Wonderbook is a book about writing — not specific to games, but not unaware of games, either. It takes on many of the standard topics of general-purpose fiction writing guides — plot, character, world-building, revision, the life of the writer, how not to grow to hate yourself in this artform — but with an approach focused on speculative fiction, fantasy, and play. It’s also lavishly, vividly illustrated, with maps and diagrams, portraits and photographs, excerpts of medieval manuscripts, and quite a lot else. There are writing exercises, of several kinds. There are cartoon characters who introduce advice and tips. There are inserted essays and tips from other authors. There are reflections on the history of imaginative literature.
Also, Vandermeer is a good prose stylist, and this is something that cannot be said of all writers of writing books. (You might think…? But no.)
It’s the kind of book that will delight the curious and frustrate the conscientious — since there’s a perennial feeling one might be missing something as one reads. I read it with pleasure, and just a tiny bit of panic that I might be reading it incorrectly and missing things. To be clear, I think this is my problem and not the book’s.
Actually, the book calls me out on precisely this, in its way:
Inherent in this idea of “play” being immature and frivolous is the idea that just like business processes, all creative processes should be efficient, timely, linear, organized, and easily summarized.
Almost certainly there are some diagrams, sidebars, etc., that I did not fully digest before writing this review. I think the book considers that okay, though.