As readers, we come across all different kinds of narrators in books that are written in the first or second person perspectives. They all have individual character traits, and some are much more likeable than others, but the question of what makes a good narrator is actually a very complex one.
In this post I shall try and explore the different attributes that define a narrator, and how the way in which they are written has such an effect on our overall opinion of a book. When coming up with the idea for the discussion, I was surprised by how wide-ranging it is!
Likeable vs Unlikable
If a book contains unlikable characters, that does not always mean that we will end up hating it, and vice versa. There are some books in which the narrators or main characters have turned out to be horrible, or just people that you would not want to associate with in real life, but the plot turns out to be so compelling that it ultimately matters very little.
On these occasions, we are completely gripped by the story and are intrigued to find out what the characters are about to do next. This is particularly common in psychological or domestic thrillers.
But for me, books with unlikable characters that I have ended up enjoying are very much in the minority. I much prefer a narrator who I do like, has a kind though slightly daring personality; whose heart is in the right place. I feel their triumphs and their pain. That is a very good start in making me connect with a book.
A Relatable Narrator
On a similar topic, I feel like we are much more likely to be invested in a protagonist or narrator when we find them relatable. This is not backed up by any scientific research, but it is certainly the case for me!
When I find the narrator relatable, it really makes me root for them and enjoy the story more, even more so when the writing is character-driven. I personally love it when they share certain personality traits, likes/dislikes, and face similar challenges to what I have experienced.
And the beauty of it is that there are so many different ways that a reader can relate to a character or narrator. For me, it is probably most common in YA as well as some fantasy and domestic fiction.
Having an authentic narrator gives a book a lot of credibility. It sometimes depends on the author, but when they create a main character who is unique and well developed and possesses a powerful voice, the chances are that I will connect with them almost effortlessly.
I have come across some different books that contain very similar narrators, to the extent that they would be hard to tell apart. The most authentic narrators are the ones who belong in THAT book and THAT book only; the ones who carry the story with the force of their personality and the impact their voice brings.
A perfect example of an authentic narrator would be Starr from The Hate U Give. I connected with her straight away as she was extremely well developed, had a voice that really spoke for both the author and the reader, while a little injection of her sense of humour made her seem even more believable.
Complex narrators take on a variety of different forms. There are those that turn out to be something other than what might originally appear on the surface; some whose actions are unpredictable; and others who have many different sides to their personality such as a hidden sense of vulnerability.
I find these characters utterly fascinating and it is often fun to try and understand them a little bit more, especially when they are part of an equally mysterious plot. Here, a twist can arrive at any moment that could make you see them in a different light.
One of the books I read recently is The Binding, whose main character Emmett seemed difficult to work out at first, but then the direction of the plot and the way the book was structured made me understand him a lot more, which was a technique I found really effective.
A character with such a wide-ranging personality is usually likely to make a book that little bit more gripping, although it is not essential and can apply to some genres more than others. I find that historical fiction is one genre where complex narrators are used quite productively.
The use of an unreliable narrator is a very interesting technique, and probably one which a lot of readers either love or hate. It certainly brings mystery, along with an element of suspense, and you are constantly wondering if you should take what you read at face value.
These ever-present seeds of doubt in your mind rarely seem to go away until you reach the end of the book, and I do find that the ending often can make or break how much using the unreliable narrator trope pays off. If done well, it can make an exceptional read, but then again I have read others where the resolution did not fit with the rest of the story.
Some of my fellow bloggers have told me that the words ‘unreliable narrator’ immediately pique their interest, so there is no question that they can be very addictive reads!
I have read a number of books written in the first person where the narrator is used in a way that makes them seem like the embodiment of the author’s writing style. They communicate with the reader in such a way that it consumes you in the atmosphere and setting of the story they are telling.
A recent example of this would be The Ten Thousand Doors Of January, where Alix E. Harrow’s eloquent and thoroughly captivating style of writing comes primarily through the perspective of January herself. In this instance, the narrator is bringing the words of the story to life, and I really admire the ability of an author to do this.
For this to be a success would depend totally on the writing style. If it is hard to connect with, and proves to be dense or disengaging, then that takes away from the quality of the narrator. If you love the writing style, then that is good start towards liking the story and what the narrator brings to it.
What do you think makes a good narrator? What kind of narrator do you prefer? Do you agree with my analysis? Let me know in the comments!!
Happy reading 🙂