Drawing Inferences in Fiction

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  • 0:01 Inferences
  • 0:53 How to Draw Inferences
  • 2:36 Inference Practice
  • 4:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will discuss inferences in fiction. We will talk about what an inference is, learn how to make one and practice drawing inferences with some writing samples.

Inferences

Do writers always tell their readers exactly what they mean all the time, or do they allow their readers to draw conclusions and discover at least some of the meaning on their own? If you answered the latter, you are right.

Writers of fiction often show their characters in action and allow them to speak for themselves. Readers then have the job of deciding what those actions and words mean and what they reveal about the characters, the events of the story and the message the author intends to send. In other words, readers must draw inferences about what they read. An inference in fiction is a reasonable conclusion or judgment about some element of a story based on information given in the story and the reader's personal knowledge of how the world works.

How to Draw Inferences

You've made many inferences in your life, but you might not even know it. For instance, your cat runs up to you the minute you step through the door. She meows, rubs your legs, runs into the kitchen and stares at the cupboard where you normally store the cat food. It doesn't take much effort to figure out that your cat wants food. You've just drawn an inference.

Drawing inferences from fiction follows a similar process. Suppose you are reading along, you notice that the writer seems to leave out a piece of information, or you have a question about something in the story like a character's motivation or the meaning of a piece of dialogue. How do you find the missing information or answer your question? You draw an inference.

  1. You look for clues in the text, little pieces of information that seem to relate to the missing information or your question.
  2. You think about what you already know from your own experience in the real world.
  3. You put these two pieces of the puzzle together in a logical way to produce a reasonable conclusion that supplies the missing piece of information or the answer to your question.

Let's go back to your cat and apply the process for making an inference. At first, you might wonder what your cat is doing. You look for clues in your cat's behavior and notice how she meows and rubs your legs to get your attention and how she stares at the food cupboard. You also think about what you already know from past experience; your cat has done this before, and you've responded by giving her food. So you put those two pieces together in a logical way and correctly infer that your cat wants food.

Inference Practice

Now let's practice drawing inferences from some actual writing samples.

1. Kari skipped down the steps, jumping the bottom two and scurried into the kitchen. She grabbed her lunch from the counter, kissed her mom and headed for the door, confident that this would be the start of a great new school year.

  • What can you infer from this text? Is Kari excited about her first day of school? Certainly! We can gather several clues that help us make that inference: Kari is moving very fast, she can't seem to wait to leave the house and she is confident that the year will be great. We can also add in our own experience, perhaps remembering a time when we were very excited about something and recalling how we behaved in those circumstances. Putting these together, we can infer that Kari is excited about her first day of school. Inferences aren't so hard, are they? Let's try another.

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