All terms

What is an Inference?

Deriving meaning or drawing conclusions based on implied information.

Reading between the Lines: A Guide to Inference in Creative Writing

While creative writing often explicitly states what is happening, sometimes authors leave things unsaid. This leaves room for readers to make educated guesses about what might be happening 'between the lines.'

Inferring in writing is about picking up on subtle details, such as the way a character reacts to a situation or the word choice used to describe a setting. From these clues, writers and readers alike can draw conclusions about what is happening outside of the text.

Many great works of literature rely on inference to create depth and complexity, inviting readers to engage actively with the reading process. For writers, this technique can add layers of meaning and subtext to their work, making it more compelling and memorable.

Infer This! Examples of Inference in Literature

Here are two examples of inference in literature, where the author leaves room for the reader to fill in the gaps and draw their own conclusions.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Red Hunting Cap

Holden Caulfield's red hunting cap is a recurring item throughout the novel. Though it serves no real purpose in the plot, it becomes a kind of symbol for Holden's insecurity and non-conformity. Eventually, he gives it to his younger sister, Phoebe, who represents the innocence that Holden is trying (and failing) to protect.

This hat is a clever example of inference, as the reader must deduce its symbolic significance based on Holden's behavior and interactions with it.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Boo Radley

The character of Boo Radley is a mystery throughout most of the novel, with only rumors and speculation to fill the gaps in his story. It isn't until the end that the reader discovers his true nature, and why he chooses to stay hidden away from the rest of Maycomb society.

Harper Lee uses inference to build tension and create a sense of anticipation around Boo, making his eventual reveal all the more satisfying.