When you’re writing a story, it’s important to have a believable and compelling villain. A manipulative character can be the perfect antagonist for your story, but it can be difficult to make them convincing and sympathetic. In this post, we’ll give you some tips on how to create a manipulative character that will captivate your readers.
Manipulative Characters Are Often Essential to a Good Story
Many people believe that manipulative characters are always bad, but the truth is that they can often be essential to a good story.
A manipulative character is someone who cleverly manipulates to get what they want. They may lie, cheat, or use other underhanded tactics to achieve their goals. Although manipulative characters can be unlikable, they’re often essential to a good story. They provide an element of tension and conflict that can make a story more exciting and suspenseful.
In addition, a well-written manipulative character can be a complex and compelling character whose motivations aren’t always clear.
What would a thriller be without a master manipulator at the helm?
In fact, some of the most famous and popular characters in fiction are manipulative. Think, for example, of Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs. His ability to manipulate those around him is what makes him so fascinating and terrifying.
Of course, not all manipulative characters are villains. Some of the most popular protagonists in fiction are also very adept at manipulation. Take Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for example. Her willingness to manipulate those who’ve wronged her is a big part of what makes her such a fascinating and compelling character.
It’s clear, then, that manipulative characters can be essential to a good story. They add tension and intrigue and can help create complex and multi-dimensional characters. So if you want to write a manipulative character, don’t be afraid to show their dark side.
After all, it’s often their darkness that makes them so compelling.
Manipulative Characters Are Complex
When it comes to creating compelling and believable characters, there’s perhaps no more important quality than complexity. A truly three-dimensional character is never entirely good or entirely evil, but rather a mixture of both. This is especially true of manipulative characters.
A good manipulative character isn’t simply evil for evil’s sake. There must be a motivation behind their actions, and their actions should further that motivation.
This type of character can be evil but doesn’t necessarily have to be. In fact, some of the most compelling characters are those who manage the balancing act between good and evil. Personally, I think protagonist Raymond “Red” Reddington in The Blacklist (TV series) is a great example of this, as is Lucifer in the series of the same name. In literature, John le Carré’s legendary spymaster George Smiley immediately comes to mind.
A manipulative character may be trying to gain power or control over others. They may act out of jealousy or insecurity. Or they may simply enjoy causing pain and chaos.
Whatever the motivation, it should be clear to the reader why the character behaves the way they do.
Also, a good manipulative character is intelligent and skilled at dealing with people. They’re good at sizing up others and know how to manipulate them. They’re charming and persuasive, making it difficult for others to resist their influence.
Ultimately, a well-written manipulative character is a complex individual with many layers that make them both fascinating and dangerous.
To create a manipulative character that readers will love and hate, it’s important to give them both positive and negative qualities.
Manipulative Characters Can Be Narcissistic
When writing a manipulative character, it’s often helpful to model them on a real-life narcissist. Narcissists are experts at manipulation and can easily control those around them. They’re often charming and persuasive and use these skills to get what they want.
Narcissists also have a great need for admiration and attention. They’re constantly looking for validation from others and feel threatened if they aren’t the center of attention.
Therefore, they may try to control conversations or dominate social situations.
Narcissists also tend to be very selfish and self-centered. They take advantage of others or regularly put their own needs above those of others. Manipulative characters often share these same traits, which makes them believable and relatable to readers.
While it’s true that many manipulative characters are narcissists, there are also many who’re not. So what distinguishes the two?
Narcissism is a personality disorder characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. People with this disorder tend to be manipulative and charismatic, which often leads them to success in fields such as politics and business.
They may also use their powers of persuasion to take advantage of others or to get what they want.
Manipulation is a form of deception in which someone uses subtle or coercive tactics to achieve the desired outcome. Unlike narcissists, manipulators don’t necessarily believe they’re better than everyone else. Instead, they often exploit other people’s weaknesses to get what they want.
For example, a manipulator may pretend to be interested in the problems of others to gain their trust, or they may make false promises to get what they want.
Although narcissism and manipulation both involve deception and lack of empathy, there are some important differences between the two.
Machiavellian Manipulative Characters
There are many different types of manipulative characters that an author can choose from when writing a story. However, one of the most popular varieties is the Machiavellian manipulator.
This type of character takes its name from Niccolo Machiavelli, a 16th-century Italian political philosopher. In this book, Machiavelli advocated the use of deception and manipulation as a means of gaining and maintaining power.
This may not sound like the most admirable trait, but it can make for a very interesting and complex character.
So what exactly makes a Machiavellian manipulator?
First and foremost, they’re incredibly intelligent and always two steps ahead of everyone else. They’re experts at reading people and know exactly how to push the right buttons to get what they want. They’re also charming and charismatic, which makes them very good at getting people on their side.
However, behind all this charm lies a cold-hearted ruthlessness that allows them to do whatever it takes to get what they want – even if it means hurting others.
Some of the most memorable characters in fiction are masters of manipulation. They always seem to be one step ahead, using their wit and cunning to get what they want. Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes stories is a good example of this.
While these characters are fun to write about, it’s important to make sure their manipulations make sense. Otherwise, they can come across as contrived or unbelievable.
So how can you write a believable and convincing Machiavellian character? There are a few important things you should keep in mind:
- Your manipulative character should have a clear goal she’s trying to achieve. What does she want and why?
- They should be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goal. They should be ruthless and remove all obstacles from their path.
- They should have the ability to read people and understand what makes them tick. They should know how to push the right buttons to get what they want.
How Does a Character Learn to Manipulate
It’s important to remember that not all manipulative characters are bad people. Many of them are simply people who’ve had to learn to cope in a world where things aren’t always fair. That’s why it’s important to understand how a character learns to manipulate before you can write a convincing character.
There are a few important things a character needs to be able to manipulate effectively.
- They must be intelligent and quick of thought. They must be able to quickly assess a situation and choose the best course of action.
- They must be persuasive. They must be able to convince others to do what they want, even if it’s not in their best interest.
- They must be charming. They must be able to put other characters at ease and get them to trust them.
It’s not easy to portray these qualities convincingly, but it’s important to remember that most people aren’t naturally manipulative. Instead, they learn how to manipulate through experience.
A person who’s been burned by the world is much more likely to resort to manipulation than someone who’s had an easy life. That’s why it’s important that you give your character a believable past that makes them a manipulative character. If you don’t, they’ll come across as phony and flat.
Because manipulative characters are often smart, some authors give them a technical or academic background. This can be a reason for their intelligence and give them insight into how to manipulate others.
However, this is a detail that can easily become cliché. It’s important to remember that your character doesn’t have to have a technical background to be intelligent and manipulative. Rather, it’s important that your character’s intelligence matches their backstory and character.
Traits That Make Up a Convincing Manipulative Character
A persuasive, manipulative character is someone who can control and influence others without them realizing it. This type of person is often very charming and intelligent, which makes them easy to like and trust.
However, behind their friendly exterior lies a calculating mind that’s always eager to achieve their own goals. In order to write a convincing manipulative character, it’s important to understand the different qualities that make up this type of personality.
One of the most important character traits of a manipulative character is their ability to read people. They’re experts at reading body language and listening to the way someone speaks to figure out what they want or how they can be manipulated. This allows them to quickly build relationships with others and identify their weaknesses.
They know how to push their buttons and influence their decisions. However, behind this charm lies a cold-hearted ruthlessness and a willingness to do whatever it takes to get what they want.
Another key trait is their ability to always be one step ahead. Manipulative people always think several steps ahead, planning and making plans to be prepared for all eventualities. This allows them to anticipate the needs and desires of others and act immediately when an opportunity arises.
Manipulative individuals are expert liars. They lie effortlessly and convincingly, using any means to get what they want. Whether they tell a white lie or create a completely false identity, they’ll stop at nothing to achieve their goals.
A manipulative character should have a serious lack of empathy. This is the one quality that distinguishes them from narcissists.
They should have no real emotional attachment to most other people except themselves. They may use their charm or charisma to attract people, but they’ll always view them as objects to be used for their own ends.
This can make a manipulative character seem cold and distant, even to those closest to them. However, this is a necessary trait to use others to get what they want through psychological manipulation and coercion.
Manipulative characters tend to have a strong desire to succeed and control those around them. At the end of the day, they want to be in charge and be the ones who call the shots. This can sometimes lead them to make decisions that aren’t in their best interest just to feel powerful.
A manipulative character can also be incredibly jealous and possessive. They’ll do whatever it takes to control their loved ones, even if that means smothering them or preventing them from spending time with them.
Manipulative people are usually very intelligent. They often have an expanded vocabulary and a casual way of speaking, which makes them very personable and persuasive.
Also, note some other possible personality traits and other signs of manipulative characters:
- Good listeners
- Attentive to the vulnerabilities of their targets
- They test the waters before fully engaging in manipulation
- They make their victims feel guilty
- They avoid taking the blame. Always
- Constantly belittling
- They’re good at building dependencies
- Good at using flattery
- An array of manipulative tactics at their disposal – choosing the best one for the circumstances
- A hidden agenda
- No boundaries
- A propensity for revenge
Have Another Character Try to Understand Them
One of the most effective ways to write a manipulative character is to have another character try to understand their manipulative behavior. This allows readers to get inside the manipulator’s head and see how he or she thinks and acts. It also makes the manipulator more sympathetic and understandable, even when he does terrible things.
You can have the other person talk directly to the manipulator, or you can have them observe the manipulator and try to understand him that way.
By having another character try to understand the motivations behind the manipulator’s actions, readers can gain insight into the thought process of a manipulative person.
In any case, it’s important to show how the manipulator thinks and why they do what they do.
- What’s their goal?
- What do they hope to accomplish?
- What’re they afraid of?
You must be careful not to portray the other person as too gullible or naive. If she’s too easy to manipulate, it’ll be frustrating for the reader. It’s okay if the other person makes mistakes, but ultimately they should be able to see through the manipulator’s facade and realize what they’re really up to.
Examples of Manipulative Characters in Film and Literature
Grima Wormtongue in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings – a great example of a manipulator who’s also a sycophant. As chief advisor to King Theoden of Rohan, his every word drips with venom. Wormtongue’s target is the kingdom and the king’s daughter, Eowyn.
Littlefinger – Peter Baelish – in Game of Thrones (The Song of Ice and Fire) by Geroge R.R. Martin. A master of manipulation, bribery, and blackmail. Highly intelligent, dangerous, and Machiavellian.
Napoleon in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Amusingly, he was renamed “César” in some early French-language versions of the novel. This “rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar” is an allegory for Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. While he calls the other animals to rebellion, Napoleon keeps himself out of the battle and uses other pigs to enforce his goals.
President Coriolanus Snow in The Hunger Games. The autocratic ruler of Panem is psychopathic and sadistic.
Mark Anthony in Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare.
What Makes Manipulative Characters Scared
One of the most important things to remember when writing a manipulative character is that they’ll eventually be afraid. Afraid of what, you may ask?
There are a few things that can scare a manipulative character:
- The prospect of losing control. A manipulative person is someone who’s used to always being in control. They like to be the ones in charge and have everything go their way. So when they feel like they’re losing control of a situation, it can be very scary for them.
- The thought of being exposed. Manipulative characters often have something to hide – whether it’s a dark secret from their past or an ulterior motive they’re currently pursuing. The thought of being exposed can be very scary for them because it could mean losing everything they’ve worked so hard to achieve.
- Manipulative individuals are often afraid of failing. They often have very high expectations of themselves and of those around them. So if they feel that they’re failing in some way, it can be very scary for them.
- Manipulative individuals are often driven by deep insecurity. They may have low self-esteem or fear of rejection. To feel like they’re in control, they manipulate those around them. They lie, cheat, or play mind games to get what they want.
- What really scares manipulative people is the prospect of being powerless.
Are Fiction Writers Manipulative?
Some say you’ve to be manipulative to be a successful writer. After all, part of your job is to take your readers into another world of your own making and to do that you’ve to be able to control their experience. You need to know how to play with their emotions, how to make them laugh and cry, and how to keep them turning the page. In short, you need to be able to manipulate them.
While it’s important to be aware of how you can influence your reader’s experience, it’s equally important not to use these techniques in a way that seems cheap or disingenuous.
After all, the best novels are about making a connection with your readers and using that connection to move them into your story. While some manipulation is inevitable when it comes to getting your readers excited about your story, it’s important that you don’t make manipulation your primary concern.
Remember that your goal as a writer is to engage your readers through your words, not to make them feel what you want them to feel.