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[personal profile] omphale posting in [community profile] ds_workshop
So. I'm a tiny bit late.

Okay, a lot late, and I'm very, very sorry. There were things, and then more things, and...well. It doesn't much matter, does it? Suffice to say that, once I stopped looking at this as an assignment and started looking at it as something fun, everything got a lot easier.

Hi. I'm [profile] omphale23, and I'll be your slightly-nervous (okay, seriously petrified) guide to the wacky world of narrators you can't trust. Pull up a keyboard and tell me I'm wrong. Or tell me I'm right. Whichever.

[Fair warning. I'm pretty sure all of my examples are slash, because that's what I read. And probably F/K, for the same reason. The bullet points, though, are good for whatever pairing (or lack thereof) you prefer.]


Don't Believe Everything You Read


The first thing we learn in Trial Law is that witnesses are not to be trusted. They lie, they forget things, they fail to mention important facts. The quickest way to get five versions of events is to ask three people what happened. The same goes for fiction.

Case in point? “Seeing is Believing.” Three people, three versions of the same (brief) scene, all of them wrong in important ways. And that’s just an example where the speakers don’t have an interest in the events. When they do, it all gets a bit more complicated.

So let’s talk about unreliable narrators. What they are, why we love them, and (hopefully) how to make them work.

***

In reality, all narrators are unreliable. Anybody who’s in the story has a bias, has things they leave out, has a fault (or two, or three) that blinds them to the “real” version of events.

In short, never trust your narrator. Not when you write, and not when you read. He (or she) is trying to sell you something.

However. In this case, we’re going to pretend that there’s a difference between an ordinary narrator and this concept of unreliable narrator, narrators you really can't or won't trust any farther than RayK can throw a cigarette lighter, if only because eventually we’re going to get to the question of how, exactly, one writes such a character.

***

Point the first: for whatever reason (there are four, and we’ll get to that in a minute) what the narrator is describing isn’t actually what’s happening. This generally means that you’re writing in the first person, although (as we’ll see) when it comes to fanfic, the narrator is just as likely to be working in third person limited.

Omniscient narrators aren't unreliable. Well, not usually. When they are, readers get pissed off, and nobody wants that. So, for the sake of argument, let's say that as a rule you want your unreliable narrator to be both a) a character, and b) part of the story somehow.

This doesn't mean you have to stick to Ray or Fraser. It can be an outsider after the fact (as in the case of lamardeuse's "Evidence,"  in which the narrator is aware of the story but the events as provided by the secondary narrative are incomplete) or a character central to the story but not to the canon (as with Beth H's wonderful OFC, Sara, in "If It Walks Like a Duck...").

That's not to say that Ray doesn't make a damn good unreliable narrator. He's got issues, he's got an attitude, he's been known to make decisions without all the facts. In my own stories (yes, I know. But I've got a point to make, here. Who's leading this discussion, anyway?) Ray Kowalski is *always,* and I do mean ALWAYS unreliable. Sometimes it's obvious, as when he says one thing and does another. Sometimes it's subtle, as when he knows that Fraser loves him but Fraser never actually says the words.

For that reason, I never trust him when other people use him as a narrator, either.

Does this make it hard to point out specific ways to make him unreliable? Maybe. Does it make him a bad narrator? Not at all.

***

Point the second: your narrator is unreliable for a reason. Maybe multiple reasons.

Technically, there are four sources of unreliability: a) the narrator doesn’t know what’s going on, b) the narrator is biased, c) the narrator is lying, or d) the narrator is Teh Crazy/Drunk/Mentally Unsound. Each of these present its own challenges and benefits.

a) Writing an unreliable narrator who doesn’t have all the facts (or, in some cases, doesn’t have any of the facts) is perhaps the most common use of an unreliable narrator. Usually, this kind of narrator eventually figures things out (Barbara Kowalski in zillieh's "Eight Weeks"  is an example of this), although not always.

[There's a fic in which Welsh, the new Consulate Inspector, and Frannie all observe Fraser and Ray and get it wrong that's a good example of the not-knowing narrator never getting a clue. Anybody know which one I'm thinking of, so I can add it in here? *smiles winningly*]


A large proportion of the unreliable narrators in due South fic fall into this category. We'd rather see Ray, Fraser, Ray, or anyone else confused and wrong than think that they'd lie to us.

Stories written from Victoria's point of view are often the exception that proves this rule.

b) A biased narrator is trying (whether he/she knows it or not) to make the facts fit their own agenda. Frannie-centric stories often come from this, as she fails to see the relationship between Fraser and one of the Rays. She's not lying, and she has all the information. She just doesn't usually see the truth because she *wants* it to be something else.

Stories featuring Stella (One example: "The Delivery," by Rustler) sometimes use this same conceit. She's smart, she puts two and two together--but she often gets an answer of five.

Bias can also be deliberately employed, but that walks a fine line between bias and lying. I've never managed it; I'd love to hear tips from anyone who has.

c) In all honesty, stories in which the narrator is flatly lying are difficult in fanfic. If the narrator is a character we love, lying probably pisses the reader off and gets read as bad characterization. If the character is one we hate, the fact that they're lying is no surprise, and not much of a stylistic draw. There are exceptions, of course (JS Cavalcante's "Straightness"  is one) but by and large this is a difficult road to travel in fandom.

d) And, finally, we have Teh Crazy. And not just your run-of-the-mill due South "ghosts, talking wolves, and playing dead" crazy. We're talking Geoffrey Tennant levels of mental instability, usually. It's tough to balance the way that the world doesn't quite fit with the need to give the narrator some credibility, but it can be done. Many Ray-is-drunk stories manage this. As does the occasional Fraser-pov (Julad's "Shack #11"  is a heartbreaking case in point.)

***

Point the third: Eventually, you’ll need to decide when to let your readers know about this lack of reliability.

There are three choices, here.

a) You can make it clear from the start that the narrator isn't to be trusted, as in Nemi's "Iqaqpaa." Amnesia fic, drunk fic, and any story with Dief as narrator probably uses this device.

b) You can use more than one point of view (but not, for the love of little green apples, in the same section) to play up the problems in each telling of events. If you do, the unreliability usually shows up when the second (or third) character takes over the narrative.

Speranza is my favorite author for doing this--in "Kowalski Is Bleeding," she does it very directly; in other stories like "Four Virtues," the effect is gentle but still clear.

c) You can keep your narrator's unreliable viewpoint hidden until a dramatic finish, one that throws everything into chaos and forces the reader to reconsider everything they thought they knew. Julad's story does this; so do a lot of first-time stories in which Ray (or Fraser) suddenly realizes that the other was flirting all along, or not really leaving, or secretly-gay-only-for-him, or...you get the idea.

A good example of this (as suggested by [personal profile] j_s_cavalcante) is "Episodic Romance," the recent long fic by buzzylittleb.

***

So. Those are the basics. How, why, and when to fit them into a story is the hard part. I think this is where the discussion should start because I *know* there are people out there better than me at this, but just to throw out some suggestions from how I try to do it, and how I see others making the same effort:

a) Pay attention to what the narrator doesn't say. If Ray's claiming to be calm, and yet you tell the reader that Fraser is looking concerned and nervous about Ray's tone of voice/physical gestures/bulging forehead vein, maybe Ray isn't being entirely honest about his state of mind. Same goes for Fraser thinking he knows everything but ignoring Ray's intuition.

b) Sometimes a character is behaving uncharacteristically for the sake of the story. An author with a decent track record for getting it right, who suddenly is drawing a very different picture of a beloved character, probably has a good reason. Chances are good that something you don't expect is going to happen, and you shouldn't take the character's observations as gospel. Reverse engineer this back, and you've got yourself an unreliable narrator.

c) Often it's easiest to start your experiments in unreliable narration with a character who's known for being clueless. The reader won't be surprised when things go cockeyed, but neither will you, and you won't need to worry about whether it's within the realm of plausible characterization.

d) Most importantly, experiment. Don't be afraid to write a story twice, if the first narrator doesn't work. Don't think that, just because Fraser's honest and forthright, he should always be trusted. At heart, writing with an unreliable narrator is all about calculated risk.

[ETA: Something [personal profile] kill_claudio said in the comments reminded me of one more point. Because we're writing fanfic, there's an interesting way that the collective understanding of the characters can be used to point out a narrator's unreliability that ordinary authors don't have. Especially in a fic where the pairing is announced up front, fannish readers have a particular lens for viewing the characters actions. As a result, reveals which would otherwise come at the end of a fic (as in Sihaya Black and Chickwriter's "A Fine Romance," [personal profile] kill_claudio's example) become clear much earlier. It changes the dynamic of the story, for good or bad. Either way, it's something to keep in mind if you're experimenting with unreliable narration and a popular pairing or character, because it can make the process both more complicated to read and more difficult to write.]

Thoughts? Questions? Examples? Letters calling for my resignation?

Ooh, shiny!

Date: 2007-06-06 06:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] j-s-cavalcante.livejournal.com
Really cool post. I love this kind of essay that deconstructs the stuff we spend time constructing. I am not so good at this analysis thing, despite that English (and French, yeah) degree from *cough* years ago. I prefer to write fic and let somebody else analyze it. So...I think this post is very cool. Very nice delineation of various forms of unreliable narration, substantiated with my favorite thing--F/K fic! :) Very shiny.

Also, I'm all smiles 'cause you mentioned a story of mine. I've always been fascinated with the idea of the lying good-guy protagonist who's lying for his own desperate reasons--not any nefarious purpose, of course, because he's a good guy! And you're right, it is hard to pull off. In fact, depending on what people expect from your character, it can be hard to pull off any of these. I once did a Star Trek (K/S) story in which Spock declared some fact of Vulcan life to be so, and he was wrong. Obviously he fit into your "character doesn't have all the facts" category, either A or B. Some readers had no trouble with this, but more than one did object. Apparently in their minds, if Spock says it, it must be so. Or else I didn't telegraph his fallibility well enough. Anyway, it was an interesting experience. Maybe I learned from it. :)

Oh...I wanted to give you a non-heartbreaking example (Julad's heartbreaking one was so good and so sad!) for letter D, the drunk/crazy/mentally unsound category: BuzzyLittleB's recently posted novel, Episodic Romance (http://redshipsgreenships.com/rsgszineindex.html). The entire novel is an exercise in figuring out what is real and what is just in Ray's mind. It's a truly remarkable work, fascinating and compelling, and a fine F/K story, to boot. And you definitely have to have your thinking cap on when you read it. Highly recommended, and an excellent, outstanding example of a category D unreliable narrator. Whom I dig. :)

Re: Ooh, shiny!

Date: 2007-06-06 04:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] j-s-cavalcante.livejournal.com
Apparently in their minds, if Spock says it, it must be so. Or else I didn't telegraph his fallibility well enough.

My guess it that it was probably the first one....We want these characters to be right

I think you're right, and thanks for the support on that one. :) I thought about the question a lot at the time, and I wouldn't go back and change that story for love nor money, because it's important even (especially?) for fanfic readers to have open minds. With the Spock issue, see, there was a subtle racist assumption operating (I don't know what else to call it), and it's good for people to notice those reactions in themselves, right?

Specifically, I had Spock make some absolute statement about Vulcans, like, "all Vulcan males have to take female mates" or some such. That sort of statement from him is not a big stretch; he makes sweeping generalizations about Vulcans in the canon all the time. So this wasn't a simple case of my screwing up the characterization. He does this stuff in canon and I can easily prove it. ST viewers and readers are accustomed to just buying that kind of generalization without questioning it--about all the members of a whole species! But even in the canon, Spock is clearly wrong about some of these generalizations. You see why I call it a racist assumption: it doesn't allow for the fact that people are individuals and that there are virtually always exceptions. And yeah, partly the problem is that he's holding himself to an impossible standard of conformity in a culture that generally values conformity, but partly it's plain ignorance with racist overtones that he doesn't even see. (And I think he doesn't see it because TPTB didn't see it when they put similar, stupid expository lines in his mouth. We, the viewers, were expected to take stuff like that at face value! And, see, I think one of the things fanfic is for is to let us raise our hands and say, hey, wait a second; not so fast! And question our assumptions. Star Trek itself was so brilliant at helping us question many cultural assumptions. But not generally the assumption that hetero is normative. :)

Anyway, in my story, with Kirk's insight (and his more-open mind) and the help of intense homosexual longing and other good stuff, Spock begins to question his assumptions and starts to find his own path.

So I used the unreliable (for reason of ignorance) narrator there entirely on purpose...and part of the intended audience spectacularly failed to get the point. *sigh* Oh, well. You pays your money and you takes your chances. :)


Oh, I forgot that one! It would have worked as a lovely example of a late-narrative reveal, too. Maybe I'll credit you and go back and stick it in, if that's okay?

But of course! That's why I mentioned it. :)

Re: Ooh, shiny!

Date: 2007-06-07 10:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] j-s-cavalcante.livejournal.com
This is the same reason that I find stories where Fraser is unreliable so interesting--he makes mistakes in canon, and then in fandom gets turned into this pedantic guy who's always right, when no, he really isn't.

*nods* Yeah, Fraser is generally seen as speaking ex cathedra, just like Spock. (No surprise, considering Fraser is built on the Spock archetype. The parallels are, to coin a term, fascinating.) It's as though people see this character as carrying the assertions of the writer (and even those should be questioned, sez me!), and people seem to make a lot of allowances for what TPTB ostensibly intend to portray versus what the actors and the writers actually DO portray.

Here's an example: Fraser's scripted apparent interest in Lady Shoes (to be read as heteronormative) versus the many examples in that ep of Fraser's real interest in and love for Ray, conveyed by his actions (transgressive! To be read by any hetero-conditioned people as "not intended" by TPTB, even if it really was intended). The "heterosexual" veneer on Fraser in that ep is particularly thin; it reads to me as a sop to those who'd be offended by the homoerotic undercurrent.

Jeez, I'm sorry I'm not saying this clearly. I had a point, which was that the stereotypical "straight-male" way of viewing TV means trying to figure out what TPTB intend to say, and insisting that anyone who forms a different interpretation is committing "character assassination." (Slashers fought that "character assassination" slur for decades in Star Trek. Tell you about it sometime if you're interested. *g*) There's a good reference I could cite here if I could remember it. Might be Jenkins, but...might be somebody else. Darn. Can't remember. But there's research. In which the straight male fans overwhelmingly chose to try to figure out (via endless bulletin-board discussions) what TPTB meant to say and, by stark contrast, the females and some non-straight people overwhelmingly interpreted or reinterpreted what they as viewers saw through fanfic and other individual creative endeavors.

I'd love to see people really take on the challenge of making dS narrators unreliable in careful, true-to-canon ways. Like Welsh seeing Kowalski and Vecchio through his own relationship problems, or Thatcher failing to understand Turnbull's love of cheese.

Hee! Turnbull must be in heaven...he's so close to Wisconsin it can be a day trip. But yeah, Welsh totally misunderstanding RayK and his Stella issues would be good to see. I don't quite get the Vecchio comment, as Vecchio doesn't have that kind of problem with his ex in canon, or with Stella (what we see there is all good), but maybe you're talking about Louise or Suzanne-the-ATF-officer or Irene?

It could make for some great new stuff, even if it's the usual plots being reworked.

Yeah, it would be cool. It's not like there is a "new" plot on this planet, anyway. :)

Re: Ooh, shiny!

Date: 2007-06-10 06:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] j-s-cavalcante.livejournal.com
Jenkins, I think. In his slash stuff and the Twin Peaks analyses, he talks about the difference between women and men approaching the narratives.

Yes, it was Twin Peaks, so you must be right. I have Jenkins' book on my shelf; I'll get around to checking at some point. :)

It's amazing the stuff you can use fandom for. *g*

Wow. And here I always thought IR had to be the most boring thing ever. Who knew? :)

It's something that comes up in the questions of derivative vs. transformative texts, too, doesn't it? That somehow slash is coming to the original as something to take apart and rebuild, while the general fan is only interested in somehow 'getting it right,' interpreting rather than confronting.

Oh, hey, I wonder if that's why transformative fanfic is overwhelmingly written by women? Because if you're a member of the group that gets the upper hand in the current social system (i.e., straight males), why would you want to challenge the system? There's a vested interest in taking TPTB's word for it.

I was actually referring to Ray and Ray as paired with Fraser, and Welsh seeing it as nothing more than him comforting them when they strike out.

Oh...I thought you meant with their wives/girlfriends. Your inclusion of Ray Vecchio there threw me off, because I don't see a slash relationship there. A writer would have a harder time making me believe in an F/V romance than they would making me believe Welsh misunderstands what's going on. I think Welsh avoids seeing a lot of stuff he doesn't want to see...and he's okay with a lot of weirdness as long as that case-closure rate stays high and his department stays out of trouble. So Welsh is actually an easy sell as an unreliable narrator. As is Frannie, who sees what she wants to see (Dead Men Don't Throw Rice is a huge, hit-em-over-the-head, canonical example), and the Duck boys, either version, who are spectacularly dopey sometimes.

But I like the idea of Welsh misreading RayK/Stella and RayV/Stella as well.

I like that, too! That would be very interesting! And Welsh obviously got divorced sometime between S1 and S3, didn't he? So, yeah, someone should write that. Not me, though, I have too many WIPs as it is, and I want to write F/K and maybe that Kowalski/Gardino I promised somebody. :)

Re: Ooh, shiny!

Date: 2007-06-15 01:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] j-s-cavalcante.livejournal.com
But I doubt somehow that it works in both directions--there doesn't seem to be a higher proportion of straight men writing het relationships for shows like QAF or the L Word, so my assumption is that it's a systemic difference--that, as a whole, media is very traditionally gendered and so transformatic fanfic reacts to that, rather than to particular shows.

You're right. I wonder if it's because those shows are already in the gay ghetto, so it doesn't matter to the general audience if they stay there?

What they really object to is our having the nerve to transform the traditional male hero types, right?

I had a surprising experience once when I explained the existence of K/S fic, and the fact that I wrote it, to an out-and-proud male friend. He freaked! More than many straight men have. He was like: "Noooooo! Kirk and Spock can't be GAY!" I was very surprised. It was also quite funny, though. Moi, cultural iconoclast. *buffs fingernails on t-shirt*


Re: Ooh, shiny!

Date: 2007-06-16 08:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] j-s-cavalcante.livejournal.com
They want mythic paradigms and traditional structure. We give them postmodern internal dialogue and homonormative universes. No wonder they get upset.

Hahahahahaha! Go, you!

Re: Ooh, shiny!

Date: 2007-06-07 10:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] j-s-cavalcante.livejournal.com
Oops, sorry. This got so long I had to put it into two posts! *facepalm*

Yeah. And that's a lot of why I wanted to write on this topic--because so often unreliable narrators get written off as being OOC, even when it seems clear (to me, at least) that the author was trying to do something intriguing and complicated with characters that really are multifaceted.

In the case of the Spock story, interestingly enough, I never got accused of writing him out of character. He looked like Spock, he talked like Spock. The "Spock was wrong" issue just didn't compute with those people. So they had no problem with him per se, but they didn't buy MY reasoning. It was fascinating, really, because it was a classic case of complete blindness where their assumptions as readers were concerned. I mean, really, if I'd had Uhura tell Kirk that all black women can sing--would anyone have missed the racist overtone there? But let Spock tell Kirk that all Vulcan males need wives or they can't survive pon farr, a husband won't do, and readers were willing to swallow that. Even in the face of the established canonical fact that Spock himself had survived pon farr without a wife!

It was Kirk, who will question anyone ("Excuse me. But what does God need with a starship?"), who finally questioned Spock's assumptions. Some readers went there with me. Some didn't. *shrugs* But not one of the ones who didn't ever accused me of writing Spock out of character. So, anyway. Interesting case in point.

Plus, it meant I got to spend a week looking for my favorite examples of each part. Which was a bonus.

*big smile*

Re: Ooh, shiny!

Date: 2007-06-10 05:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] j-s-cavalcante.livejournal.com
is it just that no one would actually say, "Spock is always right,"

Well, true, no one would say that. But when I read between the lines I inferred that they truly believed that if Spock says Vulcans are X, then Vulcans are X, period, no argument allowed. So he might be mistaken about any number of things, but his sweeping pronouncements about the Vulcan people, those are supposed to be swallowed whole. Huh.

or was the fact that he was wrong completely separate from his characterization? I'm understanding from your description that it was a case of the latter, but I'm honestly having a bit of trouble figuring out how that works.

I think they felt that the author (I) had pulled a fast one, like a deus ex machina or something of that nature. They saw it as contrived, I guess. I can see this dichotomy. He acts and sounds like Spock, but then Kirk says, wait a second, you can't be right about this, and Kirk gives some evidence to support his position. It only takes one exception to shoot down a theory that all X is Y, so in theory all readers should have gone there with Kirk: Spock is mistaken.

I'm guessing those readers were confused, not by the evidence per se, but by the split between the evidence and their prior assumptions--and they went with their assumptions. That's why I'm indicting their assumptions here. If they'd been really on the button, they'd have questioned Spock's statement themselves when he made it. Its racist overtones, as I said, should have alerted them. But they didn't. Because I guess green people aren't individuals? This is like asking "What's the black position on this issue?" As though there is only one. It's preposterous on the face of it. But we hear stuff like that, even in this day and age!

Again, this was a minority of readers, as far as I know. Not everyone, by a long shot. But that anyone should have responded that way was surprising to me. Because, willingness to stereotype aliens aside, the weight of evidence in just the canon is overwhelming: Spock doesn't know everything about Vulcans by a long shot. Spock left Vulcan when he was about 17 years old, his father did not speak to him for 18 years (because he didn't approve of Spock's choice of career!), he had infrequent communication with his mother (a human, living on Vulcan), and he went to visit very rarely. He hadn't seen his fiancee since she and he were both 7 years old. He works on an all-Terran ship and hardly ever gets to see other Vulcans. He's been in Starfleet about 18 years at the time of the series. This is all clear in the canon, and any fans who are into ST enough to read the fanfic know all of this very well. Furthermore, Spock (like Fraser) is a truly accomplished liar who "does not lie"! Fans know this, too. But I'm sure a lot of them don't see it that way. They buy the line "Vulcans don't lie," even though the evidence is clear that they do! In fact Spock says Vulcans can't lie--but he's lying, of course! And we know it! He repeats this cultural stereotype to an enemy alien, and she believes this because she's willing to believe stereotypes about her enemies, of course. And bingo--guess who wins that one?

Another time he even actually pulls a little Goedel's Loop action on an android, making it break down simply by telling it "I am lying to you now." This is in canon. People who get into fanfic surely know the guy has Fraseresque issues! He's seriously emotionally screwed up, and yet he has to walk around pretending he's in control of his emotions all the time. This is one of the things that makes him so interesting. Anyway, just on the evidence provided in canon, he should be the classic good-guy unreliable narrator!

Anyway, had I known this thing would throw a few readers, I could have tried to telegraph Spock's unreliability a little better. But I'm not sure it would have worked. I mean, how big a mallet do you have to hit people over the head with? I'm not a subtle writer as it is; I prefer to spell things out. So. Yeah, it was an interesting case. :)

(I'm searching around in my archive for the fic in question so I can find the specifics.)

Re: Ooh, shiny!

Date: 2007-06-15 01:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] j-s-cavalcante.livejournal.com
I've been talking about my reading of Fraser with Mal and a couple of other people, and see the same thing happening there--that when faced with a disconnect between the fanon reading and the canon characteristics that I want to point out, readers are going to pick fanon because it 'feels right' to them.

I would love to see that discussion. Is it in a public place?

(Let me know if you find it--I'd like to read the whole thing, if you don't find!)

No part of that discussion is online anywhere, sorry. It all happened in the Real World arm of fandom. Go figure. :) I might have the fic stored somewhere, but I don't even remember which one it was.

Re: Ooh, shiny!

Date: 2007-06-09 09:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] buzzylittleb.livejournal.com
This is the same reason that I find stories where Fraser is unreliable so interesting--he makes mistakes in canon, and then in fandom gets turned into this pedantic guy who's always right, when no, he really isn't.

I'd be tempted to say that Fraser is never right. Okay, he is often right in criminal cases, but this owes as much to Rays, chance, and chasing malfeasants. When it comes to "matters of the heart" or even just plain human interaction, Fraser is more than capable of getting things very very wrong because he is what you're called a "biased narrator" - he sees things in the moral framework he was brought up in, even though the Rays point out that things don't work like that (for perversity's sake, they do, which has much to do with magic realism etc as anything else). I'm not sure I'm making much sense at this point, so I'm going to kick back and see what happens.

Re: Ooh, shiny!

Date: 2007-06-11 04:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] j-s-cavalcante.livejournal.com
I've got an unreliable-narrator-Fraser rec for you. Which category, I leave for you to determine. And I love this story:

Stalker by Rentgirl 2 (http://www.therentgirls.com/dS/Stalker.htm)

I just thought of it tonight after reading what I think is the first Bad!RayK story I've ever seen! I am still shaking from this psychological thriller! Highly recommended, though, and a hell of an example of an unreliable narrator--go and read: Con Job by Keerawa (http://keerawa.livejournal.com/32834.html)

Re: Ooh, shiny!

Date: 2007-06-13 03:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] buzzylittleb.livejournal.com
I've just read Con-Job and am likewise in awe. The presentation is immaculate and compelling. It's a fascinating re-presentation of canon events that merges seamlessly into the mind-set of this Ray. What is particularly interesting is that this Ray has no sense of guilt over what he's doing.

Re: Ooh, shiny!

Date: 2007-06-15 01:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] j-s-cavalcante.livejournal.com
Well, "Con Job" leaves the problem unfixed. It's really quite impressive. And (for me) scary!

Re: Ooh, shiny!

Date: 2007-06-13 03:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] buzzylittleb.livejournal.com
Although I'm inclined to think that at least some of his issues with human interactions are deliberate, that he uses his otherness as a defense mechanism.

Fraser using his bias as a way of lying to himself? If he makes a conscious effort to behave and think in a certain way, is it from hope that it will make it so/ him thus?

Re: Ooh, shiny!

Date: 2007-06-09 09:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] buzzylittleb.livejournal.com
BuzzyLittleB's recently posted novel, Episodic Romance. The entire novel is an exercise in figuring out what is real and what is just in Ray's mind. It's a truly remarkable work, fascinating and compelling, and a fine F/K story, to boot. And you definitely have to have your thinking cap on when you read it. Highly recommended, and an excellent, outstanding example of a category D unreliable narrator. Whom I dig. :)

How much do I love you? Trust me, a lot.

Some readers had no trouble with this, but more than one did object. Apparently in their minds, if Spock says it, it must be so.

I'm going with that interpretation, which is a pity, since Spock is best when he's off-kilter or trapped in realms of statistics and numbers as a way of denying (say, his human side, or Kirk's "illogic"). (Uh, I've never read the fanfiction. I was too young. I had a stack of pocket books, some of which were actually decent)

Re: Ooh, shiny!

Date: 2007-06-10 07:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] j-s-cavalcante.livejournal.com
How much do I love you? Trust me, a lot.

It's entirely mutual. *hugs*

Spock is best when he's off-kilter or trapped in realms of statistics and numbers as a way of denying (say, his human side, or Kirk's "illogic")

Absolutely. See above where that discussion continues. Spock and Fraser are built on the same archetype. They're Outsiders who observe the human condition and who come with a whole set of cultural assumptions and biases that are different from "ours." ("We" being the audience.) Fraser's Outsider POV isn't "Canadian," it's uniquely his, and even Spock's isn't "Vulcan" (despite the fact that "Vulcan" could be anything TPTB wanted it to be)--because, like Fraser, Spock is as much an outsider in his home country as he is among those he now lives and works with.

They have HUGE father issues. (Interestingly, Spock's father shunned him because he disagreed with Spock's choice of career--as Damian Kowalski did to Ray.)

They both have a bunch of "superhuman" abilities (many of the same abilities, in fact!) which help them solve problems but which also pose problems in their relationships with others. They both will act on impulse in accordance with their personal biases or with the emotions of the moment, and then use logical reasoning later to try to justify their illogical impulses! (Contrast that with Kirk and Kowalski, who get "hunches" and whose impulsive actions arise from true intuition.) Spock and Fraser are both ascetics in many ways. And they're both excellent detectives. (In fact, Spock has hinted that Sherlock Holmes was an ancestor of his. I thought that was cute: Nimoy, who once played Holmes on stage and who is responsible for this little tidbit, either wants us to believe Holmes and Spock both inhabit the same fictional universe or is having Spock make a clever joke.)

Also, they both are extremely accomplished liars who have a reputation for never lying. Why does that work? I think it's because they are superb self-deceivers in the first place. Yes, they are good guys. They both have a commitment to honesty. But they violate it readily when other interests are at stake.

And by the way? Don't play poker with either one of them. :)



Date: 2007-06-07 12:38 am (UTC)
sage: Still of Natasha Romanova from Iron Man 2 (happiness by tx_tart)
From: [personal profile] sage
This was awesome. Way to go, you! \o/

I love unreliable narrators, and now you have me thinking about narrators who lie. I think for that to succeed, we have to be clear from the start on that character's feelings about honesty (a little white lie never hurt anything) and also about how much they have to lose by revealing the truth. There have to be significant stakes. Like Vecchio in Vegas will lie through his teeth to protect his sanity, his assignment, his loved ones, and his life. He might even blur the line into taking on too much of the Bookman's persona -- and the difference of where he appears to be in his head and where he actually is really appeals to me.

That's true of Fraser hiding his rarely seen passionate self under the Dudley Do-Right mask. And of RayK hiding his graceful dancer-self under the tough-guy exterior.

Also, I really, really agree with your last point (c) about using clueless characters. I expect detectives to be crazily observant people -- they know when people are lying and they totally know when something's up with their partners. So if there's a situation where a detective is unreliable, I want it to be largely because something about the situation demands they lack all the information (as in Kowalski is Bleeding, for example). It also works when characters are too absorbed in their own crisis to see anything clearly -- then it's not because they're suddenly being stupid; it's just an understandable degree of stress (grossly) skewing their perspectives.

Or something.

Again, yay post! I really enjoyed this! :D

Date: 2007-06-07 02:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bertybertle.livejournal.com
This is really cool. I am in awe of anyone who can break down something as complex as this topic and put it in a form that is this clear. I am a terribly disorganised writer - I'd like to call it organic or instinctive, but that's way too pretty a term for how I get a story down. This is exactly the kind of advice that will make me stop and think before I plough on in, and save me any number of re-writes. Thanks.

Date: 2007-06-07 07:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kill-claudio.livejournal.com
Fantastic post. This is going to be really useful in future writing attempts. *admires your shiny brain*

I don't have any useful thoughts to add (I have been at the County Records Office all day and my brain is dead). However, if you're looking for more examples, I really love A Fine Romance (http://www.squidge.org/dsa/archive/11/afine.html) by Sihaya Black and Chickwriter. Ray is the unreliable narrator who has the big epiphany at the end, but through his eyes the reader gets enough information to work it out near the start. I think the usual problem with these stories is the narrator comes off as stupid, but they manage to avoid that.

Date: 2007-06-09 11:34 am (UTC)
china_shop: Fraser talking into a walkie talkie. "Penguin to Stallion -- come in, Stallion." (Fraser penguin to stallion)
From: [personal profile] china_shop
the ways that fanfic allows the author to do some interesting things with the baised narrator, because we share a general understanding of the characters that can make for some great disconnects between what we collectively know to be "true" and what the characters can see

*nodnodnod* This was particularly evident to me in Masquerade, where I was fairly confident Fraser was a good guy even though there was no concrete evidence of that. That general understanding can be particularly useful in AUs, I guess -- the author can play with/rely on expectations. :-)

Great post! I am failing at articulate thinkiness, but I enjoyed it a lot. Thanks! ♥

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