“The world is more like a living creature than a machine, and so too are stories. In fact stories exist in a bewildering number of adaptations…some of them might even look a little like a fish.”
From the creative mind that brought you The Steampunk Bible, comes an illustrated tome of creative writing aptly titled Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. If you haven’t yet, I have to ask any fellow writers, artists or idle dreamers, why in the nine burning hells of Azagoth (and the three somewhat temperate ‘hecks’) aren’t you reading this?!?
So there I was on “the twitter,” minding everyone else’s business when I should have been churning out fantastic prose for the varied writing projects that are piling up around me–both the speculative and academic–when I saw an instagram picture for a remarkable book. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise–a damn good cover is 90% of getting anyone to stop and take a look at whatever you’ve managed to give life to on a page. Might be a lot of phenomenal writings trapped behind lackluster or godawful covers. Ever heard of em’? Yeah. Thought so. Anyway, I saw this fantastic book cover depicting an underwater leviathan carrying an entire city on its back with some kind of 19th century circus font that read- Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creative Imaginative Fiction.
Then I saw the author was Jeff VanderMeer. And well… it was disgusting, squealing like a little
girl boy (see? self-checked the sexism) get a room already, love at first sight between me and this book. I had to have it. Right. Damn. Now.
Kept checking the post every day to see when it came–like waiting for the sea monkeys you brought from the back of a Marvel comic back in the day (act like you know). And when it did, I promptly found a comfortable space and curled up with my muse (who has the habit of becoming a fiery feathered Aztec dragon-serpent every now and again) to peruse its pages. And, in the immortal words of George Takei, “oooooh myyyy!”
So- Jeff VanderMeer, the award-winning author and editor, is back with a book just for we creative types. To paraphrase the blurb, whether your book is set in some fantastical landscape, the far-flung future, a galaxy far, far, away or just short of mundania, this book might turn out to be an invaluable resource.
First off, it’s not your normal creative writing book. VanderMeer makes it clear in the beginning, he set out to make something that appeals to we dreamer types–you know, who idly sit by thinking of dragons flying between skyscrapers or an attack by a Cave Troll on the 2 train in Brooklyn sending passengers scurrying. Defying convention, it is a book written to dazzle the eye, a visual approach to learning with text that wanders off the traditional path and vivid illustrations that will dazzle those rods and cones. There are sketches and beasties and all manner of imagery between the pages. I mean even the flow charts in here (normally boring things) are written along the winding bodies of Chinese dragons or through the anatomy of fearsome looking monsters.
That doesn’t mean it is without information! Wonderbook is 352 large-sized pages of wall to wall writing. It’s more an encyclopedia and sourcebook–a Necronomicon that doesn’t bite!–than it is a simple text. Packed within are seven chapters divided into topics such as: Inspiration and the Creative Life, The Ecosystem of a Story, Beginnings and Endings, Narrative Design, Characterization, Worldbuilding and Revision. Each of those is further broken down into tidbits like The Lure of the Hook or The Secret Life of Objects. And did I mention homework? Yeah! The book comes with homework–actual writing exercises and the like to help you apply what you’ve learned.
VanderMeer doesn’t give you only his voice. The book pulls on varied writers and creators. It also includes essays from some well-known figures in the speculative world, who offer advice on a wide range of topics. These include George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Nnedi Okorafor and Ursula K. Le Guin–for starters!
So I’m not going to waste any more time telling you about the book–because by now you should be releasing a squadron of flying monkeys to seek out and bring it you! Or, you know, you could just buy it
I’ve been browsing its pages now for about three weeks, and haven’t even really gotten past the second chapter–along with a great deal of skipping about reading specific things I deem important for the moment. But even after this short time, my muse (who at this moment is a giant minotaur sprawled out in my living room) is enjoying the heck out of this whimsical and fantastic book. And I think, I might just also be learning!
Here, take a sneak peek with the trailer: