“Building the World of Wilderlore,” by Amanda Foody

I’ve been a devoted fantasy reader since I was a child. I loved all books, but there was something special about the stories that transported me to new worlds. It wasn’t so much because the real world bored me, but I already knew my place in it. My favorite mystery or thriller or contemporary books might’ve been entertaining, but the stories truly ended when they reached their final page.

Meanwhile, fantasy novels offered something . . . more. Almost like a choose your own adventure, to be carried on by my own imagination.

Where did I fit into this new world?

The Accidental Apprentice, the opening of the Wilderlore series, is my first middle grade fantasy novel. Prior to it, I’ve only published YA fantasy books, all of which are cast in worlds that I could imagine myself into, but would perhaps be frightened to do so. I knew even before I started drafting Wilderlore that I wanted to create a setting a reader would love to visit. A setting that was perfect for a choose your own adventure.

I started with a very particular word in that idea: choose. This may be a traditional novel that follows a designated hero—Barclay Thorne, a clever but stubborn mushroom farmer who has no interest in going on an adventure—but if I wanted readers to take up the mantle after Barclay’s story ended, then I needed to offer them choices of their own, buried within the story.

In Barclay’s world, there are tons of fantasical animals known as Beasts, and if you form magical bond with one, you’ll share some of its powers yourself—and you’ll thus be dubbed a Lore Keeper.

This concept immediately offered such fun and exciting choice: If you were a Lore Keeper, what kind of Beast would you bond with?

I adored this foundational question most of all, because it permeates the entire story. Every new Beast that Barclay encounters, no matter how adorable or monstrous, they’re a possibility. If not so much to him, but to the reader. And so I made sure to highlight that question. I threw in tons of Beastly description, including an encyclopedia as bonus content at the end of the book. I added depth to the choice, different Beastly classifications, different notions to consider. Would you rather one or two powerful Beasts or many weaker ones? What types of magic would you like? What would be the most useful magic in your story?

And this is just one of the choices presented. The Beasts live in six diferent regions of the world, called Wilderlands, each based on a different sort of enviornmental biome. Where would your adventure begin? In the Woods, like Barclay? What about in the Lore Keeper capital in the Mountains? The famous university of the Desert?

What would your Lore Keeper job be? Would you try to obtain a Guild license or strike out on your own? If you were to join the Guild, which type of license would you pick?

I had so much fun creating these layers of choices and categories that my younger self would’ve adored. But by far, the most fun I had in creating the world of Wilderlore was the details. Because even with all these exciting decisions, my younger self wouldn’t have struck off on my own imaginative adventure into a world if I didn’t like that world.

And so, true to the themes of the story, I let my imagination run absolutely wild with details! The Wilderlands needed a newspaper, so I named it the Keeper’s Khronicle. What would a young Lore Keeper be interested in? Well, like regular kids, probably sports, collectibles, and more, and thus came the competitive Dooling tournament and the champion cards. I threw in boutique stores and celebrities, delectible foods and famous landmarks. Essentially, the more I could come up with, the more vivid I could make the setting, the better!

From its deliberate decisions to sneaky whimsical discoveries, building the world of Wilderlore was and continues to be an absolute joy. It feels like extending a hand to my inner child and letting her guide the journey. It feels like coming home. And if it sparks the imagination of even a single reader, then I will consider my own adventure writing it to be a spectacular success.

Click HERE to check out the Pinterest board Amanda used during the writing of Wilderlore.

Amanda Foody has always considered imagination to be our best attempt at magic. After a double life as an accountant preparing taxes for multinational corporations, she now spends her free time brewing and fermenting foods much more easily obtained at her local grocery store. She lives in Boston, MA with a hoard of books guarded by the most vicious of feline companions, Jelly Bean. Her books include the Wilderlore series, The Shadow Game series and more. Her next YA novel, All of Us Villains, co-authored with Christine Lynn Herman, releases on November 9, 2021.

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