How to Write an Unreliable Narrator


Creating an unreliable narrator is a powerful literary device that adds depth, intrigue, and complexity to your storytelling. It allows you to present a unique perspective, challenge the reader’s assumptions, and keep them engaged. One of the most iconic examples of an unreliable narrator can be found in Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief.” In this article, we’ll explore the art of crafting an unreliable narrator and draw inspiration from the narrative of Death in “The Book Thief.”

Understand the Concept of an Unreliable Narrator:

Before diving into the creative process, it’s essential to grasp what an unreliable narrator is. An unreliable narrator is a character who conveys the story’s events but may distort facts, misinterpret situations, or withhold information. Their unreliability can stem from various reasons, such as mental instability, personal bias, or the narrative’s structure.

Choose a Compelling Perspective:

In “The Book Thief,” Markus Zusak takes an audacious approach by making Death the narrator. Death is an unconventional but captivating choice, given its omnipresence and unique perspective on life and death. When crafting your unreliable narrator, consider what perspective will enhance your story’s theme and resonate with your readers.

Establish the Narrator’s Motivation:

To create a believable unreliable narrator, delve into their motivations. Why are they unreliable? What drives them to distort the truth or present a skewed version of events? In “The Book Thief,” Death’s narrative is influenced by its fascination with humans, its inability to understand their actions, and its yearning to comprehend their stories.

Intertwine Truth and Deception:

One of the key techniques in creating an unreliable narrator is to intertwine moments of truth with deception. In “The Book Thief,” Death acknowledges its limitations and admits when it can’t comprehend certain events. This mix of candidness and distortion keeps readers guessing and engaged.

Use Literary Devices to Create Ambiguity:

Employ literary devices like foreshadowing, symbolism, and ambiguity to amplify the narrator’s unreliability. In “The Book Thief,” Zusak uses metaphors and symbols to convey deeper meanings and emotions, blurring the lines between reality and the narrator’s perception.

Develop Complex Characters:

Incorporate multifaceted characters that interact with the narrator in various ways. These interactions can shed light on the narrator’s unreliability or provide contrasting perspectives, making the narrative more intriguing. In “The Book Thief,” Death’s interactions with Liesel, Hans, and Rudy reveal different facets of its character.

Maintain Consistency in the Narrator’s Voice:

While an unreliable narrator can distort facts, it’s crucial to maintain consistency in their voice and narrative style. This consistency creates a cohesive reading experience and allows readers to discern intentional deceit from genuine moments of revelation.

Leave Room for Interpretation:

A hallmark of an unreliable narrator is leaving room for interpretation. Allow readers to draw their own conclusions and question the narrator’s reliability. In “The Book Thief,” Death’s narrative encourages readers to reflect on the profound themes of mortality, humanity, and the power of words.


Crafting an unreliable narrator is a storytelling art that can elevate your narrative to new heights. By taking inspiration from Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” and following these tips, you can create a captivating and thought-provoking narrator that will keep your readers hooked until the very end. Embrace the challenge of making readers question what’s true and discover the beauty of storytelling through the eyes of an unreliable narrator.



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