that nice young president when he was riding in his car and a few years after that, somebody shot his little brother too – only he was in the hotel kitchen. Must be hard being brothers.”

On purchasing IPO shares of Apple stock:

“So I never went back to work for Lieutenant Dan, though he did take care of my Bubba-Gump money. He got me invested in some kind of fruit company. And so then I got a call from him saying we don’t have to worry about money no more.”

On Jenny angrily heaving rocks at her father’s abandoned house:

“Sometimes I guess there just aren’t enough rocks.”

Do you see how unreliable narrative shows the true nature of Forest Gump?  Can you think of other examples of unreliable narrative? Have you written a story from that perspective? If not, would you consider writing a story using unreliable narrative?

Now, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite scenes from the movie. Actually, they’re all good. Maybe I’ll go watch it again.  🙂



To see what other A to Z participants are blogging about this month, please click here to link to their blogs.


26 thoughts on “U is for Uhh….”

  1. I think all writers are unreliable narrators regardless whether we created an unreliable character POV or not. After all, all our experiences are particular to us, so when we write, we can’t help our unreliable take on things.

  2. I’ve never thought of this. I think we often write unreliable narrative by accident for, as Stepheny says, we write from within our own misconceptions. But I think doing it on purpose is an art and something that will take practice to pull off well. You will really need to understand your character to be able to write this.

    By the way, never read the novel of Forrest Gump. It was one of the rare cases where the film was a vast improvement on the novel. Probably because of Tom Hanks.

    1. I’ve only read excerpts of the book, so I can’t claim to have read it. Although Groom uses unreliable narrative and masterful dialogue that gives life to his character, my thoughts on this post centered around the movie version that I love so much.

  3. I loved your take on the unreliable narrative. I used that in my book coming out this June. It adds layers to the prose. A great way to show development as well when the character comes closer or gets farther from the “truth”. By the way I loved your Gumpisms. Have you read the book as well? Groom is really a fine storyteller. Hope to read more. Good luck with the A-Z!

    1. I’ve only read excerpts from the book, but from what I’ve read I’d have to agree with you. While this post centered around the movie, I admire the way Groom uses unreliable narrative and dialogue to give life to his character. The “writing rules” recommend that you avoid phonetic dialogue because it’s distracting to the reader, but Groom does it so masterfully, using just enough of it to give us an idea without being distracting. I can’t imagine reading it without it. Thanks for visiting!

    1. Can you provide a link to it? I’d love to read it. I visited your blog, but couldn’t find it. Although, I can immediately see that I will get lost on your blog for quite a few hours! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I was just thinking about writing a story with unreliable narrative, though I didn’t have a label for it.. now I do! It’ll be going up on The Community Storyboard sometime over the next few days.
    Thanks for this, Melissa!. 😀

    1. What? Really? I now have a TBW list about a mile long from all the movies you’ve blogged about lately. I’m glad to finally be adding one to your list! 😉 I hope you find time to watch it.

      1. Ha. That’s funny. I’ll probably watch it at some point, though it may not be right away. I have trouble with movies where spouses die. But I can always skip over that part. The rest of it sounds good.

    1. Not only does it show us Forest and his worldview, but it also shows the true nature of the other characters (his momma, Jenny’s father, Lt. Dan). It’s subtle and masterful (show, don’t tell).

  5. I love Forrest Gump! The unreliable narrator made me think of Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. There’s a section in there that is from Eustace’s diary, where his recording of events is through the lens of a selfish boy who is convinced that everyone else is in the wrong. It was a great window into his mind and threw a completely different (and comic) light on the events.

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