Good Prose: Being Edited and Editing

They saved the best for last.

This final chapter in Good Prose: the Art of Nonfiction, entitled Being Edited and Editing, is a long one—and it’s more a celebration of their history than anything else—but Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd still manage to convey practical wisdom about how to maintain such an effective partnership.

Still, their affection for each other shines through the complexities of the dynamic and one who has read their work over the years might even get a little choked up during the reading.

There is Kidder’s description of their beginnings and his puzzled question to Todd’s wife as to why the editor hung in there with him (“Months of reading the same old material from an all but unpublished writer, for an unimportant story.”) He’s willing to work as hard as the writer is, was the response he received.

The description of their work practice—from start to finish—is a good one. And Kidder shares some of their unique language that’s evolved over the years.

“Exteriors” refers to anything that lies outside the story, anything that isn’t direct observation of the characters and events.

Some parts of a story have to be “floated.” This is short for “floated in time.”

A timepasser is one possible means of “making some things big and other things little.”

Things out of place or proportion give rise to a “bump.”

And my favorite: “We need a brilliance here.” Todd will tell Kidder when more is required.

Anyone who has ever been an insider in any group understands the bonding that occurs when the group’s very own language is established. Kidder’s respect for Todd is evident in the way he relates their shared story.

And when Todd’s turn comes, we get the other side of the story—which is both the same and different—and the differences sharpen the uniqueness of these two men whose voices we have come to know through Good Prose.

…Kidder had an interest quite unusual for a writer, and interest in virtue. It’s an immeasurably harder subject than vice. A bright thread of goodness runs through his subsequent books.

The friendship these two men have formed has served their work well and Todd describes one reason why.

An editor can serve a writer by being alert to his natural boundaries, his inner territory, his true interests.

I cannot capture the beauty of Kidder and Todd’s  relationship that shines through in this chapter. The gratitude each feels for the presence of the other in work and life is palpable. There is much good to say about this beautiful book, but perhaps the nature of the two men who wrote it is the best gift it gives. I’ve enjoyed gleaning from the wisdom of their shared years of working together.

We all should have such a partnership. At least once.

This finishes up our discussion of Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction.  I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. I highly recommend this book for writers of any genre. Thanks for joining me through this journey.

 Other posts in this series: 


  1. says

    So I went to put this on hold at the library. I searched for “good prose” and one of the results that came up was titled “A Good Day’s Fishing” (author’s last name: Prosek). 🙂

    Thanks for bringing this book to my attention, Laura. The title of this chapter alone pulls me in.

  2. says

    A Good Day’s Fishing? That sounds like an intervention to me :). I hope you enjoy the book, Monica. If you lived close I’d just send mine home with you! This is one I will keep going back to.

  3. Maureen says

    I think this has become one of my favorite books. Thank you, Laura, for leading a wonderful discussion about it.

  4. says

    I agree, Maureen. I’m finding I don’t want to let it go yet. I think I’ll skim through again. I feel like I know Kidder and Todd better now and I want to go back to the beginning and listen to their voices with this new knowledge of them. Strange, no? I always get too involved with my characters 🙂

  5. says

    I picked up my copy and saw that one of the endorsements is by Anne Fadiman! One of my favorite writers! (Have you read her Ex Libris? Anyway, thanks again for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *