A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

M.A. Griffin’s Favourite Illustrated Book – ‘Wonderbook’ by Jeff Vandermeer

I’ve not owned Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook for more than a year or so, but it’s quickly become a go-to. I love it. If (like the me of back then) you’re not familiar, Wonderbook is subtitled ‘the illustrated guide to creating imaginative fiction’ and is crammed with excellent advice and Pythonesque weirdness in equal measure.

I want to keep this post bite-sized and helpful, so I’ll restrict my foaming-at-the-mouth enthusiasm to one picture. But which one? I settled on this:

Arrows and Targets


Arrows and Targets is the work of Jeremy Zerfoss. There are some super-shrewd observations about story endings here. First though, a confession about endings. I began my first two published novels without knowing how they would end.

For both, I wrote three or four endings that didn’t work before eventually finding one I thought did. It was a long and painful process. My third novel, Payback (coming July!), had an ending in place before I started. I’m pretty sure I’ve saved myself a whole heap of trouble as a result. I’m writing number 4 at the moment and I have the end in my head as clearly as if it were a summer block-buster’s final boss-fight. Basically, I’ve shifted tack on the whole endings thing.

Which is apposite, given the illustration above. In it, we’re asked to imagine a story called The Penguin and the Mysterious Woman. Then we’re asked to consider all the possible endings. Vandermeer explores failed endings by imagining them as arrows missing a target on the right of the picture. And wouldn’t you know it – in doing so he pretty much lists the failed endings to my first two books.

Some miss by miles:

  • ‘Surprise! It’s all virtual reality’…story dissolves into ‘no-one cares’
  • Ending has no relation to beginning
  • Resolution is unbelievably wide in scope
  • Middle takes an abrupt U-turn into bizarre personal iconography, rants and ramblings

Others come much closer:

  • Story doesn’t go far enough; characters are static
  • Near miss: too predictable, no tension

And two hit:

  • Penguin and Woman in by-the-book Noir crime story – hits target though ‘seen it before’
  • Bullseye – unexpected, tense, original

As a school-kid I wrote my fair share of ending (i) – we probably all did. My failed attempts at the endings to The Poison Boy and Lifers were a mix of (ii)s, (iii)s and (vi)s. I don’t think I’ve found myself writing a (iv)… yet. But there’s still time, right?

This is just one of scores of illustrations I could’ve picked; plenty of which have equal depth and insight. So yeah – Wonderbook. If you haven’t acquired it yet, keep a space for it next to Yorke’s Into the Woods and King’s On Writing.

It’ll cost you a few quid, but it might well save you time…



This entry was posted on May 30, 2018 by .

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