Just My Opinion: The Prince

Machiavelli’s The Prince is one of the seminal works of political theory. I’m eminently unqualified to discuss its importance, apart to mention that it’s honestly worth a read, because it’s ultimately not full of the malevolence and manipulative behaviour the term “Machiavellian” implies nowadays.

In addition, since it’s non-fiction, there aren’t that many lessons I can personnally glean from it for my own writing. But still… writing is writing.

First, some caveats: I don’t read Italian, so I had to read a translation. Which means a lot of the literary flair, for lack of a better word, of the work was lost on me.

I’m also not a history scholar, and the version I read was a bit sparse on annotations and explanations (I’m currently reading a much more detailed analysis of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, and it helps a lot.)

That said…

I think that as a literary work, The Prince is a bit too flowery for the content. In other word, there’s a bit too much noise for the signal. In this case, it’s taking relatively simple concepts and discussing them in long-winded passages, with a couple of (often unnecessary) examples to illustrate them.

Now, I’m not saying scholarly works should be short. I’m saying that they should be right length (and one of the strength of The Prince is that it breaks down the art of governance into small, easily digestible chunks… so why bury the small chunks into long diatribes?)

That’s a good lesson to keep in mind for fiction… and one I think I should try to heed. It’s easy to run up a word count with chaff and flowery, adjective-laden language. And, unfortunately, some padding can be unavoidable because of the realities of publishing – if you need an 80,000 word text to be published in your genre, there’s no shame in padding your 78,465 manuscript with an otherwise useless description of a sunset.

But if you have a 24,000 words manuscript…. Maybe pitch it for short story collection instead of as a novel?


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