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.