Jeff Vandermeer's Wonderbook sets its bar high, professing itself to be “the definitive road map to writing imaginative fiction of all kinds” and “unlike any other writing manual you’ve ever seen” due to its “uniquely visual approach” comprising of more than 200 images and pictorial exercises designed to stimulate the writer’s imagination. As such, it is a pleasure to read and make use of. The illustrations run continuously from front to back cover, varying in style and content – clearly considered with care. Take, for example, the deliberate symmetry of the black and white cartoon style simplicity adorning the inside of the front and back pages as only one demonstration of this.
Wonderbook’s innovative journey through the wonderful word world of fiction writing aims to guide the novice or intermediate writer from beginning to end in terms of process, starting with a chapter on “inspiration and the creative life”, before turning to more structural considerations with “the ecosystem of the story” (for example, point of view and dialogue), “beginnings and endings” and “characterisation” and “worldbuilding”. Whilst Vandermeer is clear on the fact that Wonderbook’s “default setting” is speculative fiction/fantasy, there is a great deal to be taken from the text by those who deal in realistic fiction, given all begin in the realm of the writer’s imagination and the practical nature of the information dealing with topics such as plotting and exposition. There are also a number of contributor interviews from the likes of George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Joe Abercrombie and Peter Straub scattered throughout the book, which make for interesting reading, irrespective of one’s genre preferences.
Interactive nature of the text aside, Wonderbook’s other strength is that it is supported by a “Workshop Appendix” including a number of writing exercises (in addition to the prompts throughout the main body of the text, of which there are a number) and a website with additional materials. Some of these – not all – are specifically flagged in Wonderbook’s text itself. This provides the writer with more than anticipated on venturing between the covers of the book and the opportunity for further exploration of the worlds of the fantastic in fiction. All this considered, there is much to discover amongst Wonderbook’s self-professed “cabinet of curiosities” for those interested in the creative process. For me, I consider it money well worth spent.