Saturday, May 7, 2016


Like most authors I have read many "how to" write books. They often have very good information in them. I was gifted with a copy of "Stein on Writing" by Sol Stein many years ago. I came by, again as a gift, Strunk and White's "Elements of Style". I have bought used books on writing and absconded with my fair share of loaners. Some of which still sit on my shelves and I keep telling myself that I will eventually return them to their rightful owners.

But I've only paid cover price for two books. One is Ken Rand's "The 10% Solution" and the other is "Wonderbook" by Jeff Vandermeer.

Wonderbook is a heavily illustrated guide to writing and engaged me as an artist and an author. But the thing I love most about the book, is that for every single bit of advice Jeff Vandermeer says, if this doesn't work for you ignore it.

Too many books on writing deliver absolutes and rules. Formula and even spreadsheets on work flow. I can't write by spreadsheet. I don't even use the same process for every book. I want options, and that's what Wonderbook offers. Along with wonderful advice form published authors, anecdotes, and ideas, it offers options for everything from prose style to length. It looks at and dismantles the three act structure, offering alternatives even to the most fundamental and unquestioned dogmas of fiction.

And every single page is illustrated. There are cartoons, maps, visual representations of outlines and processes. There are excises and prompts. It takes the author, aspiring or professional, through the entire  journey of writing beginning with what makes us write int he first place and ending with tips on editing.

Very few books have examined in depth the near subconscious deeps of were we get ideas and WHY we get them, and why they are unique to us. Wonderbook spends an entire chapter on just that. And it's a worthy self-examination for any author at any stage in their career.

Wonderbook, despite the illustrations is densely packed with information. More so than any advice book on writing I have ever read. the in-depth examination of writing plunges into near scholarly territory without ever becoming dry or dull. But there is a lot to unpack int he book. A lot to understand and examine. It benefits from re-reading in ways that most advice books don't making it an invaluable resource for authors and aspiring authors alike.


Charles Gramlich said...

I've heard of Wonderbook but never had a look at it. I'll check it out.

Che Gilson said...


Liane Spicer said...

Che, I have never heard of this book and I'm wondering why. It DOES sound amazing. I have a real problem with all the rules and have come to believe that every writer has to figure out what works for her/him. Trying to work by other people's rules and regimens could never work for me.

And illustrations? That must have been fantastic for a visual artist like you. I've stopped buying writing books, but I'm going to look for this one.

Che Gilson said...

Liane- I love Wonderbook! And even though the focus is on speculative fantasy the examples and books he quotes and uses for samples are often literary. It also really breaks down a lot of hard to pin down things in an interesting way. And yes- the illustrations really helped me as a visual artist!

KeVin K. said...

Fascinating. I've never heard of this book. I'm a visual thinker (not an artist) - I plot my stories with circles* and arrows before I start writing. The Lifecycle of a Story illustration looks like a (much better drawn) page from my writing pad.

Thanks for telling us about this, I'm going to have to check it out.

Divergent Learner said...

I bought this book last December after I stumbled upon it at Politics & Prose in Washington DC. I didn't hesitate to "slap my money down" (said in an excited Annie Wilkes tone of voice. I too have read a number of books on writing, and most of them are 100% text based. I'm a visual learner, and Wonderbook was a joy to read. Not only did I buy the print book, but also the online ebook. The book itself is a beautiful work of art. The visuals really connect with my right-brain leanings.