Thursday, September 15, 2011

How I make my characters suffer with school

I write fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi/something not quite definable, so my characters are rarely in actual school -- at least for the duration of the story. Or, rather, if they have school, it's not like school as we know it.

In INCARNATE, Ana is basically shuffled around from expert to expert. If she wants to learn about beekeeping, she goes to that person's house and learns about beekeeping. If she wants to learn baking -- same thing. The powers that be in Range do care about Ana's schooling, which they show by requiring yearly examinations and monthly progress reports.

The thing I've found about characters in school is this: it's not usually very interesting. We've all been to school. We know what it's like. And we don't need the classes again unless plot is happening there.

What interests me more about characters in school is their decisions and consequences. What happens if they don't do well enough? What happens if they get caught skipping for the sake of the plot? What happens if they skip the plot for school?

Give them a choice. Make big consequences for either response.

The focus on Ana's schooling in INCARNATE is minimal. I bring it up every now and then, because it's important to know that she's not just whiling away her hours at home. She's out there doing stuff. I have other characters nag her about progress reports. I introduce a few threats of what will happen if she doesn't go to school.

For me, school is a complication for the characters. It's a real thing! They have to go there and deal with it! But I see it more as a source of conflict.

I like it when the characters have conflict.


Jodi Meadows is the author of INCARNATE, book one of the Newsoul Trilogy. (January 31, 2012 - HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books.)

She lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. You can find her on her website and blog.

*A Kippy is a cat.


  1. My school is introduced in The Vicious Deep with supernatural teachers/students. It's going to be its own entity throughout all my books.

    I think schools in YA novels are important. And we're all familiar with the typical parts of school, its still holds so much power because it does serve as its own little world with its own rules.

    I'm so excited for INCARNATE!

  2. That sounds awesome, Zoraida! I can't wait to read The Vicious Deep!

  3. YES, choices and consequences. That's the best part of school in fiction, especially because it reflects real life. THe kids reading our books are often going to be IN school...or making a choice not to be. Even in a dystopian, I think school (in whatever form) is something contemporary kids can identify with.

  4. So true. School was uninteresting and painful when I went, so writing about it... *shudders* And when I was a teen, I wanted to read something that transported me AWAY from school!

    So looking forward to reading INCARNATE, Jodi!

  5. Love this emphasis on school as a source of conflict, a tool for the plot, and not just some blah background scenery we assume should be there because that's how YA's been done in the past. It sounds like each element in your book is intentional, which makes for the best, tightest kind of storytelling!!