Saturday, January 11, 2014

Assume

Whenever you embark on the reading of a mystery novel or, indeed, the writing of one, you are making at least two compelling assumptions:

1.  There will either be a corpse introduced in the first few pages or a character will be introduced who, in short order, will become a corpse.

2.  A major thrust of the rest of the novel will deal with the discovery of the individual who has caused another individual to give up the position of character, then assume the role of corpse.  The rest of the novel will also deal with the visiting of some kind of justice upon the individual who caused the corpse to become a corpse.

3.  Always with the cost overruns.  So okay, there are three compelling assumptions in such a book.  Inflation.  Persons who read mystery novels have upped the ante.  One corpse is not enough.  Think two.  Think three.

The point in these points is that persons who have read more than one book have in general read hundreds, fine-tuning their preferences to a few specific types such as science fiction or romance or fantasy, each genre of which sets another round of assumptions in orbit.

Your attempts to demonstrate this orbital aspect of assumption in this morning's workshop had dramatic results.  One member of your group is a psychiatrist.  You assumed his answer to the question you put to him:

"Peter, if I were to tell you I'd been a patient of a psychiatrist for the past three months, what would your primary assumption be?"

Leave it to Peter; he didn't miss a beat.  "I'd assume you were taking medications,"  he said, to an accompaniment of quiet, mild, but nevertheless tangible gasps.

"Suppose,"  you continued, "I told you I was seeing a psychologist."

Again, no fool, Peter.  "I'd assume you were having therapy."

You bring a set of assumptions to every new book you read.  Some of these assumptions come from your experiences with and observation of life.  Yet other assumptions come from your experiences gained through reading the books of other writers.  Still other assumptions may arise in books you attempt to write, wherein you assume a particular device or theme will be easy to convey. 

 (All told, you get better results trying to achieve a device or theme that may be beyond you.  Thus you have come to assume a certain resistance that will give way under your persistence.  Further note, the persistence has little to do with understanding or wisdom and everything to do with, well, persistence.

Reading can--and should--produce assumptions, some of them deliberate contrivances on the part of the writer, others quite accidental solutions to technical problems.  Your own vision on this matter has you believing your own persistence rather than talents have brought you solutions that reaffirm your belief that you write to discover things.

You can find yourself growing ever more willing to say you write in the assumption you will learn more from the vicissitudes thrown at you by life when you write them than you will by puzzling them over in some less intuitive manner.

What are some of the other assumptions you bring?

You assume you will sooner or later complete the work to your satisfaction, an assumption you were not so eager to make ten or twelve years ago.

Somewhere, floating about in the universe, there is this bit of conventional wisdom saying in so many words:  "Don't assume."  Some of the inherent wisdom from this implies you will be less likely to make wrong judgments or get your hopes up or expect things.  But you do not care for this equation.  True enough, you are sometimes wrong when you assume a particular thing, but you are of equal wrongness at times when you do not assume what strikes you as obvious.

Besides, assumptions can lead to surprises, which are vital things for stories. And you find matters more or less following that the less you assume things, the greater the chances you will find stasis, boredom, and a need to create your own mischief.

One thing you can assume for a certainty, when you are bored, you will create mischief.

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