School is probably just starting for most of you out there, and congratulations on making it through at least a few days. Now you might be wondering why we’re bringing school up, and the answer to that is that we’re doing a social experiment where we send one of our employees through the eternal flames and tortures of Heck, and then bring them back with an ancient ritual, and the quickest way to send someone to Heck is to remind you of school. No, but really, this article is going to be about how and how not to use a school/school like setting and how to make it apply to an element of your story like characterization or world building. And now that Jeremy, the writer of the first sentence, has entered the depths of Heck with his camera, we can begin the article.
Why Use the School Setting?
The school setting most often occurs in young adult (YA) literature, and that is because of the nature of its audience, which is usually people from the ages of 12 to 18. By creating characters that are around the same age as your reader, and that are going through similar struggles, such as school and homework, the author can create a sense of relatability and connection between reader and character. But sometimes an author doesn’t quite understand the modern day goings of school, and they create a school system that isn’t to realistic. And by doing that they lose some of the relatability that they tried to earn. However if your story doesn’t take place in the school for most of the time you can easily course correct with relatable characters out in a world that you hopefully understand a little bit better. But if you have the opposite situation, your going to end up with a big ugly issue with your story, just like we have a big ugly issue with these shadow monsters that have invaded from the Heck dimension.
Creating a Realistic School Environment
So the main issue is creating a realistic school environment. And one big proponent of that is the over exaggerating of some aspects of school life, such as the homework, the teachers, or the students. And this over exaggeration can work when used in the correct story, take for example that your writing a teenage hero kind of book with a more realistic and darker tone to it, and then you add Brittany and her gang of popular girls who are in complete control of the entire school, because of… high school popularity? that doesn’t work. But if you have a more absurdist type of comedy that takes place in a school setting it could be a funny bit with the ever growing army of school girls. But this part of the article isn’t about being absurdist, it’s about writing realistically, and while some of these issues appear sometimes they do not reach the silly overly hyperbolized extent of Hollywood movies. And some of you are thinking about how you can find out more about school without being in it, and the simple answer is to draw from experience. But if you think your experiences aren’t enough you may want to interview some students or teachers, try starting with family though before going to a school campus. And there are tons of places you can find stuff about teenagers online, but be wary, a lot of that is also hyperbolized, so probably stick tight to personal experience. Also in shows and books the stories make bullying out to be much more physical in nature than it is now, most of modern day bullying is done through the interwebs of the World Wide Web. A wonderful new technology that you should remember plays a role in your story. And then there is also slang, teenagers do not always go walking around school yelling “YEET!!” or saying “Gucci,” sometimes these phrases are just used ironically or for jokes, but remember that teens do not speak in a whole new language most of the time.
Now lets talk about the cookie cutter set of characters that always seem to pop up in school story lines, these being the jock, the nerd, the popular girl, and the normal one that will most likely be your main character. There’s also a whole bunch more that are optional dependent on the story line, like the artist, or the comic relief in the form of a teen who may or may not be stoned, and the love interest appearing in the romance ones. And following archetypes that have been set up before is not a bad thing, in fact following the basic guidelines that an archetype has set up can help an audience know a character even more without you having to say as much through exposition. But the trouble comes when your whole entire character is the pre-set template. By doing that you create a 2D character, with little to no depth, their personality is the archetype and all their choices are predictable. And no actual person is like that, there’s no one person who’s sole trait is ‘nerd’ and that’s it, so when you create characters like that you create a disconnect, a disconnect that will be very hard to try and undo once you release it to the public.
Which is why you need to create actual characters with histories and personality, and that doesn’t mean combining two archetypes into one, because that’s just adding one more character trait, like a nerd and jock hybrid is just someone who is smart and also plays sports, and as a side trait their probably handsome, which isn’t usually a personality trait. We’ll be talking about creating complex characters in a later article, but for now we’ll just tell you that you need to give characters motivations, both internal and external ones, that drive them to do something, like become a jock, and usually finding the back story first is a good way to find how a character will be motivated. Like a father figure leaving, and so the character wants to make them proud by being good at something like sports. And then you find how they interact around other characters, are they nice, are they mean, sarcastic, perhaps they try and avoid interaction with anyone in general, it’s up to you. You can also use this in reference to school, find how they react to homework tests, and the constant rush of people in classes and in halls. By doing this you establish how other characters could feel about this one, you can also find how they behave around different types of people, like the difference between mother, and best friend interactions. You could even establish the type of character arc you want them to go on. After all of that you want to start giving them things that they believe, and if you want an interesting character you should try adding contradictions in thought, like knowing someone is dead, yet searching for them and spiraling down farther every step of the way. It’s good to have a more mixed bag of traits than just all the good ones, and all the bad ones. And by creating these things you are ready to create an actually interesting and possibly relatable character. It will also be good to note that not all backstories have to be tragic, you can have a complex character with a completely fine home life.
Using Education in World Building
Now that were done droning on about characterization, lets drone on about world building, the process of building a… wait for it… world. And you may be wondering how you can fit a High School Musical like setting into a bleak and dusty, dystopian future book. And the simple answer is you can’t, but that would make for a great sketch and we would watch that, what you can do though is show how a dystopian government has taken over the school systems to start brain washing the kids early, or maybe you could show kids not even going to school and just fighting to stay alive, much like us before we destroyed the demonic bunnie-pug hybrids that came out of the Heck hole. RIP Sid.
But anyways, by showing the type of schooling that is going on at the time you can show a clearer picture of the culture in your current setting, like when going back in time to before the 1950’s you would find segregation, and even leading up to the desegregation you can find themes of racism and all sorts of stuff like that. And you can also show the increase or decline of new findings in both technological fields and scientific ones. Like how evolution wasn’t taught in schools until around the 1850’s, but now it’s common place to learn about in your science class. Also who has access to education can help set up a class divide or a more put together society, like in medieval Europe when education was mainly for the higher up in status. You also need to keep in mind that most schools are government run, so find what the government is getting out of teaching students of lower financial levels, or maybe why they don’t do that. Every government is trying to make decisions that will help make it more powerful, and finding how the philosophy of the government dictates the school system is a good way of just building up the entire setting in an interesting and non-info dump way.
How to Use the School Setting
Harry Potter is probably one of the best uses of the school setting in terms of moving forward the plot, and that’s mostly out of necessity seeing as most of the books are in the school, but it’s still a great example. Like in book 6 where Harry is learning from the Half-Blood Prince’s book, and when reading about antidotes he learns about the bezoar as an antidote for poisons. And later on when Ron gets mysteriously poisoned Harry knows to use a bezoar as an antidote. And this is showing the use of setting elements up and then using them later, but sometimes this can come across as contrived, or to coincidental, and that can be hard to combat, so it would be good to use this trick only a few times and not for the entirety of the story. Also make sure that the information coming from class would make sense as being taught in that world, like how Harry Potter is learning about poison antidotes in a potions class, in a magical school. If this were to come up in a normal science class today it would be a bit weird, like why is my science teacher trying to get me to make an antidote for him.
The setting can also work as a step to unite all of your main characters into one place, and then set them off on the story line. And these scenes can be fun if done in an interesting way that isn’t just “Oh look, we’re all a team now because the author said so,” Lets take the example of a group of kids coming together in a creative writing club, and that’s how the characters unite in a story. You have to give each character a motivation through the school to meet up at the club, such as an interest in creative writing, or perhaps they expect pretty girls in the club, maybe they just tagged along with a friend who wanted to go. But try and find a logical way of getting everyone in the club. And once you do that you introduce the characters to eachother, easy peasy. But avoid a contrived gathering that was forced because it needed to happen, because you may want to rush to the meat of your story, but a bad beginning can throw a reader off of wanting to continue. And if meeting the whole squad in a club thing doesn’t work then try creating an inter lapping web of friend groups that somehow connect people, or maybe their forced together for a government experiment. Who knows, but school is a very good way of bringing characters who don’t know each other together.
And sometimes school is just a little inconvenience in the story that is keeping your main character from reaching something. Like being unable to run away and chase Evil McBadguy, and instead having to operate at the school and chase Evil McBadguy on weekends and holidays. Find how these types of story lines may affect how the character behaves in class, and you could create some funny bits of them trying to get out of class, or some really clever things that show a characters cunning. But make sure that some sort of action is happening to keep it from just being a kid stuck in school wanting to get out.
We have tried to resurrect Jeremy from Heck, but all that came up from the flames was unskippable school supply ads. So we’re here to say that our social experiment with Jeremy entering Heack as resulted in the death of tw—Oh wait, you wanted to talk about the article, ok then. School is a very fickle setting, in a lot of places it just doesn’t work, and that could happen for any number of issues, one being the hyperbolizing of it’s aspects, and the other having unrelatable characters. However school is a very useful setting too as it can set up worlds, characters, and interesting plot lines. But it’s all about how you use it and how you write it. The story is in your hand now, and we hope our advice has helped it in some way. Have a nice time of existence.
Written By All The Writing HQ