Definition: An attempt to influence another’s behavior for one’s own benefit; to control
Characters in Literature: The pig Napoleon (Animal Farm); Melisande (Kushiel’s Dart); President Snow (Hunger Games trilogy) and, not a book, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Dr. Gregory House!
Common Portrayals: Loan sharks; car salesmen; the popularity crowd; the head cheerleader or ‘it’ girl in school, the shrewd boss or co-worker.
Clichés to Avoid: Conniving politicians, manipulation to gain acceptance as a plot device (Hazing, breaking the law for a gang initiation, etc); the popular & manipulative cheerleader/rich girl/prom queen-to-be forcing others to bend to her will in order to curry favor; beautiful women who use their looks to get people to do what they want; strong-arming military figures, underhanded governments, etc.
Twists on the Traditional Manipulative Character:
▪ Most manipulators see themselves as being ‘in the right’ and so feel it’s okay to manipulate in a given situation. However, sometimes incredible characterization comes out from people who are not born manipulators. Take Peeta from the Hunger Games…manipulating the Capitol audience during talk shows is something he does well, yet goes against his nature. Show us scenarios like this where the need causes manipulation to come out as a characteristic when it is not natural to do so.
▪ Most manipulators in fiction are very intelligent and shrewd. Try pairing manipulation with someone of lower intelligence, or someone who sees themselves as influential but really…they suck at it.
▪ Again, most cases of manipulation seem to come with strong intent and the character embracing their own sneaky or shrewd nature. Show us a character who knows they have a tendency to be manipulative or influential, but they fight against it from a desire to not be that way
This sample, along with the rest of the character trait entries, has been expanded into book form! Together, THE NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CHARACTER FLAWS and THE POSITIVE TRAIT THESAURUS: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CHARACTER ATTRIBUTES contain over 200 traits for you to choose from when creating unique, memorable characters. Each entry contains possible causes for the trait, as well as positive and negative aspects, traits in supporting characters that may cause conflict, and associated behaviors, attitudes, thoughts, and emotions. For more information on this bestselling book and where it can be found, please visit our bookstore.
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Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.