Last night, I had 3,500 words (about 15 typewritten pages) of my latest work in progress critiqued. Eight different writers read my work, and the comments were generally favorable.
The interesting parts were the places where they disagreed. Not just sections that some readers liked and some readers hated. No, what's interesting is where readers drew wildly different conclusions from the same paragraph.
For example, in one section, the protagonist (a homeless youth) slips a five-dollar bill out of the wallet of a drunk, hung-over lawyer. Then he goes and buys donuts and milk and brings them back so both of them can have breakfast.
Some readers didn't like the fact that the protagonist stole money, even though he spent part of it on breakfast for both of them.
Another reader felt that the fact that the protagonist only stole five dollars (when there was more in the wallet) showed the protagonist's depth of character.
But this work takes place in 1963. Five dollars went a long way back then. You could buy an entire sit-down meal in 1963 for a dollar, let alone a few donuts and a bottle of milk.
What I'd intended to show was that the protagonist stole enough money that he'd have several dollars left over, even after he purchased breakfast. He knew he had to deal with this lawyer when the man sobered up, and he didn't want to alienate him by emptying his wallet.
Ah, well. That reader was too young to have known what prices were like in 1963. I was a child back then, but I remember getting a five-spot most years for Christmas or my birthday. When comic books were only 12 cents each, a fiver could buy a lot of comic books!