The Pitfalls of the Indirect Comparison

There’s something to consider when you describe something or someone in fiction: is it a direct or indirect comparison? One thing I keep getting on freelance clients about (maybe to an extreme) is the idea that they’re “saying something simple in a complicated way.” Sure, I want writers to flex their artistic muscles and come up with amazing descriptions, novel words, and interesting turns of phrase. But the more I read, the more I can appreciate the sense of style that lies in simple writing.

indirect comparison, writing comparison
There’s beauty in simplicity.

The same applies when I see indirect comparison, which is usually to another known quantity in the story or in the negative.

Comparison to Known Quantity

Henry is just like Craig, except a little rowdier.
Each hill was like the last, covered in flaxen wheat.

Writing Comparison in the Negative

Craig didn’t have Henry’s nerve or sense of outgoing frenzy.
This sky was not the bright orange of a sunset, not bright or dazzling in hue.

Rather than telling me what Henry’s like, or what Craig is like, or what the hill or sunset are in their own terms, I’m meant to understand them from the side with an indirect comparison. This is totally fine. I won’t sound the alarm if you find yourself writing comparison like this occasionally.

Minimize Indirect Comparison and Take a Direct Line

But if we’re talking about Henry, let’s talk about Henry. (And, ideally, we wouldn’t be telling about character, either. I talk about this in my post about interiority in writing.) If we’re talking about the sunset, let’s get to what it is, rather than what it isn’t. It seems almost too simple, almost like a trick. But when you’re writing comparison, sometimes it’s good to relax and expand a bit into your work without worrying about flexing any muscles or tying too many strings together. Look directly at the story element and show us around it. Give it a place in your world that’s unique to it, that’s simple, that’s direct. There’s boldness in that, and clarity.

Hire my editorial services and I’ll help you make sure you’re not saying something simple in a complicated way.

3 Replies to “The Pitfalls of the Indirect Comparison”

  1. Christina C. says:

    And often direct description makes you come up with simple images that are truly fresh 🙂

    Lovely post, thank you so much 🙂

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