Fix Notes

Examples of Fix Notes

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Fix Note 6


This sample fix note was created for ​fiction writer Jenny, author of a gritty modern detective story

Dear Jenny,

This is a really, really good read. I like it a lot, and can see it going places – such as the “new releases” section in the window of my local murder-mystery bookstore!

I have to say, nobody would ever guess this is your first book. You write like a pro, in spite of your many minor problems with grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.  (You weren’t kidding when you told me cheerfully, “My writing is piss-poor.” I thought maybe you were just being modest and self-deprecating. Nope, I have to agree. It’s lucky you’ve got me to tidy up that kind of stuff!)

But those are just minor matters, the sort of thing I can easily clean up for you. What really counts is that your story is extremely gripping. It’s always a good sign when I get irritated when you haven’t sent me the next chapter yet, because I can’t wait to find out what happens next! That tells me you’ve produced a real page-turner.

Having said that, here are some minor quibbles – some general points (in no particular order) for you to be aware of throughout.

1) Names. Write down – for me, and for yourself – the correct spelling of everybody’s name. You frequently give variant spellings: Cawl/Cawls, Marshal or Marshalls, Derek or Derrick, Piper or Pipher (Piffer?). Pick one version, and stick to it.

In particular, you need to restrict yourself to only one Michael. There are plenty of male names to go around, so choose a few different ones. Pick Mike the dog, Mike Price, Michael T. Jones or Sgt. Bob Michaels – your choice. But all these different Mikes running through the plot confuses your readers!

As well, you often mix first and last names: “Michaels and Hunter went out... Hunter and Collins did that” – etc. This is fine if you’ve made a decision to refer to your heroine by her first name, and restrict everyone else to surnames. But sometimes you refer to Bob and Michaels as both names in the same scene, and it gets confusing. (In the text, I’ve amended Michaels to Sgt. Something. When you tell me the replacement name, I’ll plug it in.) Or keep him as Michaels, and change the bad guy’s name to Cedric T. Jones (or whatever).

2) Dialogue. It’s very good that your dialogue moves briskly back and forth between people – no draggy conversations here! But there are times when I can’t figure out who’s speaking: I have to write “Wilf, Cundy, Wilf” next to alternating speeches, to figure it out. Then it turns out that you’ve broken one speech in half, so I’m attributing the wrong words to the wrong guy. This kind of thing needs to be cleared up. Look over your dialogue sections, and insert a “said Cundy” or “Collins answered” once in a while.

Also, remember that real people use contractions when they talk. In ordinary conversation, most people say “wouldn’t” rather than “would not.” I’ve been putting contractions in as I go along. Sometimes, though, for special emphasis, I know you really do want to use the long form. (Cundy’s speeches, for instance, you’ve made very formal and non-conversational – and that’s good, because he’s a tight-arsed sort of guy.)

I’ve also changed many of your interjections, replacing most “ah”s with “uh”s. There’s a subtle but important difference between them as. “Uh” is the most usual – it means a pause. “Ah” is used much less often; it’s rather more formal and tends to express satisfaction rather than nervousness or hesitation. You might say: “Ah, I see we’re having lobster for dinner!” But you’d say: “I, uh, have to talk to you, boss.”

3) “Invisible” scenes. I like the way you jump the action around, shifting from one scene to another – it keeps your readers on their toes. But there are some scenes that we don’t get to see, and that we don’t even know happened until we have to infer the fact later on. It took me quite a while, for instance, to figure out that Hunter must have talked with Mike Price already. But the scene where she (and Bob?) interview him at the police station doesn’t happen “on camera,” so to speak, and isn’t referred to afterwards. Be aware that your readers need to know what you know – roughly.

4) Fleshing out. Some stories I’ve edited go on at great length with tedious descriptions of scenes and people, so your relative sparseness is quite refreshing. (Beginner writers, especially, often go into waaay too much detail, just to prove they can.) However, at times you’re a bit too succinct! If you can give us a brief one or two words of general or physical description of each main character, that would be a big help.

Dig into your adjective bag. Is so-and-so quiet, eager, withdrawn, lean, dark, tall, officious, grizzled, taciturn, whatever? I don’t even have much idea what Hunter looks like. (Except that men keep commenting on how good-looking she is – which is a Harlequin-romance-ish habit that I’d drop, if I were you.) Is she tall, short, dark, blonde, hopeful, harried, quiet, exuberant? Tell!

5) Bad habits (your characters’, not yours). Personally, I have a hard time with your protagonists smoking and swearing. Maybe it’s just me, but I like a firm dichotomy between the good guys and the bad guys: bad guys do things the good ones wouldn’t – that’s how your readers know they’re bad! Both your hero and heroine smoke, for example, which is generally a habit for low-lifes in today’s world – Linda would, but surely Hunter shouldn’t?

And while it may be OK for Reg McCarren to say “Shit,” I’m not comfortable with Collins doing it. (And I don’t think Hunter should in front of her son, either.) If you want to go ahead anyway, do; it's just something you should be aware of.

6) Heroine’s career choice. How did Hunter get into being a P.I.? You might explain this briefly, early on. I want to know this, so I suppose most of your other readers would too.

7) Point of view (a.k.a. POV). Throughout, you pick one character to view the scene through – usually Hunter, but when she’s not around it can be Wilf or Michaels. This is good, but you need to be consistent with it. One militia scene, for instance, is told from Wilf’s POV; but part-way through, you insert some of Jones’ feelings in there too. That jars your readers a little. Stick to one POV; don't go "head-hopping"!

8) Flashbacks. These are always hard, even for experienced writers; so it’s no surprise to me that in some scenes, you have a lot of difficulty going from the here-and-now into a flashback. The main thing is to make sure that the here-and-now scene is firmly established before you leave for the flashback; and that you also make sure the cut-off point for coming back is well delineated too. It takes some work, I know. But it’s difficult for your readers to figure out that a character is contemplating the past, when they’re not clear about what’s going on in the present.

9) “Show, don’t tell.” Several times, I’ve scribbled those words in the margins of your MS – it's the most basic piece of advice for writers. Don’t say that so-and-so looks nervous or hostile – tell us what they’re doing, so that we readers can see them being that way. Is he sweating bricks? Is she chewing her nails and fiddling with her purse?

10) My contributions. As you read through the edited version, you’ll notice a lot of changes, additions, comments and interjections for you to review. Of course, you’re under no obligation to use anything I’ve inserted – the only reason it’s there, in most cases, is just to show you that this scene needs something else, something more; and this is roughly what that something should be. Obviously, it’s better that additions be in your voice rather than mine.

I’ll send you some more notes shortly. Don’t feel bad about all these corrections – really, the story IS great! It just needs a bit of polishing.

Good luck,