Writing Beholder’s Share


The beholder’s share is the viewer’s relation to art. Suggested by Eric Kandel as an important element in the study of artistic forms and cognitive perception.

Some people are concerned that a reductionist analysis will diminish our fascination with art, that it will trivialize art and deprive it of its special force, thereby reducing the beholder’s share to an ordinary brain function. I argue to the contrary, that by encouraging a dialogue between science and art and by encouraging a focus on one mental process at a time, reductionism can expand our vision and give us new insights into the nature and creation of art. These new insights will enable us to perceive unexpected aspects of art that derive from the relationships between biological and psychological phenomena. (Age of Insight)

Beholder’s Share Writing Exercise

Choose a pinnacle scene within the work you are most focused upon at this time. Give this scene to three different and trusted readers who have not read the work in its entirety. Ask each reader to read then respond to the scene. Do not tell them what their response should be. Give them no additional instruction. Do not prep them or give an overview of the work. Let each reader respond as s/he will only to that scene.

When you receive the responses, put your ego aside. We’re not interested in whether or not each reader “liked” the scene, rather, we are interested in similarities and differences between their responses. You are now a scientist exploring feedback on an experiment. Try to put yourself in this scientific mindset.

In the responses you’ve received, is there anything unexpected? Good or not so good? If, yes, let’s focus on that a moment. This unexpected reaction to the scene is a gift. This is a moment when you can step outside your scene as the writer and consider the scene as a reader. What this reader brings to the scene is the “Beholder’s Share,” and now that you have this insight, you can begin to consider this scene from the beholder’s position. How might you use this unexpected response to the scene as a way to deepen and broaden it’s affects? Might there be a way to explore this response in other places within the work?

For instance: perhaps, in this scene, you expected the reader to feel empathy for the protagonist, when in fact, there was none or very little. On the surface, this might appear to be a negative craft effect; however, it might not. If the protagonist is not as empathetic as you intended, what might this mean? Is your protagonist really an antagonist in disguise? Is your protagonist meant to be written as an antihero rather than a hero character? Are their opportunities to more fully explore the protagonist’s history, a vulnerable and human moment that might connect the reader more fully? 

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The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the PresentEric Kandel.

A Handbook to Literature. William Harmon.

“Cogito et Histoire de la Folie.” Jacques Derrida.

Eats Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Lynne Truss.

The Elements of Style. William Strunk. 

New Oxford American DictionaryEdited by Angus Stevenson and Christine A. Lindberg.

The Norton Anthology of World LiteratureMartin Puchner, et al.

The Norton Introduction to PhilosophyGideon Rosen and Alex Byrne.

Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. Patricia T. O’Conner

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French & Ned Stuckey-French.

Writing the Other. Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward.

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Eckleburg is a print and online literary journal that offers original fiction, poetry, essays, music, art, writing workshops and more.