CAUTION: Unreliable Narrators Can Blow Up Your Finely Crafted Plans (into Glitters of Fun)
Meeting an Unreliable Narrator
I first met Jaeda when selecting an existing portrait for my Hellmaw novel. She was the only female character that hadn’t yet been claimed by another Creative. Plus, she was weird.
“She has no body?” I inquired of Mr. Ed Greenwood himself.
“No. And daemons are supposed to have them, so you’ll need to work out a lore compatible solution,” he offered.
“… She wants to be a model.” I stated with full confidence.
“Sure, why not!?” he replied, without a trace of irony.
And that’s when I knew that writing for Hellmaw was going to be a fun ride.
Understanding the Unreliable Narrator
Jaeda, as I lovingly named her (sounds model-esque, right?), had no body, yes, but it also turned out that she was missing large chunks of her memory (and, arguably, her mind). Her entire history before reaching Earth just didn’t exist.
Plus, she’d spent a lot of time waiting to regenerate while watching TV, so she had a slightly skewed perception of reality. And a good sense of humor. Then I decided that every time a decision would come up for Jaeda, I’d ask myself: If I had absolutely no filters, what would I do?
And that made her an extremely insane and unreliable narrator (don’t fool yourself – it would be the same for you!). My first writing instinct was to write the book in first person point of view, but Jaeda could be hard to follow, and lacked a lot of experiences and memories to contextualize things in a way that made sense to the readers. She needed help.
Heck, I needed help so that she could be understood. So, I gave her friends.
Supporting the Unreliable Narrator
Well, I gave her pets.
Jaeda is the daemon’s version of extreme vegan: instead of adopting cows, however, she adopts humans. And so were born Charles, who first met Jaeda via a failed prank, and Cassie, who worked near Jaeda as a waitress and could look like a model.
The two of them could contextualize the world around Jaeda, and give readers an “in” to witnessing Jaeda’s insanity without necessarily being trapped in her loopy head. Made the story a heck of a lot more understandable.
So the story shifted to third person point of view with multiple narrators. And from there, it exploded.
Breaking from the Planned Story
As part of my story, hunters were cataloguing daemons in the Dark Depot, the little part of the world where my Hellmaw story takes place (it’s not revealed in which city yet – Jaeda wants to reach the city limit and read the sign herself before finding out. I’m not telling – she hates spoilers!)
Each of those hunters, even though mostly only seen via chat forums, started to develop a personality of their own. Like Jaeda and her pets, they too were a weird, dysfunctional family unit. And they, too, had stories to tell.
Plus, Cassie and Charles had ideas of their own about what they wanted to accomplish (no, Cassie doesn’t want to be a model), so story threads were exploding around my original daemon. Jaeda was fun, yes, but by herself, she couldn’t maintain the tension to keep people reading. She mostly just wants to play pranks and get more pets.
Everyone else, however, had depths to tell.
So I started excavating those depths.
Following the Path of Destruction
Jaeda had no straight path, at least not yet.
But because of her insanity and fun, she met a lot of people. And some of those people want her dead. Others want her happy and well.
And those people were fun, too. So accompanying novellas were born to tell their stories between the Jaeda books. And Jaeda? She has six books in her! Even though she has no body! (Takes a lot of book to figure out the modelling thing when you have no body).
Trying Something Different
If Jaeda hadn’t been an unreliable narrator, or if I hadn’t looked for that comedic angle with her, I wouldn’t have excavated all of these characters and stories. I tried something different with Jaeda, by trying (and failing) to write a comedic first person point of view narrative with an unreliable narrator.
Instead, I got a multiple third persons point of view story with a crazy character (who’s still an unreliable narrator).
So, go ahead. Try something different. Something new. It might not work out, no. Your vision might turn out completely different once executed.
But hopefully you’ll have discovered something new, blue and/or crazy!