Being a Better Writer: Ambiguous Stories

Today’s topic is going to be a bit of a vague one, I’m afraid. At least initially.

No, that wasn’t a deliberate play on words (okay, maybe a little), but more as a starting admission of my own limited experience with this topic.  Which makes it sound like I’m admitting a lack of knowledge on it. Which isn’t true. It’s just that I (and my posts) tend to have come at this topic with a different approach than what has been asked after for this one.

What am I talking about? Well, the request for this was “Ambiguous characters and plots” IE characters and stories that are “vague” about what’s actually going on. An ambiguous character, for example, is a character where the reader is unsure of their motivations or objectives, or even facts about the character themselves. Likewise, an ambiguous story is one where the reader is unsure about what’s really happening, even as the story is being told, such as a story told by an untrustworthy or unstable narrator being ambiguous because we don’t know for certain if events happened the way that they’ve claimed, or if the narrator is “fictionalizing” their own account.

There can exist a certain bit of charm to these types of stories and characters (which is both why they’re written and why they’ve been asked after as a topic here). A story in which events or even the characters are ambiguous, when written well, can be exciting and teasing at the same time, constantly keeping the reader guessing and striving to put the clues together on their own to separate fact from fiction to discover the real story.

At the same time however, that’s written well. A poorly written ambiguous story or character, by contrast, will confuse and irritate its audience, often to the point that many of them will put the book down and find something else to read.

The trick, then, is being the former and not the latter. But in truth … it’s really hard to be the former. And unfortunately easy to be the latter. Because ambiguity is more than just cutting out certain details so that the audience doesn’t know what’s going on. Sure, you’ll end up with an ambiguous story … but one that’s also a mess of cut content at best, a disaster of confusing elements at the worst. No, crafting an ambiguous story (or an ambiguous character) involves careful cutting and replacing in such a way as to keep things balanced on the edge of a knife.

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Why You Should Read … Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium

So I’m trying something new today here at Unusual Things. I’ve had the idea for a post series like this in the back of my head for a while now, and while it’s not going to be a regular series like Being a Better Writer is, I do hope it might be an occasional counterpart.

So first up, what is this post? Well, Why You Should Read … is a recommendation post. I’ve said before on this site (more than once actually) that writers need to read. It’s an important part of being a writer. Reading other’s works is an vital way to broaden your writing horizons in all aspects. And, in that vein, I do follow my own advice and do my best to read a decent number of books per year (usually around fifty, but be noted that I’m a fairly swift reader, so don’t feel like that’s some sort of milestone you need to reach). Various sources and genres, too.

In any case, Why You Should Read … is kind of the result. Because every so often I’ll pick up a book and read it that makes me think “Whoa. That was really good!” for one reason or another. This in turn makes me want to suggest it to you readers for one reason or another (and don’t worry, I’ll be dividing my recommendation by spoiler potential, so you’ll be able to stay clear of those if you so desire, though the recommendation may not be as grounded).

Now, minor disclaimers here before we get started. First, I’m not receiving any sort of compensation for this recommendation. This is a title I picked up and read of my own free will that I am in turn recommending for reader consideration for one reason or another (the rest of the post will get into that). I’ve not received any compensation whatsoever for recommending this book.

Second, as always, I’d recommend anyone looking for a few more good books to head over to my books page and start browsing! You can read samples, grab bonuses … I recommend each and every one of those!

Final disclaimer: What did you think of this post? Comment below, past the “End Spoilers” bar and let me know if you like the idea!

Right, with the pre-amble taken care of, let’s get this Why You Should Read … underway! Buckle up readers, because it’s time to meet Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium!

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Being a Better Writer: Unreliable Narrators

Whoo boy. This is what I get for taking requests on topics. Unreliable/untrustworthy/unstable Narrators (from here on out I’ll just call them unstable, but I refer to both). I’ll be honest, I actually held off on this one for a while, waiting until I could crystallize some thoughts on it that felt solid enough to write up. Unstable narrators are a tricky topic, as well as a tricky tool in the writer’s toolbox, and I wanted to make sure that if I tackled it, I had some advice to give.

Well, thanks to some good thinking, as well a recent hands-on experience with using one (not my first, I assure you), I think now is the time.

Unstable narrators. Here we go.

So, simplest place to start: What is an unstable narrator? They’re a PoV character or a narrator (as sometimes a character is not necessarily the narrator) who’s view of things is not entirely correct. We also sometimes call this an untrustworthy narrator.

Simpler? All right. This is a character whose perspective of—or a narrator whose telling of —events cannot be trusted. They are either flavored, faulty, biased, incorrect, or in some other manner not honest with the reader.

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