Semiconductor nanowires with precisely controlled structure, and hence well-defined electronic and optical properties, can be grown by self-assembly using the vapour-liquid-solid process. The structure and chemical composition of the growing nanowire is typically determined by global parameters such as source gas pressure, gas composition and growth temperature. Here we describe a more local approach to the control of nanowire structure. We apply an electric field during growth to control nanowire diameter and growth direction. Growth experiments carried out while imaging within an in situ transmission electron microscope show that the electric field modifies growth by changing the shape, position and contact angle of the catalytic droplet. This droplet engineering can be used to modify nanowires into three dimensional structures, relevant to a range of applications, and also to measure the droplet surface tension, important for quantitative development of strategies to control nanowire growth.