Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook

Confession: I’ve never read any of Jeff Vandermeer’s fiction. Which makes it a little odd that I decided to read his book about writing, but in some ways it allows me to look at his advice objectively instead of constantly relating it back to his books. And his advice is very good.

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction is a comprehensive fiction writing guide. It focuses on speculative fiction, but as Vandermeer points out in the introduction, most of the advice applies to all fiction writing. This is probably the most practical writing guide I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot. Chapter topics include inspiration and the imaginative process, the anatomy of stories, beginnings and endings, creating characters, worldbuilding, and revision and editing. As comprehensive as it is, the book is non-intimidating and clearly wants you to succeed.

Vandermeer calls on his legion of author friends for Wonderbook, with tons of one or two page contributions from these spec fic authors scattered throughout the book giving helpful advice. There’s even an extended interview with George R.R. Martin.

The main gimmick of the book is that it’s a visual guide. There are quite a few full-page, full-color graphics illustrating the things Vandermeer and his friends explain in the text. I found some of these difficult to follow, and most of the time found them superfluous. Nothing is covered in the visual aids that isn’t addressed in the text, so they’re easy enough to skip if they don’t work for you. If they do help you, awesome.

Wonderbook has already been helpful to me as I work on the creation and writing of my first novel, which is “imaginative” if not actually speculative. I will be returning to these pages again and again as I work through the writing process. This is an indispensable aid for any fiction writer, both encouraging and highly practical.

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