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Writing question: trustworthy narrator? - Queue
December 29th, 2005
07:52 am

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Writing question: trustworthy narrator?
I had a dream just before waking up this morning, and then I hypnagogically added a little twist that turned it into an interesting story idea. I played with it some more while lying in bed, and I think I actually have a pretty good story germ.

However, because of the twist, I'm not sure how to narrate it. There are twins, and one dies. The reader, and everyone else, apparently, thinks it's one twin. The reader finds out part of the way through the story that it's actually the other twin, but only one other character in the story knows (and has known all along). Everyone else thinks it's still the first twin.

So, the question. Can a third-person narrator refer to the living twin as one name for part of the story and then switch names once the true identity is revealed to the reader? Does this then make the narrator untrustworthy? I can't imagine doing this as a first-person narrator, since it would either have to be the living twin or the person who's known all along, and I don't want the reader to find out until later.

Thoughts?

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From:jaq
Date:December 29th, 2005 01:36 pm (UTC)
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I remember a TV mystery (I think it was Jonathan Creek), where the story hinged on one of a pair of twins being killed in an accident in the past, and the other twin switching identity.
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From:queue
Date:December 29th, 2005 01:56 pm (UTC)
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I saw a Law & Order episode recently where the good twin was killed because she was mistaken for the bad twin. The bad twin decided to take on the good twin's identity so that she wouldn't be killed and also so that the good twin's family wouldn't feel the loss (she took on the role of wife and mother without letting people know which twin she was).
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From:treacle_well
Date:December 29th, 2005 01:56 pm (UTC)
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I've seen that sort of thing done once, though in somewhat different circumstances. The reader knew a character (A) by one name, then another character (B) referred to character A by another name. My first thought was that there had been a proofing error (author/editor decided to change character name and overlooked it in this one spot), but shortly the reader understands why character B did that, and then it's okay from there on. I don't think it makes the narrator untrustworthy, unless there are also other things that the narrator "knows" but keeps secret from the reader.
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From:spwebdesign
Date:December 29th, 2005 04:52 pm (UTC)
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I don't see why it wouldn't work to have the narrator refer to the character simply as "the twin" while everyone else referred to the character by name.
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From:mattlistener
Date:December 29th, 2005 05:27 pm (UTC)
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...or "my brother"?
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From:treacle_well
Date:December 29th, 2005 06:06 pm (UTC)
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Because it would sound distancing, and give a certain tone that the author might not want. To me it very much does make a difference whether the narrative voice uses character names or non-name designations when telling the story.
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