A Writer’s Review of Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer
This all-new definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction takes a completely novel approach and fully exploits the visual nature of fantasy through original drawings, maps, renderings, and exercises to create a spectacularly beautiful and inspiring object. Employing an accessible, example-rich approach,Wonderbook energizes and motivates while also providing practical, nuts-and-bolts information needed to improve as a writer. Aimed at aspiring and intermediate-level writers,Wonderbook includes helpful sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names in fantasy today, such as George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Catherynne M. Valente, and Karen Joy Fowler, to name a few.
E. Burden’s Review:
Who doesn’t want to write better fiction? And who doesn’t want the help of a skeleton bird in a tuxedo called Mr. Odd to write better fiction?
Wait, what do you mean you don’t?
You, do, trust me. You just don’t know it yet.
I don’t recommend a pile of writing books. Maybe Damon Knight’s Crafting Short Fiction, and The Writer’s Journey I & II. That’s it. Or, that was it. I accidentally got my hands on Wonderbook, while waiting on my kids to finish their coding camp at the local bookery, I found it hiding in the creative writing section, sitting alongside mostly dated recipe books for putting words onto blank pages. I’m picky about my books, I don’t have much time, and I can’t waste it trying to slog through something bad or unhelpful. The cover art hooked me, you can tell just by the art (and it’s throughout the book) that you’re not walking into one of these text books on creative writing.
This is something new. Something I hadn’t, even as a devourer of creative writing help books, ever come across. You’re guided, mostly open-endedly, through the structures of fiction by little characters to catch your attention, including my favorite skeletal Mr. Odd. There are examples, excerpts of writing advice from the industry’s bests (think Gaiman and George R.R. Martin) and diagrams. But NOT text book diagrams. Real, museum quality art, broken into pieces or labeled to give you understanding of the material you are dealing with.
Writing in this book is treated as a long, customizable recipe. Following blind steps is discouraged, so it won’t read like an instruction manual for furniture, but I promise you will learn more about you, and your specific brand of writing, by the time you finish.
In the introduction, it makes clear that through this book is geared toward those of us who make fantasy, horror, or science-fiction, it’s intended to enhance creativity, which means any writer can find a hidden gem in the text they can polish and use. I absolutely recommend Jeff Vandemeer’s Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction to anyone who writes or anyone who wants to. It’s inspirational, it’s fun, it’s weird, and it does what it says it does.
It was after reading the chapter on viewpoint that I realized I had made an error in my latest work, and upon correcting it, I’ve had an easier time with flow and sticking to events I had outlined. I needed to see that my story was an intimate one, best seen within the main character, and not outside of him (for the most part, since I am guilty of switching views like it’s going out of style). This book isn’t ever going to tell you exactly what to do (unlike most other writing books). But, it shows you many ways to look at and approach even the oldest “rules” in writing to make what you create the best it can be.
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