When is it safe to assume?

Last night, being Saturday, I did something really exciting… I sat up in bed reading a book on the pitfalls and dangers of investing. Interestingly enough the author brought up a really good point about assumptions. If you have a contract with someone to install temporary fencing, never assume they will also take it down; make sure it is written in the contract! Also, make sure the contractor has the same understanding of what ‘install’ means as what you do –or it can be a costly assumption indeed.

This got me thinking, how much can you assume when writing? I know a big one for me is vampire lore, which made it a little difficult to read a certain popular vampire book recently where every lore law was broken. But the rumour goes that lots of people enjoyed this same book. Is this general lack of knowledge because so many people did not sneak out as kids after mum and dad had gone to bed to watch the midnight horror movie like my sister and I did? Clearly the author never did. This tells me I would need to re-state the rules if I was ever to write a vampire story.   

So when do you need to edit yourself on your assumptions, and when can you let them ride? I guess the safest thing you can do is work out from where you have drawn your assumptions. If it is something unique to your experience, like that seven months of air traffic control that you did, then you probably can’t assume it is common knowledge. On the other hand, if you have just picked it out of the zeitgeist of your memory and you can’t track it back to any one thing, then you can leave it in, unexplained.

It is important to note that no-one likes to be treated like an idiot, so you can’t explain everything, let the reader make some assumptions. And if they do end up missing something it usually won’t kill a story.

Of course this does not explore the whole issue of being able to identify when you are making an assumption in the first place. But it is an interesting thing to consider, especially if a twist or ending hinges on it, or if you are entering into a contract!

Happy writing,

Nat

2 thoughts on “When is it safe to assume?”

  1. And look out, once you start exploring your assumptions it is amazing how many you find you make each day!

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