Just when I figure out Bracken and Kelli's theme is betrayal, I get back the critiques on Alex and Nea's. I sent it out to several readers before I submitted to the editor. I want Hell to Pay to be the best possible piece of writing it can because the characters deserve that. And after the fifty-eighth read-through I'm no longer objective.
In the meantime I critiqued two full manuscripts for other writers. It's hard to shut off editor brain and read simply for joy sometimes. Every nuance and word choice is studied like it contains the recipe for gold. Characters are put through rigid examinations worthy of parole board hearings. The entire process can take as long as writing the original draft.
Three of the four readers who had Alex and Nea have returned them along with comments. Thank goodness they all liked the story. The most interesting aspect of the suggestions were how each person interpreted the story-telling. Two loved a particular technique and the third was lukewarm. I'm revisiting that to see if I can keep the elements the two loved while strengthening it to excite the third reader. It's all about what serves the story best. It's not like I can enter into a dialogue with each individual reader once it's published and explain what I meant in that scene.
Constructive criticism is invaluable. It's great to reach the reader and involve them within the story but when that fails to happen, the criticism is one more tool for unearthing the gold.
Writing, like life, is a never-ending journey full of adventure.