Good, fresh, quirky writing advice isn’t necessarily easy to come across once you’re past the beginner stage. That’s why I was pleased to see Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer, who happens to be an atheist who writes very good and very imaginative fiction.
I haven’t seen a book quite like this since my kids were kids, and it’s fascinating to note that a book with the colorful patchwork visual style of a young person’s book can be every bit as seductive to adults seeking serious insight. There’s lots of detail on every page, images, fantastical creatures, varying fonts and colors, glossy pages with that seductive glossy paper smell, cute little icons here and there, each with its own particular intent.
Author VanderMeer is a three-time winner of The World Fantasy Award. Wonderbook’s 352 pages include 200 color illustrations and pictorial exercises, with advice and essays by big names in science fiction and fantasy, from George R.R. Martin to Neil Gaiman and more.
Irresistible for dipping into, Wonderbook would be right at home on a coffee table, a desk, or in a bathroom reading basket. I can imagine reading for several minutes before starting writing for the day. For me, a kind of hallucinogenic loosening occurs when I slowly flip through it (unless that glossy scent is comprised of something other than ink).
1. “Expectations can destroy writers of all kinds. . . . Expectations put the wrong kind of voices in our heads. The voices of ambition say, ‘Let’s try to be great!’ The voices of expectation say, ‘You must be great. Or else you are nothing.’ [From an essay about writer’s block by Matthew Cheney]
2. “Having a third-person narrator shift from one character to another is called ‘roving.’. . . . Roving points of view can be effective, but be careful not to ‘head-hop’ for no good reason. . . . A sudden shift to another character’s point of view within the same scene can work, but likely not more than once or twice a novel. [From an essay by Nick Mamatas]
3. “I don’t speak message. I speak story. . . . I believe storytelling is one of the most useful tools we have for achieving meaning. . . . But that’s not the same as having a message. . . . To translate [the complex meanings of a serious story or novel] into a message or reduce them to a sermon distorts, betrays, and destroys them.” [From an essay by Ursula K. Le Guin]
4. “A satisfying ending does not need to be a steel trap—it can be as porous as a colander. You do not need to explain everything; some questions left in a reader’s mind can germinate in entertaining ways.” [From a section on endings]
5. “Stories featuring flat characterization tend to behave like some ravenous beast feeding a monstrous and insatiable tale-producing stomach. . . . Stories featuring full characterization exist in a space in which the writer clearly feels that deeper exploration of character yields story, too—just in a different way.” [From a section on characterization accompanied by images of both a flat-appearing king with hippo and a 3-D-appearing king and hippo]
6. “Over 14 years, I revised almost everything. I would move, add, or delete chapters. I reworked entire plotlines. I tweaked tone and pacing. . . . I read my manuscript at least 20 times. . . . I looked at every instance of the word ‘that’ in my manuscript, removing the non-essential ones. I also had over 100 beta readers.” [A quote a section called “Chart of Revision,” by Patrick Rothfuss about the 200+ revisions he did on The Name of the Wind (DAW, 2007)]