The Yossarian Way–An Editing Exercise

Here’s a little exercise that might prove useful to you.

Catch 22 opens with the protagonist, WW II bombardier John Yossarian, faking jaundice to avoid flying more bombing missions. As with all patients, he’s given letters the troops send and receive and ordered to censor them. He gets bored with just removing sensitive information so he decides to have a little fun. At one point, he decides that he’ll black out only the modifiers–adjectives, adverbs, participles: the whole group of them.

Try that on your content. Turn on rev tracking (and turn off show revisions) and just go through a wholesale obliteration of them all.

Now see what you’ve got left.

Does the content still make sense? I don’t mean does it read well. It won’t. But, for a second, forget about that. If you take out all the descriptives, how much real meaning has it lost?  Is it still getting its point across, however inartfully?

If so, you’ve uncovered your fluff.

Now let’s put the modifiers back in.

But only some of them. Only those that are important to the meaning. If you’re talking about security you can return “appliance-based protection,” but “bulletproof protection” has no home. The first provides information, the other provides GMB. And be hard on your draft–a modifier either does or does not change the actual meaning of the sentence and there’s really no two ways about it.

I’ve cut copy by as much as 35% just cutting fluff. And I don’t think my clients have ever gotten market feedback that says their content isn’t long enough, or fluffy enough.

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