Friday, December 14, 2012

Assumptions, part deux


Last week, I talked about reader assumptions and how the writer can use them to their advantage in their stories. They’re great for worldbuilding shorthand and reveals and revelations, so long as you don’t thoroughly confuse your reader in the process. And I should also say, it can take time to get a bead on what readers think as they progress through a story. Experience will help guide your intuition, along with really awesome trusted readers.

But today, I want to talk about a different kind of assumption. The assumptions we writers make every time we sit down and, well, write.

Think back on when you first started writing. Did you think it would be easy? Did you think if your story had a beginning, middle, and end, it was bound to be good?

As you continued to write, did you assume that if you never stopped, that would somehow translate into success? What about if you wrote a good story/book and assumed it would sell even if there wasn’t a ready market for it? After all, we are told to write the book of our hearts, regardless of what the market demands… Did you ever assume you could get away with breaking the rules because you are you?

Alas, in writing there is no easy button.

Now, some of these assumptions may smack of naiveté now, but I guarantee you those assumptions were helping you to do one of two things: 1) Stay motivated – those dreams of making it big fuel us all at one time or another, and 2) Finish the story – after all, if you don’t make it to the end, it doesn’t matter how well you can write.

In the post Different Stages, Different Questions awhile back, I talked about how writers operate at different stages of writing experience, and the questions that guide their efforts. I also think the assumptions we carry with us at different points in our lives also have a formative effect on our work.

After all, if you don’t know any better, those assumptions are all you have to navigate the writing process. And they can be useful, except when you reach a point where they stop being helpful and start being a hindrance.

I want to point you to a series of posts on The Cockeyed Caravan blog by screenwriter Matt Bird (and if you haven’t visited this blog, you are missing out). In the series, he talks about the more detrimental assumptions we writers make about process, craft, and careers, and discusses the actual reality we face. I know it’s a lot of links to click through, but I think you’ll agree that he’s spot on.



Happy writing! (And retooling your own assumptions about writing!)


4 comments:

Deborah Walker said...

I do think that I can break the rules. Is that terribly arrogant? I never take no mind of the advice I see. It's more about the story and how I want to tell it,

Bluestocking said...

I agree with you Deborah. I have broken some rules because of the way I want to tell a particular story. But I'm not like you with an impressive sales record ;) Until I am, I should probably show I can play by the rules. After that? [insert evil laughter]

Laura Marcella said...

So true! Assumptions can be bad for many things, but when assumptions have a positive spin to keep you motivated and excited about your work, then it's a good thing!

Laura Lee Nutt said...

Interesting thoughts on the assumptions we writers make. There are probably far more than we realize.

As a contrast, this post made me think of something Brandon Sanderson said at a convention once. He wrote his first six books with the assumption that they would not be published. He assumed that he would use them to learn and train himself, and, as such, he gave himself freedom to play and find himself as a writer. So, thinking of that, I suppose we writers can use assumptions very much to our advantage as long as we're aware of them.

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