Book Review, Books!, Conventions, Signal Boost, Weekend Writer, Writing

Weekend Writer: Worldbuilding, or Chapter Six of Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer

Hey all, Dani here.

Sorry I’m posting so late, but this last day of the Cincinnati Comic Expo was long and a bit tiring. It was also a fantastic day. Damian and I bought a lot of cool artwork and other geeky merchandise. Oh, and I got Wil Wheaton’s autograph, which was fantastic. And Damian and I plan on sleeping in a little bit and relaxing a bit in the morning before making the drive home to go back to our “normal lives.”

It would be really cool for all of us who want to write creatively (whether that is poetry, stories, novellas, novels, screenplays, RPGs, video games, whatever) to be able to help uplift and inspire each other, and keep ourselves motivated to strive for our dreams, so I decided to start this blog series here. This series will be a lot of me working through books on writing and creativity, maybe doing and sharing some writing exercises, and possibly doing some writing based discussion posts. It’s going to be an adventure for sure, and I hope it helps you as much as it is helping me.



This all-new definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction takes a completely novel approach and fully exploits the visual nature of fantasy through original drawings, maps, renderings, and exercises to create a spectacularly beautiful and inspiring object. Employing an accessible, example-rich approach, Wonderbook energizes and motivates while also providing practical, nuts-and-bolts information needed to improve as a writer. Aimed at aspiring and intermediate-level writers, Wonderbook includes helpful sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names in fantasy today, such as George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Catherynne M. Valente, and Karen Joy Fowler, to name a few.

Praise for Wonderbook: 

“Jammed with storytelling wisdom.” —Fast Company’s Co.Createblog

“This is the kind of book you leave sitting out for all to see . . . and the kind of book you will find yourself picking up again and again.” —Kirkus Reviews online

“If you’re looking for a handy guide to not just crafting imaginative fiction like sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, but to writing in general, be sure to pick up a copy of Steampunk Bibleauthor Jeff Vandermeer’s lovingly compiled Wonderbook.”  —Flavorwire

“Jeff Vandermeer and Jeremy Zerfoss have created a kaleidoscopically rich and beautiful book about fiction writing.”  —Star Tribune

“Because it is so layered and filled with text, tips, and links to online extras, this book can be read again and again by both those who want to learn the craft of writing and those interested in the process of others.” —Library Journal

Chapter Six: Worldbuilding

This chapter was not the most informative for me. I definitely wanted more in-depth detail into the worldbuilding process, but this tends to stay more general and vague. Oh well. I do have a couple other books that go deeper into this element of storytelling, which is something to look forward to.

“In fiction, we make the same kinds of decisions about setting as about character; we never include everything, any more than we would be exhaustive about a person’s backstory. You are creating a model of a world, putting only certain elements of that model into play. Otherwise, you and your reader would get hopelessly lost in the details.” –pg 213

First up in this chapter is the section on worldview versus storyview. This means we need to start with definitions. Worldview is what you the writer knows about the world, whereas storyview is what the characters know and believe about the world.

Ekaterina Sedia notes that there are three possible vantage points for characters, and they each have their pros and cons. There is the native of the culture, the tourist or visitor, and the conqueror or colonizer. Each of these vantage points will handle and describe things a different way, and will react in different ways to the events that happen.

“All three of these approaches to worldview, expressed through storyview, can create interesting clashes, contradictions, and insight. The tension between what you know about the world and what the characters know often helps to create narrative.” — pg 217

The next section is that of characteristics of a well-realized setting, and this covers pages 220-232 in the book. These different characteristics include:

  • coherent and consistent logic
  • cause and effect
  • specific details
  • impacts the characters’ lives
  • depth and width
  • mirrors our real world and deviates from it
  • is in some way personal (to you)
  • sufficient mystery and unexplained vistas
  • consistent inconsistency
  • we live in a multicultural world
  • extended, literalized metaphors
  • several different operational realities
  • collective and individual memory
  • miscommunications and imperfect comprehension
  • all settings can be complex

After that it briefly covers dangers and opportunities. Unless it is your intention, you have to be careful that the richness of the setting doesn’t devour the interest in your characters. Another potential problem point, unless handled in the right way, is having fantastical talismans or artifacts that end up dominating all the other details of the setting and the story. Finally, another pitfall to be careful of is that the details end up overwhelming the other story elements.

When thinking of worldbuilding as an entry point into the story, just remember:

  • anchoring your fiction correctly in place, situation, and history enhances the emotional resonance.
  • landscape not invested with emotion or POV is lifeless
  • the real world and personal experiences feed into imaginary settings and are a vital part of worldbuilding.
  • approaches to setting and character should be multidirectional: organic and three-dimensional with layers and depth.
  • throwaway settings are like throwaway characters: a missed opportunity.

There were also a couple of short essays that I actually found to be my favorite parts of the chapter. First was “What Everyone Knows” by Catherynne M Valente, which talks about what is known by everyone who lives in your world and how knowing that can help you to build on the setting and characterization. Then there was “The Role of Maps in Narrative: ‘The Heroes'” by Joe Abercrombie, which was beautifully accompanied by a few different maps from his story “The Heroes” where the entire story follows a couple day battle and factors in each respective fighting force. Finally was “On the Synthesis of Minor but Noteworthy Universes,” which was my least favorite of the essays, but still had some interesting metaphors and ideas in it.

Where to Get a Copy

If my thoughts on this sixth chapter have helped you out at all, you can try picking up a copy of the whole book from AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-a-millionBook Depository, or your local independent bookstore.

You can also check with your local library.

Links to Other Wonderbook posts

Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four / Chapter Five / Chapter Seven / Workshop Appendix and Additional Writing Exercises

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