In the eye of the beholder

 

A part of the process of writing a novel, like Alexander Bottom & The Dreamweaver’s Daughter, is in obtaining feedback and objective criticism from Beta Readers and Critique Partners. Writers spend so much time with their books and characters that they tend to lose the ability to look at their work with any objectivity. I am currently working on three books (I like to switch from one to the other as new ideas form in my head), one of which is a thriller at the second draft stage. Feedback from two wonderful Beta Readers came back with very different takes on the story and it got me to thinking about the whole idea of perspective.

The way we see and interpret the world around us is dictated by many different factors. As writers, we know what we are trying to say but very often the reader just doesn’t see it the same way. The main challenge of writing is to successfully plant a story, a vision or an idea in the reader’s mind, but even if we manage to get our message across, it is likely that there are different versions in each other’s minds as a result of the way we interpret. We all know the party game, Chinese Whispers, when a sentence is passed from person to person in a whisper until it changes completely, causing laughter all around. And we’ve all recalled childhood stories where everyone in the family has a slightly different version of events. We tend to choose information that’s important to us personally and leave out the rest.

Our tastes and preferences also play a part in how we view the world. Some people love seafood, others only meat. A spectacular opera can bring tears to the eyes of an opera lover and can make a heavy metal fan cry for a very different reason. Many of these likes and dislikes are a result of our learning and our experience, but they still provide us with a different view of the world around us. Our tastes and preferences influence the information we choose to retain.

Empathy is also a big factor when it comes to relating to stories, and in particular, the characters portrayed. The writer has achieved success when the reader feels for the character and story and has an emotional response because of it. So what about happiness; is that too a case of perspective? One person’s idea of happiness can be very different from another’s. The glass half full, springs to mind. It’s a trend in our affluent society to strive for possessions, but this usually proves to be a fleeting fix when it comes to making us happy. A comfortable lifestyle with ample food upon the table can certainly go a long way to making us happy, but as the bible says, ‘man cannot live on bread alone’. In the western world today, I see so much good fortune, and yet there still so many unhappy people. While in the world’s poorest economies, laughter and joy can be seen on so many faces. Is this a matter of how we see the world?

Children

Photo by Larm Rmah

I do believe that to be truly happy, we humans need to achieve a spiritual inner peace. We need to acknowledge the importance of family and friends, and the part they play in our mutual wellbeing. We have a basic need to believe that there is more to our existence than our brief appearance on this planet we call Earth. Without belief and spiritual peace, it is very hard to overcome the dark times in our lives, and impossible to be truly happy.

Like our tastes in literature, food and music, what makes us happy is a personal thing. I for one feel blessed to be alive. But happiness will always be in the eye of the beholder.