Review: Wonderbook: An Illustrated Guide To Creating Imaginative Fiction

Posted July 3, 2018

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Wonderbook: An Illustrated Guide To Creating Imaginative Fiction Wonderbook: An Illustrated Guide To Creating Imaginative Fiction Published by Abrams on 3rd July 2018 (revised edition)
Genres: Non-Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher

Since its release in 2013, Wonderbook has become the definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction by offering an accessible, example-rich approach that emphasises the importance of playfulness as well as pragmatism. It also exploits the visual nature of genre culture and employs bold, full-colour drawings, maps, renderings and visualisations by Jeremy Zerfoss to stimulate creative thinking. On top of that, the book features sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names working in the field today, including George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock and Karen Joy Fowler.

Writers such as the wonderful V.E. Schwab have ignited in me an interest in the craft of writing (Schwab’s YouTube and Instagram accounts are definitely worth watching).

With this new flame of interest, I came across the revised and expanded, 5th-anniversary edition of Wonderbook: An Illustrated Guide To Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer that is published today by Abrams.

It truly is a Wonderbook – packed full of advice, stunning illustrations and easy to digest chapters.

Let me first say that I haven’t read many books about writing, so I can’t compare Wonderbook to other books on the market. However, I can share my thoughts and experience with the book.


Jeff VanderMeer has incorporated so much into the pages of this book (including an additional 50 pages of diagrams, illustrations and writing exercises in this anniversary edition), with chapters on:

  • Inspiration and the Creative Life
  • The Ecosystem of Story
  • Beginnings and Endings
  • Narrative Design
  • Characterisation
  • World Building
  • Revision

Wonderbook has an interactive feel with ‘guides’ Myster Odd, the Little Aliens, the Devil’s Advocate, the All-Seeing Pen-Eye and the Webinator popping up throughout its pages. These guides expand upon the text, highlight important sections, suggesting counterpoint views, challenging you to a writing exercise, or referring you to the Wonderbook website for further information.

For me, I loved this quirky, informal style. I’m all about having fun while learning so this was right up my street.

A book describing how to create imaginative fiction may seem intimidating, but VanderMeer breaks everything down for us. It’s a book that is possible to dip into for fifteen minutes a day, or lose yourself in for several hours.


The illustrations in this book are stunning as well as thought-provoking. For me, they helped to reaffirm that which I’d read in the text. I’m quite a visual person so the colourful diagrams and illustrations are a much-appreciated addition.

I can’t tell you how much this book has taught me. As a reader, I find myself paying far more attention to writers’ styles, choices, and structures now. Wonderbook has provided me with the tools to identify these aspects of craft and start to analyse why and how they have been used.

Contributions & Appendices

I must mention the sidebar essays that have been contributed by such authors as Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. Le Guin, and George R. R. Martin (his interview on the craft of writing is very interesting). These are fascinating interludes offering different perspectives and some insight into the writing of such accomplished authors.

Finally, I must mention the Workshop Appendix, which has a plethora of resources and challenges.

It just so happened that I have been reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie while simultaneously working my way through Wonderbook. So, the appendix analysing Americanah and Adichie’s creative decisions such as Point of View switched in the novel has been fascinating to me. I’m still working through this appendix, but this is just an example of the gems that are included within Wonderbook.


This book is not only educational and enlightening, but it’s entertaining too. VanderMeer has packed SO much into this book. He’s evidently spent considerable time and thought on not only the content itself, but its delivery and structure. It’s a beautifully produced book.

This is an incredibly useful and insightful book that you don’t need to be a writer to enjoy. As a reader, I’ve learned so much and will take it with me into every piece of fiction that I read.