A Bundle of Brief Book Reviews: Writing Advice: Part Two

photo credit: via photopin (license)
photo credit: via photopin (license)

Here we go for the second segment of my Writing Advice Book review bonanza!!! Fights! Weirdness! Weird-fights! Let’s go!

Actually all these exclamation marks make this post sound far more exciting than I can feasibly deliver. Excuse me while I dial it back at bit.




Let’s continue.

In Part One I reviewed:

In Part Two I cover:

Write the Fight Right – 4 out of 5 stars

Write the Fight Right by Alan Baxter

In the same way that a badly written fight scene might distract a reader, even if they don’t know why it’s bad, a well-written fight scene can have the opposite effect. A reader may know nothing about fighting, but when an author writes with a knowledge of fighting, even one learned from a book like this, it gives the scene a certain authenticity that the reader picks up on. Regardless of what the writer is addressing in their work, research is essential for realism.

Write the Fight Right by Alan Baxter

I have to thank Author Kay Camden for recommending this book to me. It was exactly as she promised – straightforward, clear, and useful.

I’ve read one book of Alan Baxter’s (Bound – my review), and whilst this novel had some issues, it clearly demonstrated that Alan could write a hell of a fight scene. This is not surprising as he is both an author and a martial arts instructor.

This book is very short – 57 pages – but it’s like a quick punch to the throat; not fancy, but damn if it gets the job done. The advice here is practical, functional, if occasionally a little dry. This is not the worlds most engaging ‘writing tips’ book, but it’s solid advice with some exceptionally useful guidance on drafting fight scenes. It covers some basic fight considerations (footwork, movement, blocking, weapons, injuries) as well as addresses the decisions you might make to write individual action scenes well (how much detail? Action or reaction?). Author clearly knows what he’s doing and provides the reader with a great tool kit to work with – for example, right at the end is a Cheat Sheet checklist that hits all the points in a beautifully summarised form. Invaluable.

Recommended if you want to make the violence in your writing hit as hard as your protagonist does.

What did I get from this book?

I haven’t actually written much in the way of action or violence scenes although I have some planned. I’ve done only one scene very early in my flash-fiction career (Publish or Perish), which I suspect would have been greatly improved by having these tips on hand. I may revisit it.


Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction – 5 out of 5 stars

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer


Descartes was wrong: The world is more like a living creature than a machine – and so, too, are stories. In our context, in fact, stories are animals that would be the pride of any medieval bestiary. Like living creatures, stories come in a bewildering number of adaptations and mutations. Even within the constraint of written words, incredible variety occurs due to the near-infinite number of possible combinations. Anyone who tells you there are only a dozen types of stories should be viewed with as much suspicion as someone who tells you “all animals are the same.” A penguin is not a hamster; nor is a prawn a sea cucumber, and elephant a squid, an anteater a dragon.

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer

I only heard about Jeff VanderMeer in 2014 when two book bloggers I follow (BooksBrainsBeer and From Couch To Moon) reviewed books from his Southern Reach Trilogy. After reading these, I picked up the Trilogy myself and picked up this excellent book on writing imaginative fiction. I am now a pretty hardcore fanboy – to the extent I’m picking up anthologies he has edited and collated and buying books from authors he has recommended.

I simply loved this wonderful Wonderbook.

While the others books I have reviewed are e-books this is gorgeous paperback with full colour page illustrations and seriously weird diagrams. Wonderbook is 326 pages long, with deep and often complex analysis of almost every aspect of writing imaginative fiction. Spread liberally amongst this analysis are interviews from authors (GRR Martin, Kim Stanley Robinson etc), sidebars providing additional details or even counter-arguments to the positions presented in the main text, excellent and deep examples, as well as the occasional writing challenges. There is also a website that contains additional content and theoretically up, although I’m not convinced it is still supported. The table of contents is impressive (check it out here http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2013/09/toc-wonderbook-edited-by-jeff-vandermeer/) and is worth checking out to get a proper understanding of the scope of this book.

You may also check out this Book Trailer video for a far better introduction than I could give here:

A couple of quick points. Firstly this is focused on fiction, specifically the fantasy, scifi or ‘weird/absurdist’ genres. That is not to say it isn’t of value to realistic fiction writers, but there is a clear flavour presented in the book that is reinforced by the fantastical images and surreal pictures.

Secondly this is not a simple or straightforward book. It is very detailed, occasionally dense, perhaps even academic. I would not be surprised to see it in some School or even University’s creative writing reading list. It demands a careful and attentive read. I recommend setting up in a quiet space to really absorb it. I liked Chuck Wendig’s PenMonkey and 500 Ways books because the ’25 things about X’ list approach is a quick and easy way to digest the tips in discrete chicken-nugget-sized chunks (I would often read a few of Wendig’s points over breakfast). Wonderbook is a steak, rare, delicious, bloody and…and screaming? Moving? Slowly crawling off the plate? 


Sorry – this book just inspires the imagination.

In any case, the complexity shouldn’t discourage anyone, as it is exactly this scope, this depth, that makes me love the book. If you are serious about writing fiction, I cannot recommend this book enough.

What did I get out of this book?

What didn’t I get out of it? This will be a constant reference book by my writing table. I anticipate my writing will slow to a crawl as I stop to read and re-read the sections on dialogue, on beginnings middles and ends, on the not-so-simple act of being creative.


Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have read these books (or those in Part One) and what you thought of them. Do you have a favourite book on writing advice? Any great blogs? Once I’ve accumulated enough tips and feedback, I might have to create a useful writing tools page.




3 thoughts on “A Bundle of Brief Book Reviews: Writing Advice: Part Two”

  1. I have the Wonderbook and I love it! What a wonderful book it is and so beautiful. I don’t want to mess it up in any way. I’ve got a ways to go with it, but I’m talking it in slowly. I enjoy all the advice from all the writers he has in there, too. It was a Christmas gift and something I’ll cherish for years.

    Liked by 1 person

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