author C.C.Cole's blog

Friday, March 9, 2012

On the Machiavellian Character


While I hope to one day get my brain geared up to compare and contrast the two famous widely read novellas “The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli and “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu my latest interest has been the former, having read “The Prince” most recently. 

I’ve been hearing the term “Machiavellian” to describe people I know and people in the news all of my life, but never really caught hold of what it meant until adulthood.  It doesn’t mean stupid, reckless, or incompetent.  Actually, it’s just the opposite:  Intelligent, cautious, and competent, to say the least.  Such characters do as what’s written in “The Prince” (and please, I’m not a Machiavellian expert), meaning, the ends justify the means.  Such people of leadership may be part of a republic, but for them, it’s their own little dictatorship, comparative speaking (writing).

These characters are not insecure, but they are flawed.  They may feel comfortable about their own skills but not comfortable enough with their underlings, leading to excessive paranoia.  Also they tend to go beyond the law because they believe it is their right to do so, society answers to them, but the converse is not true, the laws of the land do not apply to them. 

What do these characters have to do with the new author?  The Machiavellian philosophy didn’t start with “The Prince.”  Leaders have behaved in this manner a very long time.  For stories, depending on the character you want to develop, can be very effective, certainly as an antagonist or as a protagonist, with/without either facing a downfall.  When a fiction writer creates a world, most human societies have hierarchies; it’s in these layers that these traits can be used to develop characters. 

So new authors go forth and write something awesome.  Like I’ve written before, it’s hard to have an effective good guy (or girl) without an effective bad guy (or girl).  With Machiavellian characters, I recommend picking up “The Prince” and read what Niccolo was trying to tell us:  the ends justify the means using any method deemed appropriate.  We know some actually believe that.  And look how well it turned out for Cesare Borgia in history.

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