© 2011, Vicki Hinze
WARNING: This is a no-edit zone…
The word manipulation does not carry positive connotations, and yet when the writer views it, it’s through a different prism, and it is a useful word—and writing tool.
The writer writes to make a point. S/he presents facts through the character being used as a vehicle to support the position the character takes—his or her story role. Often the writer also uses a second character and facts opposing that position. This even hand (showing both sides of the coin or issue or challenge) creates the greatest amount of tension and conflict—provided the author presents the pros and cons with equal tenacity, logic, and authenticity. A genuine respect for both sides is required.
When the writer does it, what’s happening? The writer is manipulating the facts and the reader’s emotions. At core level, the writer is pitting good against evil, right against wrong—or any opposing views on the writer’s subject/topic of choice.
This pitting of opposing views or ends of a spectrum makes for the best fiction because the author isn’t telling the story with a lopsided view. S/he is putting the good, bad and indifferent into the mix and tossing it like a salad—so that there’s a blend of good and bad in the good and in the bad. That brings not just the topic or big questions into view for consideration, but also gives the reader the opportunity to notice all the shades of gray on both sides.
The reader tends to invest more personally in the shades of gray. Why? Because s/he can relate to more in them, or see in those shades more of what s/he believes. (Remember, there are few absolutes. There is good in bad and bad in good. Unintended consequences come to mind. Think of the stopped clock. It’s still right twice each and every day.)
Readers connect with characters and stories through emotion. Writers connect with characters and stories through emotion. The writer has a purpose in writing this specific story with this specific character. S/he feels this character can best tell the story, live it, or demonstrate the reason the writer wants to tell this story. So of course, in making the point that motivates the writer to write, in choosing the character(s) s/he chooses to demonstrate/live/tell this story, the writer manipulates.
S/he manipulates everything from the details included to the setting, the mood and tone, the secondary characters, the opposing characters—everything. Every single element, even those that are in direct opposition to the goal s/he has for the novel, is manipulated. (The bad guy loses. You might relate to some of his shades of gray, but not so much you want him to win.) Even what isn’t in the book is evidence of writer manipulation. What s/he elects not to include, not to address, impacts the overall story conclusions.
So writers, when you think of manipulation, don’t think of it as the dirty word it is too often in life. Think of it as massaging your story and characters so that they become the best vehicles and means to convey the message that first motivated you to write the book.
Manipulation is not always a dirty word. Sometimes it’s the blessing that brings your message into stark relief where it can be grasped, understood and embraced by others. That’s, in my humble opinion, a hardworking tool for writers.