Why 'Wonderbook' By Jeff VanderMeer Is The One Book About Worldbuilding Every Writer Needs To Read
As any writer of science fiction or fantasy will tell you, worldbuilding is the most arduous part of composing a new story. It can be tough to know where the line lies between Not Enough and Too Much, and it's altogether too easy to fall into the trap of writing everything there is to know about your created world, but failing to set a story inside it in the process.
If worldbuilding gives you an S-class migraine, never fear. There's one book that every speculative fiction writer should read to learn about proper worldbuilding: Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer. This handy how-to guide deserves a spot on your writer's bookshelf, but let me tell you why.
First off, Jeff VanderMeer is the author of Borne, The Steampunk Bible, The Third Bear, This World Is Full of Monsters, City of Saints and Madmen, Komodo, and the Southern Reach Trilogy — A.K.A. Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance — among other works of fiction. His wife Ann VanderMeer is the editor of Weird Tales Magazine, and together they have edited several anthologies, including The New Weird, Steampunk, and Best American Fantasy. So, without putting too fine a point on it, let's just say that Jeff VanderMeer is a modern master of worldbuilding, so obviously you'll want to take his advice if you're in the SpecFic game.
One of the best things about Wonderbook is that you don't even have to read it — even though you absolutely should — in order to be inspired by it. The lush and varied illustrations come from Jeremy Zerfoss, whom Ann VanderMeer refers to as "the artist who never sleeps," and who acts as cover illustrator for Cheeky Frawg Press, the VanderMeers' publishing imprint, which was responsible for the U.S. edition of Karin Tidbeck's short-story collection, Jagannath. Artwork from Zerfoss and others makes it possible to fan open Wonderbook to just about any page you like and find some strange image to inspire your next writing sprint. If you enjoy visual writing prompts, you're going to love this book.
Even putting the illustrations aside, Wonderbook is still chock-full of good advice for any writer who wants to make their book feel like part of a bigger world or story. Between its covers lie essays from Karen Lord (Redemption in Indigo), Kim Stanley Robinson (The Years of Rice and Salt), and Ursula K. Le Guin (A Wizard of Earthsea), among others.
That's not to say that Jeff VanderMeer's personal advice to Wonderbook readers isn't spot-on, however. Just read this excerpt on choosing the right "voice" for your story, from the chapter on "The Ecosystem of Story," to see what I mean:
"Each and every story must be told in the style best suited for it, whether simple and unadorned or convoluted and ornate. The wider your range, the more types of stories and types of characters you can animate. Therefore, as you develop as a writer, think about what constitutes your "base style" and find ways to alter it by context or through mechanically making changes to allow it to achieve different effects."
Here's some good news: Wonderbook is getting an all-new, revised and expanded edition on July 3, 2018, and it's available for pre-order today from your favorite bookseller.