Portraying Complex Emotions like Jealousy and Manipulation in Fictional Characters

While writing my first novel, Legally in Love, I often found myself struggling to portray such complex behaviours as jealousy and manipulation through one of the main characters in this book.

In this post, I am sharing how I finally went about tackling these two very difficult emotions.

So let’s take these two behaviours one by one.


portraying complex emotionsThe expression, “She became green with jealousy,” just didn’t work for me because, let’s face it, no one ever becomes “green with jealousy”. So I did a little bit of research on the internet to find out how exactly a jealous person behaves.

In that quest, I stumbled upon Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog. She is a USA Today Best Selling Author who has written about professional jealousy in the context of freelancing.

It was captivating to learn how a jealous person behaves. Here are a few facts:

* A jealous person is never willing to accept that the other person is successful because of hard work. Never ever. If you have seen trolls bashing celebrities or successful people on the internet or on Twitter or Facebook, they all share this common trait. They generally like to believe that:

“He/she became successful because of luck.”

“He/she bribed his/her way through.”

“He/she slept his/her way through.” (I have seen this being said so many times especially for celebrities.)

“He/she knew the right people or had contacts.” (The fact that the person may have worked hard to build those connections is often ignored.)

“He/she marketed his/her products well.” (The fact that marketing also requires hard work or the product was great is often left out.)

“He/she had a lot of money so he/she bought his/her success.” (Wish only money could buy you success.)

“He/she is successful because he/she is very charming and NOT good at his/her work.”

Or “Insert your favourite line here.”

This line of thinking is often accompanied by often pitying yourself.

“I am not successful because I don’t have enough money/beauty/charm/intelligence/or whatever.”

Makes sense then to ensure that your fictional character speaks in this way when he or she is jealous. You may use dialogues or internal thoughts to portray envy. Make it clear that the character does not want to give any credit to hard work. Not even a bit. 

* Jealousy is a very destructive emotion. It destroys both the victim and the perpetrator and probably more so the perpetrator in the longer run. A jealous person believes that he/she needs to destroy the other person in other to build themselves up. They don’t believe that they can succeed because of hard work. So they spend their energy and time destroying others. This can be portrayed in various ways:

* Bad-mouthing

* Sabotage

* Intrigues

Make sure your fictional character believes that it is essential to destroy others to succeed and make him/her behave that way.


Psychological manipulation can be defined as “the exercise of undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits, and privileges at the victim’s expense.”

portraying complex emotions

Like jealousy, manipulation too doesn’t use logic. It is aimed to make you feel bad or make you behave in a certain way.

There are many examples of manipulation. If you want to go in depth, you may like to check out this article.

* A manipulator behaves in extremes. They may be over polite to an extreme and then become overly aggressive. I am directly quoting from this article:

“They often start off being extremely thoughtful, considerate and attentive. They put you on a pedestal and put in a lot of effort. This is part of the grooming process. Getting you high on the feeling of flattery and feeling special is part of the manipulation. Once they have you emotionally ‘hooked’ they have a stronger position from which to start manipulating and controlling you. In some cases, manipulators lack empathy and part of the extreme behaviour involves them acting the part of a caring person. As they can lack empathy, they do not feel in touch with their emotions and have to go through the motions of acting in a way that they believe a kind, caring person would.”

Make sure your fictional character goes from one extreme to the other. For example, you may be portraying a girl who has an abusive boyfriend. Make her boyfriend to first come across as really charming. He should make her feel like he is the most caring and sensitive guy she could ever come across. And then when she is in a relationship, the abuse begins.

An expert manipulator uses many tactics to subdue the victim such as:

* Minimising: As the name suggests, a manipulator tries to minimise the effect of their behaviour on others. For example, if the boyfriend in the above scenario said mean and hurtful things and the girl reacts, he is most likely to say things like “You are so sensitive” or “I was joking” or “Why do you take such things so seriously?” instead of accepting the fact that he had intentionally tried to hurt her feelings.

* Never accept blame: In conflict situations, manipulators never accept their part in the play. The article gives a very good example of this:

“You trip over their shoes/bag etc in the night as they have placed them too near the doorway. When you fall over them you are blamed by the manipulator because you should watch where you are going or you should have turned on the light (the fact that they left their belongings where people walk is not considered or mentioned).”

* Non-verbal cues of manipulation: Like sighing, rolling your eyes or even giggling to make the other person feel uncomfortable.

* Gas-Lighting: This is a very sophisticated tactic that manipulators employ. The intention is to destroy the self-confidence of the recipient slowly over time, by making her bleed through a thousand cuts. It starts by planting false information.

“I asked you to do x, why didn’t you do it?” (Whereas in reality the manipulator never asked for anything like that). This makes the recipient wonder what is wrong with her. Why can she not take the simplest of decisions or why has she become so forgetful recently? Whether she is good enough a person/wife/mother/employee? She even starts lying to the reality twists.

Do you get the idea?

The most amazing thing about manipulation is that it comes out very clearly when you start writing it down. In speaking, it can trip anyone but when you write down you can see through what the person is actually doing.

Your dialogues may be something like:

“I asked you to do x, what happened?” said the manipulator.

“Did you? When?” asked the victim.

“Yes I did. You are so forgetful,” screamed the manipulator.

“I am so sorry. I will ensure that this does not happen in the future,” said the victim.

“You better be,” said the manipulator and so on.


I learnt a lot about the destructive ways in which humans can behave. Hopefully, the discussion above would have given you some idea to help construct your own jealous and manipulative characters.

And in real life, if you do come across someone who is like this, run away.


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