unreliable narrators

An unreliable narrator is a main character who has a secret, and keeps that secret from the reader for quite some time. Or it is a character who feeds the readers lies about him/herself or about the other characters.

I’ve realised I have two stories with unreliable narrators.

In one, a novel, the narrator has been mentally doctored, so in effect probably has an excuse not to remember everything truthfully. That said, he does not reveal a major detail about himself. It has been his character, for a long time, to keep this detail an utter secret. He loathes talking about it, and goes through extraordinary pains to keep it a secret. I thought it would be natural to also keep it a secret from the reader. Yes? No? What do you feel about this?

In another story, a character knows something that a second character very much wants to know. But it isn’t in this character’s nature to reveal such details about herself and about someone she protects. In fact, she thinks the man’s curiousity is amusing, but she thinks the subject of his curiosity is utterly unimportant. At what point in the story would you like to know as reader? When the man first asks her or when she chooses to reveal it?

In both cases, neither ‘secrets’ are vital to the plot of the story, but they are part of the character’s personality. Do you think personality is enhanced by revealing the secret early on or by keeping it a secret for a while longer?