Discussion – What Equals A Good Narrator?


Hello everyone,

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.

Authenticity

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.

Complexity

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.

Unreliable Narrators

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!

Writing Styles

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.

Let’s Chat

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

34 thoughts on “Discussion – What Equals A Good Narrator?

  1. I’m definitely a fan of the unreliable narrator ๐Ÿ˜† Likeable is usually better than unlikeable, unless I can thoroughly hate the character, and root for their downfall ๐Ÿ™ˆ

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fantastic topic for a post and I am a sucker for the unreliable for the reliable narrator, and in the case of Dear Wife by the Kimberly Belle? I swear she creates the Unreliable Reader!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a great post. I do tend to prefer third person narrative but if a character is well written I will champion them in a first person one. I havenโ€™t read a lot of books with unreliable characters I think there are more in thrillers which is a genre I donโ€™t grab often. I am super interested in that type of character though. I found that I quite enjoy an unlikable character like June in The Cruel Prince. I kind of like that she is that person.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Mir. I grew up mostly reading books told in the third person, so that became a bit of a comfort zone. But having read lots more in the first person in the last few years, I have come across some brilliantly written characters.
      Unreliable characters certainly appear more in thrillers or mysteries, and they can be extremely effective.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great discussion post Stephen! Psychological studies do back your arguments, in that people are more inclined to believe and relate to others with similar attributes and beliefs, which is why relatable narrators tend to engage readers more than otherwise disliked ones. I just find that very interesting. We’re biased in our reading, whether we realize it or not.

    A strange thing for me is, I tend to related more to characters when the narrator employs a 3rd person pov as opposed to a 1st person. 1st person just creates a distance for me, for some reason.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Arina! It is indeed very interesting that people relate to others in that way, even through reading. I guess we just feel a natural affinity with these characters, in that they are the kind we might be friends with in real life, or share their beliefs. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  5. Such an interesting discussion! I love looking at narrators, they can certainly make or break a story.
    I usually prefer third person narrative, but I do enjoy the occasional first person if it is done very well!

    Personally, I love unreliable narrators as they leave a lot for you too untangle and decide for yourself! I also quite enjoy an omniscient narrator – it can be incredibly engaging if done well, like in In Cold Blood.

    I agree, characters you don’t necessarily like can have great narratives as well, I love Frankenstein and Great Expectations, but I really did not like Victor’s character nor did I actively like adult Pip. Though, much like you, the books where I disliked the mc but liked the book itself is definitely in the minority – it is difficult to achieve.
    I also love characters that you are not entirely sure if you like them- The Wolf Of Oren-Yaro had an incredibly frustrating mc, but she was so complex and interesting that the story was fantastic!

    All your points are completely true and interesting, a fantastic discussion, there is so much that goes into a narrator-they are so vital to the enjoyment of the story! ๐Ÿ™‚ โค ๐Ÿ˜€ Brilliant discussion post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! I’m glad you liked the post.

      I grew up reading third person narratives so have generally preferred them, but there are some characters I have truly adored that were written in first person. Great point about omniscient narrators – I completely agree!

      Complex narrators aligned with a great story are some of the best in my opinion. I do think narrators are so crucial in our enjoyment of a book, and that was the inspiration for this post.

      Happy reading ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome!! It is an excellent discussion!! I agree, I grew up with third person too, but there are a select few first person narratives I do love! Omniscient narration is very fun to read about as it can create such a unique dynamic.

        I agree, complex narrators are usually, inherently, far more interesting to read about. Combine that with a great story and it is no doubt going to be amazing. Indeed, a narrator is definitely crucial to the story, they are our connection to it so they need to be likeable or at least interesting enough that we want to share the story with them/experience the story through them.
        A great inspiration for the post, I love these types of discussion they are incredibly interesting!
        Happy Reading!! ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ’œ

        Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a super interesting discussion and I am intrigued in some of the examples that you use! I still have yet to read The Ten Thousand Doors of January and The Hate U Give. Personally I like complex narrators a lot in contemporary and historical fiction and I generally prefer likeable v. unlikable narrators. However I am not always convinced on unreliable narrators especially as many recent thrillers try to convey this feel but it often feels forced. Great discussion post, Stephen!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Darina! I completely agree, complex narrators are some of the best when accompanied by a good story, and historical fiction tends to do this really well. Unreliable narrators can certainly be a mixed bag.

      I hope you enjoy those books when you get to them; they are both excellent!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Amazing points! I am a huge fan of unreliable characters. I feel like not knowing whether they are telling the truth or not is a really fascinsting way of doing a story – of course, it has to be done well though. And sometimes, these types of narrators are the most difficult to do.

    I look forward to your other discussion posts. ๐Ÿ˜Š

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Stephen! This is such a thoughtful and in-depth post.

    In terms of unlikeable characters, I think they can be effective. They can add some spice to the book! And just as a likeable (well-written) character always has flaws, an unlikeable (well-written) character is going to have some attributes that show their humanity, or have humour, or some other redeemable factor.

    I definitely agree with you about relatable characters. It can bring about an enjoyable reading experience, for sure. In saying that, I find reading about characters who lead lives nothing like mine can be really compelling, and lends itself to giving me insight into things I have or will never feel, see or do, which I think is an important part of reading.

    I love your thoughts on authenticity: having narrators who โ€˜belong in THAT book and THAT book onlyโ€™ is a very good point.

    Another example of a complex character that comes to my mind is Nina from The Huntress!

    When it comes to unreliable narrators and the styles the narration is written in due to the authorโ€™s input, this is something Iโ€™ve become more aware of due to my own attempts at writing probably more than when reading, and that, in turn, has developed my reading experiences. Iโ€™d love to try and write something with an unreliable narrator sometime. As you say, I think itโ€™d be easy to get wrong, but it also can make for an interesting and compelling story if done right!

    This is such a great post, Stephen. Itโ€™s great to hear other peopleโ€™s thoughts about these nuances and the ins and outs of reading and writing. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Gem! It is great to get your thoughts on this, and you make some excellent points. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Unlikable characters can definitely be effective, as you say, when written well and if they fit ideally within the plot. A narrator who is unlikable often has interesting aspects to their character/personality, which can make for a gripping read.

      Absolutely, having a relatable main character is great, but it’s also fascinating to read about those who have much different lives. It really opens your mind, and I think it is one of the reasons why we read.

      Nina is now one of the first that comes to mind when I think of complex characters! The only reason I did not include her here was that this post mainly concentrates on narrators, rather than those written in the third person ๐Ÿ˜‰
      Writing with an unreliable narrator is an exceptionally difficult skill (and I would fail miserably!), but when done right it usually leads to a fantastic story that leaves a lasting impact. I would love to see you write something like that one day!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Excellent discussion post, Stephen! Like you, I prefer likeable narrators as I root for them to succeed. Unreliable narrators are also interesting because they can provide plot twists which are hard to predict.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Love this discussion, Stephen!
    Especially the Writing Style paragraph. I’m currently reading The Wold of Oren-Yaro and I really feel like the mc is telling me personally the story of her life and it makes for such a cool experience. The writing style really is exactly how I imagine Talyien to think and speak!

    Recently I realized that I really love reading well written unlikable characters. (Maybe it triggers that part in me that always wants to care for the things people don’t like (I was five when I decided 13 was my favourite number because everyone said it was bad luck and I thought 13 must be very sad and alone) ๐Ÿ˜…)

    But yes, they have to be either fascinating to see all their layers and motivations or be relatable. And I need to understand why they are acting the way they do. My biggest pet peeve is characters that do something just because. I don’t need to think what they do is the right thing or the clever thing but understand why *they* do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It is a great skill for an author to be able to realise a character through the way they tell the story, and it sounds like your current read does that brilliantly. Unlikable characters can be great when well written and have fascinating traits, so it’s cool that you like them. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

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