It’s a while since I’ve read a book on the craft of writing. It’s not that I don’t have more to learn (I do; I hope I always will), it’s just that I’ve learnt enough that I need to put in some effort to find new advice amongst the stuff I’ve heard before and I don’t like effort; I’m lazy. Also, busy.
But when I spotted a copy of Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook at the house of a fellow writer, and picked it up in curiosity, I realised this was a book I needed.
It helps that it’s awfully pretty. Not gratuitously so, because many of the startling and bright illustrations are there to, well, illustrate points, such as ways of visualising character arcs or various approaches to story structure. One of the book’s strengths is that it combines in-depth instruction and analysis in the main text with visually memorable explorations of specific ideas pertinent to the craft. It also gives numerous perspectives, with contributions from diverse writers in the SFF field such as George RR Martin and Lauren Beukes.
Wonderbook did tell me stuff I already knew of course. And I didn’t agree with everything in it. But that’s fine: everyone’s craft is different. I had several moments of ‘Aha, I’ve never considered/tried that!’, which is good. I must admit, old hack that I am, that some of the advice on revision, such as doing multiple rewrite passes on a book from the perspectives of various characters, made me sigh; not with exasperation, but with desire: if only tight publishers’ deadlines allowed time for such activity, how much better my books would be! But the advice is still sound.
Whether to read cover-to-cover or dip into, Wonderbook is highly recommended.
I’m currently reading The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass and finding some excellent prompts and have been especially reminded to check the efficacy of the first and last line of each scene, and to make sure that my characters reaction to place evokes emotion as well as details geography. Luckily there is still time for amendments to the first manuscript. At this stage it has had its final polish, so all I’m doing is giving it a final once-over with a damp cloth to get rid of the fingermarks. I really enjoy the editing and polishing process, but at some point I have to call it finished – and that point is very close now.
The cut-off point of publication does give a different perspective on stories, because we know our stories are never ‘finished’ but publication means we have to stop trying to improve them – even when we know they could be improved.