All creative writers use inference, whether by choice or by accident. So you may be thinking, “If I can do use it by accident, why should I study it?” You should study it because you can use the technique more effectively if you understand all the ramifications involved.
This is inference:
Mary was in labor. She had a monkey.
This is the type of headlines you read in the Enquirer and other such magazines. On the surface, one could assume the following:
1. A woman had mated with a monkey and got pregnant
2. She went to the hospital to give birth
3. Her baby wasn’t a child, it was a monkey
4. It was a historical event
5. This event would open new doors to the medical community and scientists
6. The news media would hound the monkey child throughout its life
7. Documentaries would undoubtedly be created
8. A movie would be in the making
Thoughts would flood your mind. Did the woman go on a safari? Was she attacked by a monkey or an ape? Where was her husband? Or was she even married? How will her family accept the monkey baby? Does it have any human characteristics?
Or, you could read it the way I was thinking when I wrote it: Mary was in labor, and she owned a monkey. Do you see what inference can do?
Mystery authors quite often mislead the reader by dropping clues that can be read the wrong way. Inference is also used in riddles, jokes and some games.
Inference creates a mental puzzle for the reader to solve. The reader’s mind will always jump past the immediate and form its own conclusions, based on the information they have been fed. If the writer wants to, he can change the mental image in the next sentence.
The bride collapsed in tears, and could not be consoled.
We might think:
1. The groom didn’t show up for the wedding
2. She tore her wedding dress
3. Someone dropped the wedding cake
4. The organist or preacher could not be there
We could imagine all sorts of things, but what I’m actually thinking is that her father died of a heart attack during the wedding. From what I said, however, it is unlikely that anyone would grasp that meaning. And thus the reader will infer their own meaning into the given evidence and come forth with their own conclusion. In other words, they will supply the lacking evidence by their own definition of what would cause a bride to collapse in tears.
Inference is a great tool. You can infer that a man is in love with his best friend’s wife without ever saying it. You can further infer that they are having a love affair, that the husband knows nothing at all about it, but hubby is about to find out. If you introduce a gun into the equation, you can infer someone is going to die as a result.
Use inference wisely to say a lot by saying less.