Discussion: Manipulation in Books

A bit of a different topic for this discussion…

I have been thinking a lot lately about books I did not enjoy, but everyone else did and how that happened. I’ve also been thinking about author-reader relationships and how that affects books and the way we see them. All of this thinking got me stuck on one thing in particular – manipulation. I want to talk a bit about that.

what it meansI think that authors inherently manipulate readers. It’s the way it works. You write something and the way you set up the story and the characters is a sort of manipulation and not in a bad way. It’s just that you’re trying to build a story and so you have to navigate the readers through it. However, there have been numerous books I read were I felt manipulated. And that’s the key. I don’t want to see right through your intentions and I do not want to feel like I was manipulated into feeling a certain thing. I want to feel it, and think that that emotion is justified. Not that you manipulated me into having this emotional response. So that’s what we’re talking about.

whyitsanissueWhen authors use emotional manipulation to illicit a response from the reader, it creates this false excitement and coverts that something isn’t working quite right. Queerbaiting is a great example of that. It’s the author constantly making two characters interact in a way that is clearly romantic, and yet never fulfilling on that promise. It creates a divide between what the readers feel and what they end up getting. It feels a lot like betrayal and not being a hundred percent honest with your readership. Emotional manipulation leads to the fact that the reader is blindsided by their emotions and hence cannot fully understand what happened in the book. And how it happened. So readers can miss some problematic or not really great stuff because they were emotionally manipulated by the author.

whyidontwanttokniwOf course, manipulation is the part of the process. You want to make your readership feel something. However, as a reader, I don’t want to know that you’re doing that. As soon as I become aware of what you’re trying to do, it ruins everything. I don’t want to know that I was manipulated into feeling something. It has to be subtle, and it has to be meaningful. It has to serve a purpose and make sense and it has to be honest.

someexamplesJ.K. Rowling basically invented this. Her books aren’t diverse in the slightest. Like at all. And Harry Potter books have a lot of holes in it. And J.K. Rowling knows it. So she starts confirming and explaining things outside of canon. Like saying these students could have been black, or Dumbledore is in fact gay, or any sort of thing like that. But she never explicitly said that in her books. Snape is the shinning example of that collection. She constantly tries to apologize his behavior, and she uses emotional manipulation to do it. I love Snape, because I feel that he is a great character, but he did some awful things. And why would you have to apologize that? Why can’t he be a bad person who did good things and a great and well written character? Do all of them have to be likable?
The Cursed Child is a mess precisely for this reason. You are constantly manipulated into feeling nostalgic and it constantly tries to draw on your love for the original series, while completely ruining the canon and adding a sprinkle (a HUGE sprinkle) of queerbating.

Sarah J. Maas is another prime example. She writes characters so they work for the plot she had in mind, and not the other way around. She constantly makes these sudden and big character changes so she can manipulate her readers as seeing these characters in completely new light that does not make any sense, just so she can drive the plot forward and bring in another romantic interest.

Jojo Moyes in Me Before You is another example. That whole book is a mess. By the end it sends the message that a quadriplegic life, no matter the circumstances, is not really worth living, while relying on incredible emotional distress to try and hide that and make her readers feel sad and basically awful. I talk a bit more about that HERE.

Finally, I want to talk about A Little Life and Hanya Yanagihara. I am sure you’re aware it’s one of my favorite books of all time. And it’s an emotionally draining read, most definitely. But a lot of people felt manipulated by the book and did not like it. I did.
So the key to this remains – I don’t want know your manipulating my emotions. I don’t. And that’s the whole point. 

intentionalThe question that need answering is is this intentional. Are the authors aware they’re doing it? I don’t have the answer to this, and I am sure there’s no universal one for that. I feel like some probably are, some probably aren’t. I think it boils down to skill and that interaction between the text (or the author) and the reader. I’d recommend checking out Mikaela’s post on more of that.

anythingtoshareSo I’d love to hear from you! What books made you feel manipulated? Do you think it’s intentional? I would love to know what you think on the topic!


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25 thoughts on “Discussion: Manipulation in Books

  1. Woah…this really opened up my mind to some things I’ve been feeling with books but never knew the word to describe it. I totally feel you…I think that’s why I have a hard time with certain books/authors. I want to love it and I do, but there’s this little nagging feeling, and I think a lot of it has to do with what you just discussed. Some manipulation is fine; but like you said, I don’t want to see or know it. It’s like there needs to be an equal balance. I wonder if authors even realize they’re doing it sometimes?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! You’re reading something and you’re like “This is fine, but why do I feel uncomfortable?” A balance is very much needed. I am not sure! I think some of them are aware of it, but some probably not. I don’t really know 🤷‍♀️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting discussion! I’m totally with you on The Cursed Child. I felt so manipulated (and even insulted) by the way it relied entirely on the existing canon to engage readers/viewers, and yet still had the audacity to literally mess with that canon and (in my opinion) completely misrepresent certain characters.

    As for the blatant queerbaiting, it was infuriatingly needless. One of the consistent criticisms of HP is the lack of proper LGBT+ representation (Sure, Dumbledore is gay, but notice how Rowling only confirmed it out of the books, once the series was near its end, so there was no real risk of readers/publishers complaining). It’s like they knew they SHOULD remedy the lack of proper rep in Cursed Child, but chickened out at the last minute through fear of backlash from homophobes.

    As you can probably tell, I’m not a big fan of The Cursed Child 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel the exact same way about it! They definitely messed with the canon, in a way that was unbelievable and lazy, and I was bothered by that more than the fact that they were clearly trying to milk on my love for the original series. And the queerbaiting was so disappointing. I was really excited for LGBT+ people to finally get to see themselves in Harry Potter, but they were let down and it was so annoying.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah I love your discussion posts, and I agree, it’s key you don’t know you’re being “manipulated” but I do like red herrings, being led to believe/think something and then bam, it’s something else, but it HAS to make sense, be valid, I’m not an idiot so your twist must be clever and make sense 😂

    Interestingly you mentioned A Little Life. I feel like the author thought let me make the most tragic character of all times and constantly make people feel sad for him, the point of the novel is irrelevant but if I can make everyone love this deeply tragic character, I’ve succeeded!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw thanks so much! I do love a good red herring as well, when it’s done right. I know! That’s how a lot of people felt about it. I always thought of Jude as more of a concept and that’s why I think it worked for me. But I think that book definitely proves the point – I have to not feel manipulated in order to like it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love Snape for the same reasons that you do, and I feel that Cursed Child had queerbaiting in it with Albus and Scorpius. And I completely ship Albus and Scorpius. You always have such great discussion posts!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. OMG I LOVE YOU. I also detest emotional manipulation with a passion, and despite being a hardcore Potterhead, I really don’t like J.K. Rowling excusing her characters’ actions or pretending there was any diversity there in the first place; I mean, it’s just like, own up to what you wrote already! Oh, and Sarah J. Maas is one of my least favorite authors ever. Her books are a drama-fest of emotional ups and downs, and not in a good way.

    Terrific post! This is something I’ve been feeling for a long time, so it’s nice to see it articulated so well here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. THANK YOU SO MUCH 💜 I adore Harry Potter so much, but you gotta be realistic about it, and Rowling just isn’t. And so glad to see that some people had issues with Maas as well, since I always get grief about not liking her books 😅

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I felt really manipulated by Sarah J. Maas, but I never knew how to describe it.
    The Problem with me is, I feel easily manipulated so I kinda shrug it away and it doesnt bother me as much as it used to do. But this Post kind of opened my eye that others feel like me too! I really like your discussion posts!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think whether a book is manipulating or not can depend quite a lot on the reader. Some readers will find a book to be manipulating, while other won’t. Like you said, manipulation is almost inherent to writing a plot line, and so it really depends on how readers interpret that manipulation. Such an interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you, but I also feel like some authors rely heavily on emotional manipulation, while their plot and characterization make little sense. I definitely think that it’s up to the reader whether or not they will find it manipulative, but I also feel like some authors use it a lot 🤷‍♀️ Thank you so much!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This was a great post. Very interesting. Queerbaiting is a term I’m completely unfamiliar with–this was my very first time coming across it!
    Manipulation, like most anything an author does, should never be noticeable. Even beautiful writing is bad, if it becomes so beautiful that it gets in the way of the story. But for manipulation, when it becomes obvious or feels forced….yikes. The author’s broken part of their deal with the reader.
    Thing is, I think that sometimes it can be hard to do. You don’t know what a reader is going to guess or notice in your work, or what they might focus on that another reader will breeze over. I suppose that being able to guess what your reader will think, and how they’ll respond emotionally, is what makes some people into truly phenomenal writers.
    It’s all tricky stuff.
    But the Dumbledore thing….totally with you on that one. It bothered me that his homosexuality was disclosed out of cannon. If it’s going to be a thing, then let it be a thing! It’s what people deserve! Seemed cheap to throw it in from outside, just to sort of check the box. You know?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I completely agree – I think it’s incredibly difficult to make manipulation unnoticed, there’s a lot skill involved and it’s not easy to do at all. Exactly! The Dumbledore thing is very cheap and the cannon innuendo about it is SUPER obscure and hidden, so to use it outside of cannon to make the book more diverse is very problematic to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Late to the party, but really interesting post! I think that this was my problem with The Fault in Our Stars. I felt like every page was trying to edge me towards the end so that I would cry. It felt like that was all it was trying to do, which is fine, but I shouldn’t feel pushed into your intent. Tell me a story and make me weep!
    And 100% agree about Harry Potter. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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