I've researched unreliable narrator, but every website I find tells me what an unreliable narrator is, not how your write an unreliable narrator. Do you just outright lie in the story? I'm so confused.
It’s not an outright lie.
- First Person: To write an unreliable narrator, use first person. You can use a third person POV if the narrator has a unique voice and if it’s clear that the narrator is a person whether they’re a character or not (like in A Series of Unfortunate Events). Either way, the narrator believes that what they are narrating is the truth. If third person is used, the “you can’t always trust/believe what you see” trick is used.
- Exaggerate, Withhold: Unreliable narrators exaggerate events and withhold information. Holden Caulfield’s mental state affects the way he sees the world in The Catcher in the Rye, and thus his descriptions of the events in the book come off as a bit odd. When an unreliable narrator withholds information, it’s not like when a character refuses to give up important information until the right moment to create suspense. It’s when the narrator leaves out bits and pieces because they don’t fit the exaggerated view.
- Vilify: Unreliable narrators vilify anyone who challenges their point of view. If a character comes along and their behavior or dialogue is about to make the narrator seem like a liar or if this character will create plot holes, the narrator will make them seem like an antagonist by exaggerating and withholding information. It’s like when you hate a person for no reason, but you try to find any reason you can to justify that hate.
- Other Characters: Use other characters to show that your narrator is unreliable. Your narrator might exaggerate about a certain character, only to have the presence of this character and their actions prove what the narrator said to be wrong. Create trustworthy characters to show how your character is unreliable.
- Dialogue: What your character says to other characters can reveal that they are unreliable. If they constantly lie to other characters, the reader might relate this to their narration. Other times, your character can say something they believe is true only to have other characters look at them funny or correct them.
- Bias: All narrators are biased and unreliable to an extent, but unreliable narrators take this further and often refuse to see the world from another character’s viewpoint. They use their morals and values to judge and explain the actions of others. This creates an unreliable narration of other characters.
TV Tropes: Unreliable Narrator (includes examples)