School Time in a Story

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A common stage of a hero’s journey is training.  Sometimes this is on the road experience in a ‘hard knocks’ type of thing.  Other times they get some training beforehand, which works for late teen/early twenty characters that are heading in that direction.  Yet, there are many stories where school and training takes either all or a big chunk of the overall tale.  Harry Potter and the X-Men are characters that ‘operate’ out of a school.  Luke Skywalker spent a good portion of Empire Strikes Back with Yoda.  Ranger’s Apprentice is rather self-explanatory in the title of the series.

Way back when I tried to publish Beginning of a Hero, I went with an on-demand publisher and bought a package that included a professional review.  I chose not to use it because the reviewer went on entirely about how I should have thrown away the adventure plot and focused nearly entirely on Luke Callindor as a student.  Even though without the main adventure, he’d have no reason to be there.  Anyway, this made me think a lot about how school settings are so common.  Harry Potter, Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X-Men, Rosario Vampire, Ranger’s Apprentice, Smallville, and I could keep going with stories that take place in a school.  (No idea why there were 3 vampire series in there or why I mentioned the sparkly one.)  Now I’m going to make posts all week about this (stop groaning), but I want to know what people think of the school setting in fiction.

Personally, I think it’s popular because schools are their own pocket society.  You have cliques, clubs, and a vast variety of personalities under one structure.  There is a lot of versatility in using a school setting.  You can have the hero rise to conquer bullies or a power-mad teacher or a dark secrets.  Possibilities are endless because you can take tales from a non-school setting and fit them into it.  Also, there’s an expectation of character growth and evolution because we all remember developing in school.  It’s unavoidable that we go in one way and come out changed.  The ‘coming of age’ and ‘child to adulthood’ tales are always popular because of this relatability.

So, what does everyone think of books that take place in schools?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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26 Responses to School Time in a Story

  1. sknicholls says:

    I like schools in books. It is like the work setting. At least eight hours a day (or more if it is a residential academy) is spent in the setting. It has its own social dynamics, like you say. But outside adventures are a part of that experience, so I couldn’t see leaving them out, else it would be a boring book.

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    • Most books seem to use schools like you described. A central setting, but the events are more from the outside world. This might be one reason I like fantasy stories when an apprentice system is around. It melds the two things rather nicely, so neither comes off as lacking.

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  2. It’s a universal experience in the western world. Everyone can relate to the trials and tribulations of being a student, and the prospect of schools that teach trades or arts that would exist in fantasy worlds but not our modern one is an exciting one.

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    • I used to read a lot of manga and watch anime, so the school was a popular setting. It’s a different culture, but education seems to be a central focus. More so than the western world. Yet, we still a lot of fictional stories take place in a school. Harry Potter, Buffy, and Twilight (sorry) come to mind.

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  3. I think it’s a great idea!

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  4. renxkyoko says:

    I like it. If the characters are of school age, I expect them to be in school for 8 hours, and I expect that’s when real action takes place.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jmcobbrn says:

    I think there is also the idea of many people wanting to go back to their childhood. One group who loved their childhood and have many fond memories of it. And a second group who wishes they could go back and change something about their time in school. Whether they want to defeat their bullies, be a hero or just have a “normal” childhood.

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  6. M T McGuire says:

    I’m struggling with the idea at the moment. Do I make the protagonists university students in London or do I make them younger and set it in a school. My time at school was mixed but I’m not sure I’m necessarily attracted to books set in schools. That said I enjoyed the Harry Potter books because it was really easy to imagine it happening in my own school. Sorry that doesn’t really help does it. But I think the points about it being a microcosm are right and that’s probably why it works.

    Cheers

    MTM

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    • I think it depends on the overall story. Either can work, but I’m sure one would work better than the other within your plan.

      As someone who was ‘meh’ on school by the 11th grade, I think writing a story in a school setting allows me to create the microcosm I would have liked. A little self-indulgence if you will.

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      • M T McGuire says:

        Yeh I can imagine. I had a great time in the last two years of school and the odd really ugly term before that at a different school. If I set mine in a school it will be the one I was at in 6th form. So my hesitancy is probably based on the exact opposite reason to yours. I need a Draco Malfoy in this book and I don’t want them in a school where I had none and where such behaviour would not have gone unchecked. Whereas at uni… bring it on.

        Cheers

        MTM

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      • We had our share of Malfoy’s and a couple Voldemorts too. It was strange that in college, it was less likely to happen. At least at the same level because the campus was bigger and you had less chance of being in a class with the same people.

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  7. I’m not all that familiar with many of the movies and tv shows that you mentioned, but I am a big fan of Harry Potter movies. I just found them fun and the school setting did nothing but enhance the story. Therefore I don’t have any problem with the school setting.

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    • The setting definitely helped define the books. In a way, I think Hogwarts was its own character with a unique personality. I know it caused a lot of authors to do ‘magic school’ settings and try to be the next Harry Potter.

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  8. melissajanda says:

    I like school settings for stories, particularly high school. If you think of it, up until that point in your life things were pretty simple. You weren’t responsible for much (aside from homework and chores). Your parents made most of the decisions for you (where to live, what to eat, what clothes to wear, how to get from one place to another, etc.) because they were footing the bill or providing the transportation.

    As you entered high school you began to gain a little freedom. You may have had a car and a side job where you had your own income and could begin to make some of those decisions for yourself. For many of us, school was a challenging time. You were experiencing some of the most dramatic changes of a relatively short life thus far. Your body was changing in drastic ways, too. You were trying to cope with puberty (or the delay of it) and all the joys that brings. And then there was the pressure to fit in, to make good grades, to perform well in extracurricular activities, to get into a good college, etc.

    You were also preparing to embark on your biggest adventure where you may be on your own for the first, often in a different city, state or even country. It’s a time when you start developing your own world views and getting a sense of what you want to accomplish and who you want to be. It’s a great setting for the challenges, conflicts, setbacks, etc., necessary for character arc.

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    • Said perfectly and in detail. This is probably why so many ‘coming of age’ stories happen in high school. College seems to be the stories of things going off the rails because you have to make more decisions and act like an adult.

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  9. Kirsten says:

    I think they work! A school is a setting that most readers can relate to in some form. I however like when the school is not the central location of the plot, but that’s a personal preference. I spent waaay too much time in schools as a kid. My dad was a college professor and my mom was an Elementary school teacher. So I wasn’t in class, I was in one of their classrooms 🙂

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