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Writing a Control Freak. (1 Viewer)

Stormcat

Senior Member
I'm writing a control freak character. Two of them actually, A married couple. I've already written about their children in my story, but now it's time to talk about the parents.

The kids themselves are forced to behave like perfect children in public, always smiling (not necessarily sincerely) never fussing, never complaining, and if you look really close, they no longer have any "spark" in their eyes. Their personalities have basically been beaten out of them, but they have no physical marks of their bodies anywhere. Who's responsible for turning these kids into Stepford Smilers? None other than their hyper-religious parents, of course!

Now, the parents are based on a certain couple, who are now infamous due to the actions of their oldest son, but I don't really feel the need to tell you who exactly they are based on. I do not know this couple personally, though for many years it was hard to avoid hearing about them or their numerous children. In fact, the oldest son made the news quite recently for a horrible, horrible reason. Indeed I know enough to know that the matriarch and patriarch of this family hold their children in an iron fist. Even if they get married and move out, the wills of Mom and Dad are still felt. One of their older daughters recently broke free from their parent's mental prison, but she has been rather reluctant to talk about it. Poor dear.

Anyway, if you don't know who I'm talking about, I'm not going to reveal any more. All I really want now is tips and tricks to help convey the parents as controlling and image-obsessed. They need to portray themselves as a "perfect" family despite close examination of the children revealing cracks in the facade. They run a tight ship, with even tighter control of their children's lives. I've already written about the children, now I need to show the people who made them this way.
 

piperofyork

Friends of WF
Hi @Stormcat - one detail might be the regularly-scheduled family portraits, everyone spick and span and, in the final product, smiling and orderly...but the day is dreaded beforehand by the children, who are all too familiar with their parents' gritted teeth, iron whispers, pinches, and the like.
 

Stormcat

Senior Member
Hi @Stormcat - one detail might be the regularly-scheduled family portraits, everyone spick and span and, in the final product, smiling and orderly...but the day is dreaded beforehand by the children, who are all too familiar with their parents' gritted teeth, iron whispers, pinches, and the like.
True, but my main focus for this exercise isn't the kids, it's their parents. How do the parents convey that they are controlling, in ways that could be picked up by someone outside the family?
 

piperofyork

Friends of WF
True, but my main focus for this exercise isn't the kids, it's their parents. How do the parents convey that they are controlling, in ways that could be picked up by someone outside the family?
Perhaps the photographer (neighbor, cashier, teacher, etc.) sees the gritted teeth, iron whispers, pinches, and the like?
 

Stormcat

Senior Member
Perhaps the photographer (neighbor, cashier, teacher, etc.) sees the gritted teeth, iron whispers, pinches, and the like?
But what if the children are not present and the parents are in a situation with other adults only? The scene I'm currently writing does not feature the children at all, only their parents in a venue with other adults.
 

piperofyork

Friends of WF
But what if the children are not present and the parents are in a situation with other adults only? The scene I'm currently writing does not feature the children at all, only their parents in a venue with other adults.
Got it. Could you say a bit more about the scene?
 

Stormcat

Senior Member
Got it. Could you say a bit more about the scene?
Sure.

The dad of the family just got a big award at work and he's being thrown a fancy party to celebrate. His wife is also present, even though she does not work for the company. Also present is my Protagonist, who already knows the children of this couple are Stepford Smilers, but this is the first time she meets their parents. My Protagonist's Husband works for this company, and he's already told her about this couple's weird obsession with a perfect family, but now it's time to show the parents for what they really are.
 

piperofyork

Friends of WF
Sure.

The dad of the family just got a big award at work and he's being thrown a fancy party to celebrate. His wife is also present, even though she does not work for the company. Also present is my Protagonist, who already knows the children of this couple are Stepford Smilers, but this is the first time she meets their parents. My Protagonist's Husband works for this company, and he's already told her about this couple's weird obsession with a perfect family, but now it's time to show the parents for what they really are.
Thank you. Just to be clear, is this an 'official' company party, or a private party thrown by co-workers? I'm guessing the parents' behavior will be influenced by whether or not the Stepford dad's superiors are present...

Also, where is the party taking place?
 

Lawless

Senior Member
tips and tricks to help convey the parents as controlling and image-obsessed.

A couple of ideas:
1. The parent pays close attention to the child's behavior and is never too busy to notice when the child is doing something wrong and to correct him. The parent doesn't necessarily even scream, he just keeps repeating his demands and won't leave the child alone until the child has done whatever is required exactly the way that is required.
2. One very peculiar and ingenious manipulator I saw was a man who talked in unbelievable pseudophilosophical blabber. An endless flow of words without meaningful sentences. And then suddenly came a clear order. The point is: the child listens and listens, struggling to understand what Daddy is trying to say, and the brain gets increasingly confused, desperate for this confusion to end, and when the clear order comes, the brain is so immensely relieved that it eagerly accepts the instruction. Among grown-ups, the man was extremely intolerant of any differing opinions, very demagogical, putting words in people's mouths. I'm certain he holds his five children in an iron grip without ever using any violence.
3. If you can get your hands on the Japanese TV series "Ashita no yakusoku" ("Tomorrow's Promise"), watch it.

Monster parents can differ from each other a lot, so you can choose which traits fit your characters and which don't.

I'm sure I'll come up with more ideas during the next days.
 

piperofyork

Friends of WF
One very peculiar and ingenious manipulator I saw was a man who talked in unbelievable pseudophilosophical blabber. An endless flow of words without meaningful sentences. And then suddenly came a clear order. The point is: the child listens and listens, struggling to understand what Daddy is trying to say, and the brain gets increasingly confused, desperate for this confusion to end, and when the clear order comes, the brain is so immensely relieved that it eagerly accepts the instruction. Among grown-ups, the man was extremely intolerant of any differing opinions, very demagogical, putting words in people's mouths. I'm certain he holds his five children in an iron grip without ever using any violence.
Damn, that's insidious...
 

Stormcat

Senior Member
Thank you. Just to be clear, is this an 'official' company party, or a private party thrown by co-workers? I'm guessing the parents' behavior will be influenced by whether or not the Stepford dad's superiors are present...

Also, where is the party taking place?
It's an official work party with the superiors present. It takes place in one of those rentable ballrooms hotels have. No expense was spared.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
Research on this would be pretty simple, a quick internet search would yield a LOT of discussion of controlling behavior. If you need more ideas also look up 'emotional abuse'.

I can tell you firsthand that you have the smile-no-matter-what idea right. It wasn't about religion in my case it was about my mother's inability to accept negative emotions from me. She had zero ability to self-regulate her own emotions and made me responsible for hers ("You're making me angry"). There was a streak of sadism in this, too, where if she had 'given me something to cry about' and I was, reasonably, crying, she would force me to smile in spite of my tears and more than a few times I saw a sly smile of delight on her face when she did this.

A controlling parent doesn't accept 'no' from their children even when they become adults and has no real respect for them as equals.

While some children get their spirits broken by such treatment there are others, like me, who simply become deeply, deeply angry and defensive without knowing why. I would suggest this for one of your children because it would be a great contrast and cause them to act completely distinctly.
 
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piperofyork

Friends of WF
It's an official work party with the superiors present. It takes place in one of those rentable ballrooms hotels have. No expense was spared.
In that case, I might suggest having the Stepford dad quietly dominate the Stepford mom - giving her precise but subtle instructions, his smile vanishing briefly so he can turn suggestions into quiet orders if she hesitates. He orders her meal, doesn't let her have a cigarette when she wants one, moderates her drink intake, etc., but makes sure to show her off to best advantage when they dance and brag about her accomplishments (perhaps thanks to his nudges?) to his superiors...and, if she is a full-on Stepford wife, she can submit to all of it, but then talk to other women about how perfect her kids are.
 

Stormcat

Senior Member
In that case, I might suggest having the Stepford dad quietly dominate the Stepford mom - giving her precise but subtle instructions, his smile vanishing briefly so he can turn suggestions into quiet orders if she hesitates. He orders her meal, doesn't let her have a cigarette when she wants one, moderates her drink intake, etc., but makes sure to show her off to best advantage when they dance and brag about her accomplishments (perhaps thanks to his nudges?) to his superiors...and, if she is a full-on Stepford wife, she can submit to all of it, but then talk to other women about how perfect her kids are.
I like this idea, but the mother in this case is just as controlling as her husband. She's not fully Stepford, but she eeks out what control she has over her children.

EDIT: I just remembered this character from Avatar: The Last Airbender; Joo Dee. She was a tour guide in the model of the ones they use in North Korea to keep visitors corralled and controlled. I kinda wanna use her as an influence for the mother of this controlling couple, except she wouldn't be brainwashed. She would fully and sincerely do the job she was assigned.

EDIT 2: @Lawless second example was very interesting, but could I get some examples of his behavior towards adults?
 
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JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
A few that I'd throw out there:

In a family situation, overcontrolling parents are going to be accustomed to being obeyed rightdamnnow. They're also going to have the sense that those things they 'suggest' are really orders. You can use this to good effect when they deal with somebody from outside the hive who doesn't operate within their schedule or their hierarchy and is just as likely to shrug off advice as accept it.

If the whole family's together, they aren't going to show cracks. That's one of the things that's so weird about this situation. A good portion of the time there's no visible evidence of something amiss. The Uncanny Valley effect typically prompts a response that, all appearances to the contrary, there is something very severely weird afoot.

Nobody in the family is allowed to have problems. Problems are concerns for peasants and lesser people. Everything is bright and shiny and if it's not there are going to be words after the guests leave as to the true nature of problems. We don't want to talk about problems, do we?

One big one, not specific to controlling tendencies but common enough with narcissists (which, frankly, have a fair bit of overlap) is the inflictor's sense of fairness. Others who fail do so through some defect of character. If/When they fail, it's because the world is against them or they were cheated or...you get the idea. This runs parallel to the sense that the child's achievements can be directly attributed to the parents' influence, whereas failure on the child's part is met with "Well, we taught them to be better than that..."

It's a deep hole with infinite branching possibilities, each incrementally worse than the last.

There's a couple more items I'll try and add in after work.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
'Controlling characters' are fascinating.

If I had the skills I would want to subvert a little bit/and write the 'controller' as the victim - because the issue is so in vogue & personal experience.

COP: 'Well, Mrs M...you have controlled financial planning throughout the 30 years of this relationship. Could you explain?'

MRS M: 'Matty? he's such a slug with his money , heee hee.'

'A slug, huh? Every car, every vehicle has been your choice, your decisions are on the road?'

'He says he's too busy sleeping and writing his shitty, those little stories, of course. Some people call them pomes.'

'What about his mother? She says every salary goes directly into your cat fund, so-called.'

'That is true. We all love my cat Maximillian.'

'You're looking at 10 to 50 for abuse of a softie.'

'Matty! Help me Matty.'

'Zzzzzzzzz...'
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
Constant over-reactions are what you want to show.
When the kids try to defend themselves, punish or blame them or jump to conclusions with strong judgements attached.
When someone starts to say something have the control freak interrupt what they are saying with blame, criticism, etc.

People will take the hint.
 

Stormcat

Senior Member
Constant over-reactions are what you want to show.
When the kids try to defend themselves, punish or blame them or jump to conclusions with strong judgements attached.
When someone starts to say something have the control freak interrupt what they are saying with blame, criticism, etc.

People will take the hint.
But the kids aren't here in this scene. My Protagonist couple (well, one half anyway) is meeting them for the first time, and this is an all-adult setting.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
But the kids aren't here in this scene. My Protagonist couple (well, one half anyway) is meeting them for the first time, and this is an all-adult setting.

Tell us a bit more. Is it a play? Who are they meeting? Do they discuss the children? If so, then you can say things like “We don’t allow our children to go outside. We don’t want them to mix with other children who might have diseases and who might be into rap bands.”

I mean, it can be done with whatever you decide these parents are strict about. Just show their views being out of the ordinary. Have you decided what these ones are strict about? “We make sure our kids only play with members of our own church, never on Sunday” etc. the reader gets the point.

I have no clue what famous family or person you are referring to in the original post, otherwise I might be able to help a bit more.

Lately in my writing what I’m trying to do is think of the perfect scene to show what I’m trying to show— of course I’m a long way from “perfect” yet, but is there a reason you don’t have a scene with the children? Maybe I would know if I knew what family you’re talking about, but hopefully this helps you a bit.
 
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