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School is a common setting in YA books. If you’re writing YA for the first time, or never wrote about middle/high school settings, I am sharing 11 things to keep in mind. I included personal stories for you to get to know teenage me. :)
Most schools are named after people or even directions. My elementary school was Westside, my middle school was Southwest, and my high school was Bayside. You can use your old school names for inspiration or even use someone’s last name. Think: Brown, Stanford.
2. Mascot and School Colors
Middle schools and especially high schools have mascots and school colors. In middle school, we were the Broncos with maroon, gray, and white as out colors. In high school, we were the Bears with teal, black and white as our colors. You can choose your favorite animal and trio of colors, or use a symbolic animal.
Animals and their meanings:
Tiger – willpower, strength, and courage
Wolf – Intelligence
Lion - Strength, assertiveness, and power
Bear- Strength and confidence
Orange, black and white
Red, black and gray
Gold, purple and white
|Bayside's Bear Logo|
3. Layout of the School
Although you won’t have to describe the layout of the school in great detail, being able to picture the school’s grounds will help your imagination and aid you while you write.
Personal Story: My middle school was divided into three buildings that were painted different colors to help the students from getting lost. The furthest building had red trim, the one in the middle was blue, and the third was green. The lockers inside these buildings matched the color on the outside.
TIP: Picture your high school or design a new school in your head with characteristics from famous schools/buildings.
Example: Alnwick Castle was as Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter movies.
The school in your book will need teachers, but you won’t have to create a teacher for everyone class your character goes to, just the one’s you’ll want to highlight, such as math class and gym, or whatever class will be important for your character. And fashion a teacher perfect for that class.
Is the teacher male or female?What’s the teacher’s name?How does the teacher dress and act?
TIP: Use your old teachers for inspiration.
What classes does your character have? Is he or she in all Honors/AP classes, normal classes, or intermediate classes? Also consider the grade your character is in as math and science change with each grade.
|Image from Pixabay|
Lunchtime is always a scary time. Or at least it was for me. I was shy and never had friends during my lunch period, so finding a place to sit was a nightmare.
Where does your character sit? Who does your character sit with?
Personal Story: I remember groups of Goths and punks would sit at one table on one side of the cafeteria and on the other side would be the cooler kids; football players would take half a table and the cheerleaders would take the other half.
Most schools in America are usually divided like this; each group/clique of friends sticking together everywhere they go.
Who is the popular girl/boy in the school? Is there a group of “Plastics” on Mean Girls with their own version of Regina George? Most importantly, what type of student is your main character: a nerd, outcast, troublemaker, or cool kid?
Personal Story: In high school, I was the shy and quiet nerdy girl who was too skinny and was in Art Club in ninth grade. I always had a small group of friends, but without them, I was lost.
Being on a bus sucks! First you have to find somewhere to sit. Then you may have to suffer the long ride with no air conditioner or radio if you get stuck with a crappy bus or mean bus driver. On top of that, there is relentless bullying and fights.
Personal Story: When I was in elementary school, I was bullied by this girl in my class every afternoon on the bus. I dreaded having to get on that bus after school when I’d know she’d be there. Moving my seat never helped, because she’d just find me and sit in the seat in front of me.
|Image from Pixabay|
9. Hangout Spots
Where does your main character and his/her friends handout before and after school? Do they have a special spot where they always go to talk before the bell rings? Year after year, me and my friends went to the same concrete block at the very end of the school to sit and chat.
10. School Events
Don’t just write about boring classes! Write about dances and games. Does your character go to homecoming or prom? What about football games? Every year my school put together a fun Renaissance night. Add events like this to your story and let something important (good or bad) happen during it.
11. The Bad
Schools are places for learning, memory building, and first loves, but they also contain tragedies. Students are committing suicide because they’re being bullied, they’re bringing guns to school and shooting everyone they can out of hate and vengeance. These two things are growing more frequent and devastating every year.
There are also deaths from drunk driving, rape at parties, and teen pregnancies.
Personal Story: I remember when I was in tenth grade I’d see a girl walking to class early with a belly ready to pop. I also felt sympathy toward her. Also in high school, a sweet cheerleader everyone loves was killed in an ATV accident. Her boyfriend and two others were also killed. I think about her a lot...
You don’t have to write a tragedy like these into your book, but they are worth considering as long as you can work your plot around it.
A Word on Plot: A YA story isn’t just about going to school. Something else has to happen. Is there romance from your character falling in love for the first time? Does she try to fun for prom queen? There could even be a paranormal element that takes your character away from school.
TIP: If your school is in the past or future, you’ll have to adjust certain aspects accordingly.
QUESTIONS: What kind of teen were you in high school? What was your high school’s mascot? Have you written YA with the main character in school?