Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Unique Look at the Relationship Between Writer and Editor: Good Prose, The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd

Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd have been partners in writing and editing for over thirty years. They came together when Todd was an editor at the Atlantic Monthly and Kidder was trying to find his place as a writer. I found it interesting that Todd chose to work with Kidder through so many revisions because Kidder was so willing to rewrite. That is an interesting insight into their success. Successful writing is attained by rewriting.

The authors tell their story in first person narratives then use this experience to discuss the mechanics of writing. The section on Narrative is excellent and should be read by both fiction and nonfiction writers. How to select the material, pace and most important when to cut scenes for clarity apply to both types of writing.

The section on Being Edited and Editing is a must read for anyone seriously interested in writing for publication. By giving the view of both the editor and the writer, it's possible to see the dynamics operating on both sides. Both want a successful product, but when it's your baby that's being torn apart it's hard to see this. Likewise, it's hard for the editor to know how and when to push to get the best possible product.

I found the section on The Problem of Style liberating. The chapter in addition to discussing various styles, like journalese and propaganda, discusses traditional rules of writing: when to use them and when to break them. That discussion is worth the price of the book. Sometime writers try too hard to slavishly follow the rules and end up losing their distinctive style.

I highly recommend the book for both nonfiction and fiction writers. It gives wonderful insight into writing and editing and is the story of a special friendship.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.