Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Are writers manipulative?

Today, we had a professor from the philosophy department lecture our medical school class. The first thing he said struck me: "Language is often used to manipulate and persuade."

In many ways, we are all using details to share pieces of ourselves with the world
: curse words (or lack of), dreams, engagement rings, plaques hung on office walls, careless handwriting, discourse with waiters, etc.

And that made me wonder,
are writers manipulative ? Not a bad way, of course but I do believe that the most effective story tellers convince readers to believe what they are saying and root for the characters and themes.

(These are from my research on sympathetic characters, by the way..) By providing your protagonist's back story, you are explaining his/her motivation. When you give your antagonist a universal desire, he/she all of a sudden becomes sympathetic. A character with a physical weakness has the chance to show strength and persistence. At the root of all of these? A need to convince.

So perhaps the word manipulative (oh, how I love words) has a negative connotation that isn't always accurate. Because maybe writers can be manipulative (and schizophrenic, scatterbrained, impulsive) but that's just one of the many perks :)


  1. Yeah, manipulate does have a very negative connotation these days. Maybe maneuver or direct? Bah, thesaurus.com is no help at all. :/

  2. I think writers are manipulative, not in a negative way per se but as a matter of course. We have to convince the reader to keep reading and immerse them into a fictive world. There's lots of moving parts to manipulate. Thoughtful post!

  3. Love the word direct, Sarah!
    Bluestocking, I agree that there is a lot of moving parts to manipulate.

  4. Ah, I like this question. And yes, I think we writers are manipulative. But you know what? If you're spreading a postitive message that will make people feel good about themselves, then it's allowed! :o)

  5. Definitely manipulative, at least on the page. I agree, the connotation is not pretty.

    Saumya, I've sent an award your way. Come on by and pick it up.

  6. It is our duty to use our powers of manipulation for good!

    How else would people relate to what we write or feel anything at all for these little symbols on screen or page?

  7. nice post saumya, you always seem to have a way of saying so much with so little words- i admire it, i tend to waffle on (obviously). i think we do manipulate, we also deceive, mislead and fabricate BUT if we do it well...the reader will love it! ironic...

  8. So true! I tell my students all the time that I hope to manipulate them into being better and more compassionate people - and I hope they'll do the same for me :)

  9. Manipulate does have negative connotations, but i know what you mean. I LOVE it when books manipulate you into feeling sympathetic for the villian - I mean, you still root for him/her to get what's coming to them, but I think it is fascinating - and often very helpful - to understand what makes a person go down the wrong path. My very favorite stories of ALL is where a person going down the wrong path - whether greed, hatred, bitterness, anger, prejudice etc - gets turned around or even comes to the point of becoming an ally with the person or people he was trying to destroy in the first place. I don't think there are enough stories like this. Les Miserables is a great example. Sorry to go off on this - you struck a chord!