Characters · Writing

Manipulating Your Reader

Manipulating Your Reader Okay, so you might have seen the title of this post and said, “Wait, what? Manipulating?” (Although, I think most of you have done it, so… :-P) And, yes. Manipulating. Authors do it quite a bit, you know. Have you ever had a character that “gave you the creeps”, even though they never technically said anything, or, really, did anything, creepy? If so, that’s because you were being manipulated.

“But…” You say, “Manipulated by what?”(Pretend you said it, mm?) And the answer is: Manipulated by word choices.

In the past few months, while SCCing,* I’ve noticed that I can make it so that other authors either dislike or like a character at will (It doesn’t work every time… Especially if the other author knows you well… Or has read this post.). It’s partially how they act and look, yes, but it’s also the way you say how they act, and how you say how they look, and the names that you pick. And the emotions of your readers is one thing that will largely effect the success of your novels.

Allow me to give you an example. I’m going to write a short snippet, right here in the post, and show you the differences.


A timid knock at the door jerked Lucas out of a light sleep. He glanced around the room, then ran his fingers through his unruly hair, and stood, walking over to the door.

He was there before he realized he could have just told them to ‘come in’. Shrugging one shoulder, he pulled the door open.

A pretty young woman stood there, her coal-black hair pulled into a mostly-neat bun, though a few strands escaped. Her hands were folded neatly in front of her, and her calm grey eyes looked at him, expectant.

“Um.” Lucas said. “What? I mean, what do you want?”

She glanced behind her quickly. “My name is Annie. May I come in?”

Lucas shrugged again. “Sure. Office is a bit of a mess, but you can come in.”

“Thank you.” She said, and stepped into the room. When she caught sight of his less-than-neat desk, she raised her eyebrows, a tiny smile lifting the corner of her mouth, which before had been dead serious.

Lucas closed the door and scanned the girl skeptically. She looked a bit young to work in the building. Must be an intern of some kind. Her clothing, straight and starched to perfection, made Lucas second guess his assumption.

Annie glanced around the room quickly, and then looked at Lucas. “I have a message for you, Mr. Smith.” She said, softly. Her shoes tapped on the tile floor as she walked over to him, and her hand was cold when she pressed the note into his hand. Lucas wondered if she was scared.

Annie fled the room without another word. Lucas did not turn around, but waited until her footsteps died off.


Okay, now before you continue, think about these two characters. Do you think they are trustworthy? Do you like them? Now. After you decide whether you like them, continue on to read the next snippet.


A quiet knock jerked Lucas out of his sleep. He glanced around the room, then ran his fingers through his unruly hair, and stood, walking over to the door.

He was there before he realized he could have just told them to ‘come in’. Shrugging one shoulder, he pulled the door open.

A young woman stood there, her sleek raven hair pulled into a bun, though a few strands escaped and were blown about by the air conditioner. Her hands, folded neatly in front of her, made Lucas think she was a business-like woman, but very… in control. Her cold grey eyes looked him straight in the face, waiting for him to make a move. Lucas suddenly realized how beautiful she was, in a cold, unfeeling way.

“Um.” Lucas said. “What? I mean, what do you want?”

She threw a glance over her shoulder. “My name is Genevieve Ethans.” She said. “May I come in?”

Lucas shrugged again. “Sure. Office is a bit of a mess, but you can come in.”

“Thank you.” She stepped into the room, scanning it coolly. When her eyes fell on his less-than-neat desk, she looked over at him, arching her brows with a tiny smile. Lucas wondered if she was mocking him.

He closed the door and scanned the girl skeptically. She looked a bit young to work in the building. Must be an intern of some kind. Her clothing, straight and starched to perfection, made Lucas second guess his assumption.

Ethans scanned the room once more, then met Lucas’ gaze. “I have a message for you, Mr. Smith.” She said, her voice low. Her heels clicked against the floor as she walked over to him, and when she pressed the note into his hand, her hand was cold.

Ethans walked out quickly, and a silence descended on the room interrupted only by the click of her heels against tile. Lucas did not turn around, but instead waited until the constant click, click, click of her shoes faded to silence.


Okay, now what do you think? (Not sure it works when you’re given both examples, but…)

The words “Cold” “calm” “cool” and those such words change the actions very little, but it changes the readers’ view of the character dramatically. The impression from the first one was of a nervous intern carrying an important message. But of the second one, more of an in-control, cool secret-agent-y type. Names also change the perception quite a bit. If they speak “Softly” instead of “in a low voice”, they’re more likely to be liked. (Or if they’re slightly messy, slightly loud people… but that’s a whole different type of character.)

So, look through your favorite books. Find the characters you like, and look at the phrases that the author uses for that type of character. You may just learn something.

What about you? Have you ever been “manipulated” in a story? Have you ever done it to a reader?


 *Story Character Chatting. It’s a Roleplaying thing where you play your own characters, and they interact with other writer’s characters by going into a room between the worlds sort of place (called a half-way room. ‘Cause it’s half-way in every world, and half-way in none).

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9 thoughts on “Manipulating Your Reader

  1. Yes! Yes! I know a bit about the world of manipulation, and based off of that, I’d say that these are fantastic observations! Not only does manipulation your readers make for a brilliant story, but it’s fun!

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