We’ve already discussed what other characters might tell the narrator as if they were facts, but as I said this isn’t always so. Other characters have motivations and opinions too which could be as simple as dislike for the person they’re telling the narrator about to something more complicated but this will affect what they tell the reader about them. It’s the same principle as when the narrator is told any sort of story by another character. As first-person narration is also called the subjective narrator then it’s easy to forget that all the characters around them are subjective in their views too.
We must also remember too that simply because another character is speaking to the narrator it doesn’t mean they’re telling the truth. There’s a distinct line between a subjective view and an outright lie. For instance one character can express a low opinion of another character based on their opinion but it doesn’t mean they have to tell a lie to do it. At its most basic level it would be the difference between ‘I wasn’t impressed when they broke that vase’ and saying ‘they broke that vase on purpose’ when the character speaking knows they didn’t.
These opinions aren’t expressed as conspicuously as ‘I think this…’ as with telling a story the characters speaking to the narrator will highlight different moments based on who the narrator is speaking to. One character may emphasise that Adam keeps parking too close to their car while another may emphasis that Adam always holds the door for people. One version makes Adam sound unpleasant while the other makes him sound much nicer.
Alternatively characters can imply things without meaning to. They can hint at history, suggest the absence of someone or infer an ulterior motive. For instance they may be describing a party that Adam claims to have been at but never mention him. This doesn’t mean his wasn’t there; it could mean they didn’t see him, they forgot to mention him or they just don’t find him interesting enough to mention. They might suggest an ulterior motive with an offhand comment such as ‘he never takes the lift’, might suggest claustrophobia or someone who likes the exercise they get taking the stairs. Saying ‘he never takes the life’ might also suggest more than casual acquaintance and they’ve seen Adam often enough to say he never takes the lift. Whereas ‘I’ve never seen him take the lift’ might suggest a relationship where they haven’t met Adam enough times to make a definitive comment. Of course, simply because someone makes a definitive comment doesn’t mean they have evidence to back it up nor does being less definitive mean they don’t, it would depend on their personality and perspective.
The fact that we can’t be certain about these comments is what makes them implications. They imply answers that can be built upon and developed as the story progresses and gives the reader a chance to try and guess. To go again to the crime genre a lot can rest on implying who the criminal is before we get to the resolution and the satisfaction of either being right or surprised.
For more writing advice see my Advice Page. For more on narration/narrative see Finding Your Voice and Finding Your Perspective. You may also find my internal monologue series useful under Finding The Characters.
NOTE: Each article series comes in five parts published between Monday and Friday. Check back tomorrow for the next part.