I have been reading a lot of Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer. While I skimmed through the entire book, I have gone back and been doing a more thorough re-read of it.
For those of you who don’t know who Jeff Vandermeer is, he is an author, most famously known for his Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance). You can get the books individually or as one book, broken into three parts. He has also written a number of short stories and many other books.
While reading the Southern Reach Trilogy, there was so much that stood out to me. Not only in the way that the story was organized, or the use of flashbacks in characters memories to further explain and develop the characters, but to also provide a fair bit of background information on why characters are acting a certain way, and why things are happening the way they are now. There’s more to it than that, but it’s a difficult thing to organize and maintain interest, along with flow when you jump back and forth. This is what appealed to me about his writing; not once did I want to put the book down, not once did I feel the flow of the story get interrupted by a characters past experience; and not once did I find any of the story meaningless or pointless. There are about a thousand other points I could make about his books in general, but I’ll stop there.
So, when my brother picked up Wonderbook, I was intrigued by what I could learn from it. I’ve been writing for about 17 years now (nothing published, partly because I haven’t had anything I’d actually consider sending to a publishing company yet), and have been improving as a writer. My stories are more in depth, the characters have more substance, and the stories are more fleshed out. I can describe scenes, and write emotions better, and I’ve definitely improved on making my characters more human. Sure, this person might be able to beat the shit out of a guy with a gun, but she’s fueled by vengeance, and all her actions will catch up to her at some point, and she will fall apart (just a random example). My point is, I delve further into the characters and the story than I did when I was writing at the age of 14 and 15 (most of my ideas back then were fueled by anime and video games, and NOT that fleshed out).
We get inspiration by the most random, yet logical, places. Everyone pulls from somewhere. As I pointed out, when I was younger I played a lot of video games, and a lot of my ideas came from video games. Other ideas came from tv shows or anime. While my tastes in video games, anime, tv shows, and movies have changed over the years (definitely look for characters and stories that draw my interest in, and have something more fleshed out than “go kill this, and get this award”, among other things), the desire to find something that draws me in and makes me care about what happens, hasn’t. I believe I’ve learned a lot from this as I continue to write.
But back to the book. The book helps break down each part of the story you’re writing. It provides advice and suggestions to help create a good hook and lure within the first few pages, and how to continue through the story from there. It makes suggestions about how to avoid certain issues, and when to realize you’re having these issues. These issues could be “give up and start over, the idea won’t work”. It’s about recognizing that you don’t have the right things surrounding the story idea, and knowing when to put it aside. This doesn’t mean that later you might come up with an amazing idea that helps push that story along in a different light, it just means, sometimes you have to give up and start over.
The manuscript that I’ve divided into three parts and have been editing, is very much representative of this. I had written an entire manuscript, from start to finish, with an initial idea. I thought it worked out great, but in reality, it was falling flat, and I needed to start over. Over a few years, I worked and re-worked the idea and the characters to death, until I found something that would work. Over the course of three years, and three NaNoWriMo’s, I completed the 800+ paged manuscript. The story still has it’s flaws (editing is insanely helpful of course), but it’s coming together, slowly and surely. While it’s not close to being something I want to send off to any publishing company, it is getting there.
While I work through another story and idea, I’m finding ways of fleshing it out more. Adjusting the locations of certain scenes, the flow of the story, and how I want to world build and provide more to the characters than just them being capable of holding their own. I mean it’s great when they can fight the big antagonist, but they need more to them besides that; like hey, she loves to draw but never could, or he can communicate with animals and also happens to love animals, and those two enjoy logical thought processes, and following lead (admittedly more random shit, and could be better personality traits and characters in general). The book is helping me figure out how I want this story to work, and where I’m lacking certain information. This is helpful, because I plan to finish the rough draft during NaNoWriMo in November. I had come to a standstill with the story, having key scenes written, but with no real depth to the story or the characters (at least not to my level of acceptance (I have really high levels of acceptance when it comes to this)). So, I worked through what I had and implemented scenes that were necessary for flow and for showing who these characters are. I need those moments between characters so the reader understands their relationship, why they are friends, and how this came to happen; I need the breaks from the tension, the history of the world, and these light moments where the characters are human, where they make mistakes, and learn more about themselves. So, I’ve developed that, inserted them into the rough draft, and I just have to write it now (it’s hard to stop myself from just writing them now, when I want to wait for November).
For anyone who feels like they want to learn more about writing, or just read a different perspective on writing, I highly recommend Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer.
I will end this post with a quote from the book for your enjoyment, and something that I happen to agree with quite a bit about the beginning of a book.
“You are inviting the reader to some sort of enjoyment or challenge or (perhaps) harrowing experience. Spending too much time on trying to hook the reader may well rob the opening of your book of its allure. In this case, of course, the lure is part of an anglerfish, and it’s the reader who wants to be fooled – who wants to be devoured.”