Learn How To Use Emotional Manipulation To Make Your Characters Pop

Rich, complex characters are the essence of successful movies. You need to balance positive with negative traits.

There are a number of character types that can be utilized in your screenplays really enrich your writing.

Let’s take a look at emotional manipulators. How does their personality disorder affect the characters around them?  Why do they feel the need for absolute control without any regard for those around them?  Emotional manipulation often disguises underlying insecurities or deep feelings of inadequacy.

These behaviors can be as subtle as white lies, omissions and guilt tripping. But they invariably involve the manipulator failing to accept responsibility for their actions and even blaming others.

Here are some traits that you can use to write such characters that will really make sparks fly in your scenes:


These are repeated behaviors that one character always performs; such as always turning up late or never offering to pay the bill. When they are confronted they respond with an insincere apology, but the same thing happens the next time. And the next. They never had any intention of modifying their behavior. We’ve all met someone like that. Consider the latent conflict and resentment that simmers before the victim explodes.


Here’s a good scenario. Perfect for roommate arguments.

The power has just been cut off because the bill hasn’t been paid. The perpetrator claims they didn’t realize the electricity bill was due yesterday. They swear you told them it was due next week, despite the fact the bill is attached to the refrigerator door with the due date circled. Then they start an argument and  blame you for not making it clear when the bill was due.


Selective memory loss is another great source of conflict. Consider a shared car. One character claims they never granted permission for the other to use the car and starts an argument because they need it at the same time. The second person insists they previously agreed. Fight ensues.


This is often used in close relationships. Consider a scenario when the husband wants to go out on a boys night out. The wife agrees but lays on a guilt trip with comments like “Fine. Leave me here all alone” in the hopes that husband decides to stay home. Ouch!


I love this one. When someone who’s visibly upset insists that they’re fine. They expect you to read their minds and become upset when you don’t.

Deflections, silent treatments and circular arguments are all ingredients for this type of conflict.


Here’s one of my personal favorites. When one character reduces your seeming over- reaction to their annoying behavior as a quirk, or even worse, they accuse YOU of being unreasonable. Consider our sparring couple again. The wife gently reminds the husband that he promised to repaint the bathroom a few months ago. He responds with feeble statements like he’s too busy, he painted it five years ago and it looks fine, or stop nagging. I’ll get around to it. Sure you will!


These are characters that will force their problems onto you and expect you to listen. They talk endlessly about an issue from the perspective and expect you to listen. Sometimes their concerns are valid, while other times they are their own creation. Give people like that too much time and they  drain you emotionally. Consider the best friend who always talks about relationship problems without any serious intention of solving them. You’re expected to be their sounding board. Everyone has their limits.

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