- “The fool mistakes power for virtue, acclaim for merit, nonconformity for dangerousness, conviction for truth, revenge for justice, license for liberty, and kindness for weakness.” — Anonymous
I love this quotation. It resonates inside me like a deep truth. As a writer, I also love to play around with quotations like this, searching for implications for fiction.
I haven’t thought this through very deeply; I only just now stumbled on the quotation on one of my favorite sites, Michael Kesterton’s Social Studies (on http://www.theglobeandmail.com). Off the top of my head, though, this heart of this quotation is about CONFLICTS.
Conflicts are also the heart of fiction.
Many a book has been written about a hero fighting for virtue against a system that others support because they mistake its power for virtue. Many books could be written about a hero who strives for fame and acclaim, mistakenly thinking this equates to him being meritorious.
I suspect that if a screenwriter’s goal is to produce a blockbuster movie, she should make most of the mistakes listed above.
If her goal is to write “literature” (in quotation marks), she should explore the shades of grey in between acclaim and merit, conviction and truth, etc.
And for most of us writers whose works fall between blockbusters and literature, we might do well to avoid at least one of these mistakes, if we want to give our work depth and power.
These mistakes apply well for our villains, in particular. Perhaps the villain is absolutely sure of himself, but believes in lies (or at least the ‘wrong’ side of our fictional situation). Or the villain thinks that society has no right to control anything he wants to do.
But it could apply to heroes, as well. In a revenge story, the hero might come to realize that his revenge, while satisfying, was unjust. In a war story, he might come to realize that just because his country was more powerful than the enemy doesn’t mean everything his country or soldiers did was right.
Generally speaking, though, I suspect that heroes should usually be on the ‘not foolish’ side of the dichotomies presented in the quotation.