7 Tips to Writing Student Characters

My Hero Academia Class 2-A

To be clear, this is mostly about a main hero who is a student with a mentor.  So, we’re not looking at general student characters, but those who are in the spotlight.  They don’t even have to go to a school like Izuku Midoriya or Harry Potter.  As long as they are learning, they are a student. Let’s get to it.

  1. Give your student weak areas.  In other words, there will be some things that they simply aren’t good at even after learning the basics.  Think of real people.  Most have their strong subjects and their weak subjects.  It’s rare, and very unbelievable, for a person to be a master at everything they learn.  I believe that’s what people call a Mary Sue/Gary Stu.  Try to avoid that by having them be average at something or even terrible.
  2. Show that they have some trouble learning things at first.  While there are examples of the gifted student, a ‘speed of light’ learner tends to lead to a character who has no weak points.  It also opens the door for them never making a mistake.  If they’re so good at figuring out new subjects and skills then it’s hard to believe they will screw up even under pressure.  They can work out of their difficulty, but it does help to show that they aren’t racing through their training.
  3. Training montages . . . Sure.  Do it if you need the training to go over an extended period of time, but don’t want to take away from the adventure.  Just remember to how the characters appear different and remain aware of the passage of time, especially if some were separated.
  4. The arrogant student has been done a lot.  Readers do enjoy seeing characters learn humility and get dropped a few pegs.  Yet, it doesn’t really have the same impact as it once did.  At least, the arrogant student doesn’t hit the same way with people who have seen it time and time again.  Try to come up with a variation.  Maybe they develop arrogance during training or it isn’t to an extreme level.  It could be associated with a specific skill too.
  5. Never be afraid to have a student ask a question.  Having them follow their teacher’s orders blindly can hurt their identity.  They lose a level of independence and individuality, which is needed for a main hero.  You don’t have to give them an answer either.  If you need them to follow orders then they need to be pushed into that mindset unless this is how they start.  Going that route means you will need to have them grow out of this personality quirk.
  6. “I will do it my way!”  Stop that.  If the student could learn what they need their own way then they don’t need the teacher.  Yes, they’ll earn respect or amazement, but it turns their teacher into an obstacle instead of an ally.
  7. Whatever a student learns, needs to come in handy down the road.  You also need to make it clear what they’re learning.  It’s very tempting to do a time skip and then have them reveal skills as needed.  As long as you can justify them learning it, you can say they did it.  This tactic can work once or twice, but you can’t do much more without making it clear that you’re just making it up as you go along.

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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8 Responses to 7 Tips to Writing Student Characters

  1. L. Marie says:

    Great tips! The complaint people seemed to have about Rey in Star Wars is that she either picked up skills extremely quickly without exertion or didn’t have to be trained. That seems to be the case with a number of books I’ve seen lately—characters who come out of the gate strong and capable. They only fail (if at all) in ways that cause little embarrassment to themselves or are the fault of others. So different from Ged/Sparrowhawk in A Wizard of Earthsea, who made terrible choices as a student.

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    • Characters being naturals seems to be a new trend. Especially when they’re being added to a pre-existing franchise. Rey definitely tossed the teacher/student thing on its head because of how they wrote her. I don’t know why this trend exists though. Do movie and TV companies think people don’t want characters with weaknesses?

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      • L. Marie says:

        Maybe they do. Or maybe a character who instantly learns something appeals to a reader who wants that aspect in his or her own life. 😊 Since I have failed a lot, I can’t relate to characters who are instantly good at everything (though I actually know some people who are good at a lot of things). This is not to say that I don’t occasionally enjoy a character who is highly skilled and who seems in control. But that character at least needs to seem relatable.

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      • That’s a possibility. I think it’s also that creators fear backlash from having flawed characters. Some people mistake that as low key insults. They don’t recognize that it’s a part of the hero’s journey both in fiction and reality.

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  2. One thing that’s important is for the author to be familiar with schools as they are today. Someone like me, who graduated high school in the late ’70s, may have assumptions about the school environment that date us and will seem out of place to students of today.

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    • That is a challenge. Though it can be circumvented by having it be a fictional world or alternate Earth. In reality, most teachers can’t easily create the fictional bond we see. Too much of a focus on liability and being careful.

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