Author Topic: The 10-step editing technique, courtesy Andreas Eschbach  (Read 15318 times)

Offline TheOtherAdrian

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The 10-step editing technique, courtesy Andreas Eschbach
« on: March 03, 2015, 11:44:57 AM »
Hi everybody!

I want to share with you an editing technique that has helped me a lot over the years. Please note that it's not my invention, but rather that of German author Andreas Eschbach (website: Those of you who speak (or, more accurately, read) German can see the original here:

Mr Eschbach kindly gave me permission to reproduce the core concepts of the technique here. They were, of course, conceived with German texts in mind, but I find that they apply to English writing just as well. Note that this is not a word-by-word translation of Mr Eschbach's text, but a paraphrase by me, so you should probably blame me first for any mistakes. Of course, if I'm innocent, you are entirely welcome to start blaming Mr Eschbach instead.
Without any further ado, the 10-Punkte-Text-ÜV (10 step preparation for text revision). Huh. I only just realized how incredibly German that title is.

This technique is meant solely for the stylistic part of revision, to be applied after everything else (plot, characters, whatever) has been ironed out. The basic idea is to highlight specific parts of your text so as to make spotting common stylistic pitfalls easier. Do not misunderstand this: Just because you mark something with this method doesn't mean it's bad. It just means it could be a stylistic mistake and that you should take a closer look to decide if it stays.

There are four basic rules.
Rule number one: You need a printout of your text. Your LCD screen won't do. Try to have space between the lines and wide enough page margins to hold a number of annotations.
Rule number two: Only mark a short passage at a time. Try about one page at first, a little more or less if you feel like it. That goes for the initial highlighting process; once you go on to evaluating what you've marked and revising your text, you will of course look at an entire scene.
Rule number three: Each highlighting process gets its own, well, process. Don't try and do more than one thing at once. That means you will go over each page exactly ten times before the highlighting part is finished. Only then will you start evaluating what you've done.
Rule number four: Whenever you notice something about your text – be it positive or negative –, immediately note your thought in the free space at the margin. If you don't, you will most definitely forget it, and it may well escape your notice the next time you go over your text.
Remark by me: I use a different colour for that. I use light blue for highlighting, and whenever I see something I wanna change, think of a potentially better synonym for something or stumble over some word, I note that directly below (between the text lines) in light green. Disregard if you're colourblind, obviously.
Mr Eschbach recommends using a different colour for highlighting than for your usual corrections, something pleasant like light blue or green.

Step 1: The 10 Markings
In this step, only highlight. Note anything that strikes you, but do not actively revise your text. I will note what each marking is meant to make you think about, but those thoughts need only be thought in step 2 (revisions).

One: Draw a diagonal line through the first paragraph of the scene.
To consider: Oftentimes, the first few sentences are written while you're still getting into the writing mood. Ask yourself if that paragraph is really necessary. The scene often gets stronger if you scrap that paragraph. If there's important information in there, try weaving it into the rest of the scene.
You can also try looking for the last possible point to start the scene and take out everything before.

Two: Horizontally strike through all adjectives and adverbs (lightly, you still want to be able to read them).
To consider: Too many adjectives water down your text. Does the scene read stronger if you scrap the adjective or adverb in favour of a more specific, more descriptive noun or verb? You don't need to "walk quietly" if you could just as well "skulk" or "sneak".

Three: Underline all dialogue tags with a squiggly line. You know, those "..., said Bob" and "..., ejaculated Alice". The latter with its own problems.
To consider: Those things are boring. Most of the time, your text will get stronger if you axe the dialogue tags. Of course, there is a limit to this: Your reader still needs to be able to discern who is speaking without counting dialogue lines or consulting an ouija board.
Remark: You can strengthen your text twice for the price of one while doing this. Consider the following example: "Oh well," said Alice irritatedly, "you've done it again." That's pretty bad, right? But if you remove the dialogue tag, your reader may not know who's speaking. So replace the telling and clumsy dialogue tag with a more showing expression, like so: "Oh well." Alice pressed her lips together. "You've done it again." This way, you get rid of the dialogue tag while at the same time breathing a little more life into your character. Yay!

Four: Draw a rectangular box around diluting, inexact or filler words like some, a few, probably, pretty (like in "pretty unconventional", not like in "pretty dress"), fairly, exactly, many, about, and so on.
To consider: Most of the time, you can take such a word out without changing the meaning of the sentence in the least. If that is the case, you most likely don't need that word. Try to make a list of your personal "favourites", words that you use in every other paragraph. Those should go.
Remark: My personal all-time favourite (in German, at least) is "somehow". You can use it to describe everything while it actually describes nothing, and I spend a lot of time going over my texts and deleting instances of it I didn't even realize were there. The leading theory is that there is a very single-minded poltergeist in my home.

Five: Cross off (as in, draw two diagonal lines through) any words signaling simultaneity, like "meanwhile", "while", "at the same time", "as".
To consider: Most of the time, you can narrate those simultaneous actions one after the other without losing anything, and describing too many (re-)actions at the same time lessens the impact of each one.

Six: Mark all passive forms with a little "P".
To consider: Try rephrasing the sentence so that the verb is in the active form and compare the two. You will often find that the active sounds better. Be careful while highlighting: Passive sentences tend to be accidents, and you may not even notice them if you go over your text to hastily.

Seven: Mark overly long sentences with a little "L". To do this, you just have to look for periods. If you don't find a new period until three lines after the previous one, that could be a long sentence. Of course, this depends on your formatting, so find your own benchmark here.
To consider: Would your text lose something (besides potential for confusion) if you split the sentence? Or, even better, if you cut something from it? Of course, you shouldn't aim for only the shortest possible sentences. That's not good either. Find a balance. See what I mean?

Eight: Mark long dialogues with a little "LD". A long dialogue is one that goes on for more than three sentences.
To consider: Can you trim these dialogues? Split them?
Remark: I'm not sure about this, but my guess is that Mr Eschbach means dialogues that go on without any action happening. Nothing wrong with long dialogues as long as the characters do something while talking. Intersperse actions, even if it's just someone rubbing his nose, to convey emotions and to avoid the impression that the characters are standing perfectly still and talking in a vacuum. Which would be pretty difficult anyway.

Nine: Underline indirect perception with a zigzag line. Stuff like "she saw", "wondered if", ...
To consider: Do you absolutely need to use indirect narration there? Why? Directly showing your character's thought patterns or perceptions is often preferable.

Ten: Look for paragraphs where you wrote the same thing multiple times in different styles and mark them with a double squiggly line at the margin.
To consider: While writing, you may describe the same thing from different angles while searching for the best way to convey it. Cut everything but the strongest description to avoid repeating yourself. Repeating the same thing usually makes it less convincing, not more.
Remark: I also mark (in a different colour) all words that I used twice or more within three sentences of each other. Word repetition makes your text really awkward (except when it's intentional), and the different colour makes it easy to see where the next instance of the word is in step 2.

And there you have it. You are now ready for

Step 2: Revisions

Only when you have applied step 1 to an entire scene should you start going over the text, rephrasing, inserting, cutting. Mostly cutting. Most texts win something simply by cutting the fat.
Mark spots you enjoy reading or you think you did really well with a double (un-squiggly) line at the margin. While changing the bad is important, it's just as important to preserve the good.
Repeat this as needed. Note everything. Experiment. Throw the rules out the window where they hamper you. But remember that they are mostly helpful.

Step 3: Read aloud

If you're unsure about some change in step 2, read both versions of the sentence aloud and decide which one flows better. After you're done with step 2, incorporate the changes you made and make a new printout. Read that printout aloud, to yourself, a recording device or, best option, to someone else. Note any sentence where you stumble – that is an almost foolproof sign that spot needs some editing love.
Do not skip reading aloud, even if you don't like it. It will help you discern parts of your text that sound unnatural or just don't flow right.
Remark: After step 2, I like writing the new version in a new document rather than just changing the old one. It forces you to work with the text some more, and you might well notice additional parts that need rewriting.

Step 4: Compare

Put the old and the new version side by side and compare. Is the new one better? Are there parts in the original that you like better than in the revised version? If so, you might want to restore them. No use repairing what ain't broken.

And that, ladies and gentlemen (and rude men too, if you wish), was Andreas Eschbach's technique for editing your texts. I hope it will help some people, as it took a good while to translate. Feel free to post comments, followup questions and pie recipes below.

May you never leave the tea leaves in and only realize it when you take the first sip.
- Adrian

Offline Mrs N

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Re: The 10-step editing technique, courtesy Andreas Eschbach
« Reply #1 on: March 03, 2015, 12:10:51 PM »
I like a puff pastry with my pie....

Many thanks for this. You've put in a lot of work here, so I'm off for a long read and a digest. Most helpful, as I'm looking through my stuff now. I shall have a go at applying the good man's words. If it goes wrong I'll blame you in the first instance.

Offline Annmarie

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Re: The 10-step editing technique, courtesy Andreas Eschbach
« Reply #2 on: March 03, 2015, 01:15:07 PM »
Yes, very German.  ;)

I like how the system takes into account that not all corrections are good for the story. A lot of damage can be done with over editing,  too much thinning, etc. I've heard if an edit interferes with voice, flow, clarity or atmosphere, put it back.

Anyway, this looks like a helpful technique. Thanks for posting. :)
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Offline Mrs N

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Re: The 10-step editing technique, courtesy Andreas Eschbach
« Reply #3 on: March 03, 2015, 01:47:05 PM »
I'm finding this very good at stopping me flitting about. Well, back to it.

Offline Mrs N

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Re: The 10-step editing technique, courtesy Andreas Eschbach
« Reply #4 on: March 03, 2015, 06:25:39 PM »

I don't know whether to thank you for this or not.

I was doing so well until highlighter 6. Those passives. Ugh. I just don't know how to get rid of them.  :'( :'(

Offline TheOtherAdrian

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Re: The 10-step editing technique, courtesy Andreas Eschbach
« Reply #5 on: March 03, 2015, 06:31:27 PM »
Oh, I should definitely be thanked by you. My example can easily be taken to see how passives can be avoided. Your text just needs to be written right, if my meaning is being communicated here. Believe me, your writing will be enhanced by this  :D

Jo Bannister

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Re: The 10-step editing technique, courtesy Andreas Eschbach
« Reply #6 on: March 04, 2015, 03:33:09 AM »
OMG!  And I thought I was pernickety!

Offline Simple Things

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Re: The 10-step editing technique, courtesy Andreas Eschbach
« Reply #7 on: March 04, 2015, 06:56:57 AM »

A lot of these point are done second-nature after some time. Though if new to writing, it would appear a never-ending editing process, one that the writer's comprehension of writing may be buried under.

Still, good points.

Thanks for posting.

Offline Jennie

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Re: The 10-step editing technique, courtesy Andreas Eschbach
« Reply #8 on: June 08, 2015, 03:50:08 PM »
Thank you VERY much for this. Some Of it I've learned but a lot of it was new to me. And even if I've learned it, it seems to flee my head whenever I sit to write, so it's nice to have it all in one spot. I might get the 10 points tattooed on my arms...