• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

Are Magical Schools too Cliche/Overused?

SinghSong

Minstrel
I've tentatively started work on a fantasy web novel/manga (set in a magical world where Qi exists, with the more-or-less the same general properties and mechanics as those espoused in Qigong, traditional Chinese medicine and Chinese martial arts), and I'm having a hard time envisioning any way to get the story up and running in anything other than a magical school/university setting- at the very least, for the first couple of story arcs. What do you think though- is it too cliche and overdone (having my solitary male teenage protagonist be a freshman at a 'magical school'), or can it still work, attract interest and stand out above the competition?
 

CupofJoe

Myth Weaver
It is all in the writing. Few people complained that JK Rowling had used a private boarding school in her stories. Places that were a staple of tales of daring-do for plucky young schoolgirls [and boys] for generations before. She made it seem real or at least believable.
But you can give your school a flavour.
It could be more like a Monastery. with the students as novices with lessons taught more like liturgy.
Or a Military Acadamy, full of discipline, order, drills and practice.
There are even schools in the UK where there are no classes or lessons and the pupils do whatever they feel like, The teachers are just there to help and guide.
 
It's a bit overused... But if you make it feel a bit unique and well crafted. I'm sure it would work.
School enviroment is a popular setting for young readers. Since they can relate to that setting.
 
Anything can work for the masses. Me? No. I’ve started reading books by authors to beta read, and I’ve learned to ask if a school of magic or super powers is involved, because when I hit these things my brain goes UGH and shuts off. This can even go for training centers in Sci-Fi. Bootcamp. Whatever.

Which isn’t to say they can’t exist in the story, but if the setting centers around such things, my brain hits a brick wall. Quite liekly there are other elements of overdone and cliche that go along with this effect.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
I'd advise against it, there's too many other books out there which have done the same thing. I know a lot depends on what sort of story arc you have in mind, but is there some other way you could have your protagonist learn or at least another way of protraying how they learn as they go? Maybe seen throiugh other characters who are doing other things, so that your main protagonist is a sort of background figure to start with.Or maybe something in the way of Girl Genius and how that starts.
 

Chasejxyz

Inkling
Ancient China had the imperial examination, it was the SATs on steroids. You were locked in a room for 3 days and had to memorize a bunch of stuff and write it all down, if you messed up even 1 character, you failed. But anyone could take this (including peasants!) and it was how you got government jobs. So "SAT prep" was a really big thing. Depending on how much you want things to be from/inspired by ancient China, there could be an official exam to get your permit to do magic, to work in the military with your magic or do things for the emperor. People would still go to school, yes, but it was all for the specific end goal of passing that test. Compare this to "regular" school where you do it for X amount of years and you're done.
 

Ned Marcus

Inkling
I really hate the magical school trope, but if you want to write any story, then just do it. As others have said, it's in the writing. If you feel excited about it, then that will flow into your writing, and there's a good chance that others will enjoy it.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
The answer is no to the question in the thread title. Plenty will be put off by a school setting, for whatever reasons they prefer. But cliche? Overused? Most people spend upwards of 13 years in the school system, about 15% of their lives. I'm not aware of another setting that could be considered that universal.


...and I'm having a hard time envisioning any way to get the story up and running in anything other than a magical school/university setting- at the very least, for the first couple of story arcs.

I don't know what kind of story you're writing. Some of the alternatives are apprenticeship, homeschooling, private tutors, learning on the job, or just starting the character a little older (or having school end a few years earlier). To maybe consider a fresher perspective, school doesn't have to mean the "academy." Child actors have their lessons on the set, for example. It's not hard to imagine any number of hybrid models - the school building some months and small lessons during some action mission during other stretches, and an apprenticeship or "internship" during other stints. If you're going to use a magic school think of how you would really want to teach the material and think it through, instead of just walking into the old school tropes blindly.
 

Saigonnus

Auror
I will agree that if it is different, and done well, most people will probably look past it as long as the entire story doesn't take place in the school in the essence of Harry Potter. A chapter... maybe two should be okay, but if it were me, I would jump straight to the part that takes place after he/she graduates/leaves... you can always go back and detail relevant information about their schooling later.

The other question I would ask. Why does it have to be a teenaged protagonist? (That also has been overdone lately in my opinion)
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
I have a few 'wizard schools' in my main world that occasionally appear in my stories, particularly the 'Empire' series.

'Mystic Mountain,' oriented mostly towards training military mages appears in a couple flashbacks and is mentioned a few other times.

The 'University of Solace' has a section of the campus dedicated to arcane studies, but is mostly for well-to-do sorts to learn law, medicine, and natural philosophy. The first chapter of 'Labyrinth: Seed' is set there (mostly in the non magical quadrant) as is a flashback chapter. Plus, there are several characters who talk about the place and the instructors at various points in both tales.

Corber Port, largest city on the planet, has numerous sorcerers but doesn't have a single university or mage school; instead it has several smaller institutions. While wizards from all over the Empire and beyond are found within Corber Port, the sad truth is the vast majority are second or third rate at best. Most are one cut above charlatans, and the quality of magical instruction reflects this - most are geared towards something specific like potion making or ritual magic. Three or four chapters of 'Empire: Metropolis' (book four of the series) include scenes at one of these establishments, the 'Enchanted Quadrant,' which teaches engineering applications for magic.

Mentioned occasionally but never really directly part of the stories is Ank-U, an ancient center of magic. Magical training there is family based; one is eitehr born into or becomes a member of one of some three dozen odd arcane families via adoption or marriage.

Maybe 20,000 words total out of 700,000, give or take.
 
Magic schools are not a cliche, they're a trope. A tool in the toolbox of a writer. A cliche is simply a trope done poorly and without imagination. If you write about a magical boarding school located somewhere in schotland where there are 4 different houses students get sorted into, then yes. That is a cliche and you shouldn't go there unless you know what you're doing and why.

However, if you put your own twist on it then there is no reason you can't write a story about it. One thing to keep in mind here is that this novel will likely be a YA or middle grade book (target audience is usually of the same age as the protagonist or just a bit younger). Which is very different from most of the people responding here. There is a reason a lot of kids novels take place in schools. It's the world of those kids. They like it. It's their world.

Now, if you're writing for an older audience, then figure out who your audience is and ask them. And don't ask anyone for permission. Just write.
 

Aldarion

Inkling
I've tentatively started work on a fantasy web novel/manga (set in a magical world where Qi exists, with the more-or-less the same general properties and mechanics as those espoused in Qigong, traditional Chinese medicine and Chinese martial arts), and I'm having a hard time envisioning any way to get the story up and running in anything other than a magical school/university setting- at the very least, for the first couple of story arcs. What do you think though- is it too cliche and overdone (having my solitary male teenage protagonist be a freshman at a 'magical school'), or can it still work, attract interest and stand out above the competition?

I don't think they are, but I might say that modern school is overdone. You might want to look at how schooling worked in say Ancient Greece so that you don't have a boarding school and such.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
Why not forbid the magic school for yourself? Now what would you write? For that matter, why start with a young MC? Why not one who is older, been around, made mistakes. I think right away of Brother Cadfael. Starting with a past means your character starts with depth. Sins to atone for. Victories to relish. Loves to lament. So much more interesting than starry eyes and doltish dreams, and it spares us the inevitable training scenes.
 
Top