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Or, How to Talk With Authors and Not Tick Them Off.
Have you ever compared a writer to a published author, only for them to become upset and irritated? It’s a common enough occurrence. I know that I myself have been subjected to this form of torture a few times.
Why do writers find comparison irritating? Well, perhaps because they are occasionally inadvertently compared to an author whose work they object to, or whom they simply know is not really very good at their craft. But more often, it’s like this.
While comparisons are the essence of description, they can also be trite and shallow. And when dealing with an author, it’s a good idea to not upset them. For one thing, it won’t change their mind or their writing if they feel antagonized. For another… have you seen those buttons around the internet?! You know, the ones that say “Be nice, or you’ll end up in my novel”?! There is truth to those, you know.
So, each event, no matter how commonplace, should be taken as a new and unprecedented one in the larger context. Also, an author may take you too literally when you compare them to Rousseau, for instance. They may think you are calling them unoriginal, that you think that their ideas are too similar to Rousseau to be taken practically. They may think that you’re secretly irritated with them for emulating Rousseau. (It’s true, writers oftentimes have inferiority complexes.) Instead, you should tell them, “Your prose reminds me of Dumas!” or “Your world-building brings C.S. Lewis to mind!” or “I love this description. It sounds like Tolkien’s work. I can really see it in my mind’s eye!” Rather than making a sweeping generalization, it’s better to compare different elements of their work to authors, rather than comparing their work as a whole. Remember, real life isn’t actually a paper you’re writing on how different mythologies influenced Lewis and Tolkien, making their work different, or comparing Dumas son to Dumas pere. Instead, you’re supposed to be giving useful feedback (not necessarily advice!) to an author who isn’t dead yet, so be specific.