A couple of weeks ago, a friend gave me a copy of a book called “How Will You Measure Your Life?” by Clayton M. Christensen and others. Christensen is a Harvard professor, but the book is essentially, as it’s not too hard to tell from the title, a self-help book. I enjoyed the book and I noticed many things that applied to being a writer. One of the topics that really got me thinking was the one on assumptions. From the book:
“As simple as it sounds, companies seldom think about whether to pursue new opportunities by asking [“What has to prove true for this to work?”]. Instead, they often unintentionally stack the deck for failure from the beginning. They make decisions to go ahead with an investment based on what initial projections suggest will happen, but then they never actually test whether those initial projections are accurate. So they can find themselves far down the line, adjusting projections and assumptions to fit what is actually happening, rather than making and testing thoughtful choices before they get too far in.”
I like this. As a writer, I am concerned about what I don’t know about the business. And I realize that when I don’t know something, I make assumptions to fill in the knowledge gap. Even when I do know about a subject, there are assumptions tied into my knowledge. Christensen et al., go on to say that when working on a project, we should list all of the assumptions, going from the most important assumptions and least verifiable to the least important assumptions, most easily verifiable.
It reminds me of the Mark Twain quote: “It’s not what you don’t know that kills you, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t true.”
I know that I have many assumptions built into my NIP (novel in progress). Even from page one. It’s a fantasy novel and the main character is the leader of the equivalent of a SWAT team. Even if I had lived thirty years as a SWAT team captain (which I haven’t), it would create certain assumptions about how it these teams would operate in a fantasy world – and they might be wrong.
So now I’m in the process of listing all of the assumptions that I have about this character, what he does, and why. Then I’m going to take a look at what evidence I have that backs up that belief. It seems like extra work, but for m,e it comes down to this: if I can’t convince myself the reasoning why my characters are acting a certain way, then how can I convince my readers?