Hey all, Dani here.
Wow, I was in such a hurry to get this post written and posted that I actually skipped the intro portion. Oops. It’s okay, I’ve fixed it now. Welcome to the final post chronicling my learning process through reading Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer. I think this was a great book to start this series off with, and I can feel whatever barriers have formed around my creative energy starting to fall apart. Hopefully this means that I’ll actually be able to share some writing progress soon.
It would be really cool for all of us who want to write creatively (whether that is poetry, stories, novellas, novels, screenplays, RPGs, video games, whatever) to be able to help uplift and inspire each other, and keep ourselves motivated to strive for our dreams, so I decided to start this blog series here. This series will be a lot of me working through books on writing and creativity, maybe doing and sharing some writing exercises, and possibly doing some writing based discussion posts. It’s going to be an adventure for sure, and I hope it helps you as much as it is helping me.
This all-new definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction takes a completely novel approach and fully exploits the visual nature of fantasy through original drawings, maps, renderings, and exercises to create a spectacularly beautiful and inspiring object. Employing an accessible, example-rich approach, Wonderbook energizes and motivates while also providing practical, nuts-and-bolts information needed to improve as a writer. Aimed at aspiring and intermediate-level writers, Wonderbook includes helpful sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names in fantasy today, such as George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Catherynne M. Valente, and Karen Joy Fowler, to name a few.
Praise for Wonderbook:
“Jammed with storytelling wisdom.” —Fast Company’s Co.Createblog
“This is the kind of book you leave sitting out for all to see . . . and the kind of book you will find yourself picking up again and again.” —Kirkus Reviews online
“If you’re looking for a handy guide to not just crafting imaginative fiction like sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, but to writing in general, be sure to pick up a copy of Steampunk Bibleauthor Jeff Vandermeer’s lovingly compiled Wonderbook.” —Flavorwire
“Jeff Vandermeer and Jeremy Zerfoss have created a kaleidoscopically rich and beautiful book about fiction writing.” —Star Tribune
“Because it is so layered and filled with text, tips, and links to online extras, this book can be read again and again by both those who want to learn the craft of writing and those interested in the process of others.” —Library Journal
Workshop Appendix & Additional Writing Exercises
Okay, so this covers pages 281-361 of the book, and it is filled with various essays and a whole slew of writing exercises. I can honestly say that I did not attempt any of the writing exercises (yet), but that may happen at another time. So all in all, this might be my smallest wrap-up of the whole book, but I do have a few photos of the book to share as well, so it should still be pretty fun.
The very first essay in this section is “LARP & Writing” by Karin Tidbeck, and what I find fun about this is that I don’t think it is limited simply to LARPs (Live Action Role Playing), because I find many of the statements to the same when it comes to TTRPGs (TableTop Role Playing Games) like D&D. The writing exercise listed in this essay is all about switching roles. Basically you want to have three piles of slips of paper: one pile will be names (male, female, non-binary, etc), one pile will be professions, and one pile will be personality traits (shy, aggressive, timid, friendly, etc). Chose one name, one profession, and two traits. Then do a simple writing exercise utilizing that character/perspective. It’s supposed to help you inhabit another person and understand them better. Honestly I think this might have been my favorite essay of the whole section, and it was the first one.
Next up was “George R.R. Martin On The Craft of Writing,” which was a phone interview that Jeff Vandermeer had with George about writing. In this interview George talks about how rewriting is a constant process for him. When he sits down to write, he starts by rereading over what he had done in the previous writing session, which obviously also leads to editing. He doesn’t do a full draft before returning to the beginning to edit. He also believes that there are two types of writers: Architects and Gardeners. Architects like to have everything mapped out, whereas Gardeners know what they are planting, but they put the seeds into the ground and then just wait to see what grows from it.
“Magic should not have a system. This essentially reduces magic to fake science, where we have magic rules, and if you put in so much eye of newt and so much virgin’s blood into this, you will get something that does that. Well, maybe you will, maybe you won’t. I more like the idea that you can’t really master some of these things. There are dangers to that and they’re not completely understood; make the supernatural dangerous, make the supernatural mysterious. Don’t make it just fake science.”
Okay, so this is an interesting paragraph, and I somewhat agree with it, but at the same time I don’t. I think there need to be at least basic restrictions or rules to the magic. It has to make some sort of sense for the world. You don’t have to necessary explain them all or go in-depth into them, but you need to know the limitations for your world. This actually goes back to that earlier chapter where it talks about how you the writer knows a lot more about the characters and world than the characters and the reader will know.
After that is “Shared Worlds: The Benefits of Collaborative Storytelling,” which is mostly about lessons learned from a youth creative writing camp that also deals with worldbuilding, problem-solving, leadership, and teamwork to create a story.
Then there’s “Let’s find the “Duck”: Conceptual Art and You” by Rosie Weinberg, which features exercises about thinking outside the box and breaking the standard assumptions about things, places, and people.
Next is “Theo Ellsworth on Comics and the Organic Impulse,” which is just a few pages of beautiful stream of consciousness doodles.
The next two essays are ones that I had to skip, because they both had spoiler warnings for the books they talked about. But since I might read them (or watch the movie adaptation of the one) I decided to skip both of them. Those essays are: “Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah: Intercutting Scenes for Maximum Effort,” and “Annihilating Annihilation Novel-to-Film.”
“Unconventional Ways of Approaching Narrative,” was an interesting essay that looks at new ways to handle dystopian and utopian type stories, as well as looking at animals, inanimate objects, war as eco-disaster, and more.
“Cannibalism & Contraint: Finding the Story Right in Front of You,” was the next segment, and it was a series of writing exercises based on a short story. The exercises had you making photocopies of the story and then eliminating words, changing phrases, and more. This might be an exercise that I’ll try in the future. It seemed interesting.
After that was “Stealing the Skeleton: Goldilocks & the Three Nubs,” which was all about putting plot twists into or character twists or different story elements into traditional folktales.
Next was six mini exercises that were all about exploring your world or surroundings with your hands, so “Tactile Experience: Go!”.
Finally there were even more exercises in “Fantastical Monsters & You: What is Monstrous and How Do You Write It?” which features a gorgeous monstrous tableau on the top of the pages and some writing exercises pertaining to that image at the bottom.
Overall I’m really really glad that I read this book. I feel like the information was presented in a very interesting way, and I think I have picked up a few tips and tricks that I can utilize in my own writing. I hope this has all been valuable for you as well, and starting next week we will be jumping into the next writing book on my list, which is The Art of War for Writers, which was voted as my next book thanks to a poll on Twitter. So follow me on Twitter (@danielle.thamasa) if you want to keep up with my Weekend Writer polls. Actually, oooh, I should maybe make writing polls a more frequent thing. I love when a random idea happens while writing a post.
Where to Get a Copy
If my thoughts on this appendix have helped you out at all, you can try picking up a copy of the whole book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-million, Book Depository, or your local independent bookstore.
You can also check with your local library.