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How to make a story that's not too similar to Harry Potter?

I'm kinda busy working on a different story right now, but i've been working on a story about a young witch who goes to a magic school called Ellsford academy for young witches and wizards. My only problem right now is that i'm a bit worried that i'll be accused of copying, so i'd like some advice on how to make my story different from Harry Potter. Any suggestions?
 
I think that an easy way to distinguish your work from Jk's is by introducing, perhaps, the idea that witches and wizards are not equally the same in all but gender. I've read somewhere that a witch is more like a medicinal healer. Maybe consider having it be a school of mages or something of the like so that it doesn't sound like just another boarding school like Hogwarts? Just a mere thought. I've seen witch, wizard, warlock, mage, etc defined as different things by different sources, so you could probably get away with using whichever terms you'd like and bending it to fit into what you're wanting it to be.
 

Queshire

Auror
The best way would likely be to change the way magic is treated in society. Imagine a victorian/steam punk type setting where magic users are finding themselves rendered obsolete by the industrial revolution? Or one like the X-men where magic users are hated & feared and the school provides a sanctuary. Changing the cultural inspiration can also help. The webcomic Witchy features wands, brooms and even a witch burning, but places in it a setting inspired by South East Asia instead of Europe.
 
Make her not live underneath the stairs...
o_O

On a more serious note, I agree that setting / worldbuilding is the big thing. If there are no muggles but everyone can do magic for instance. Harry Potter very much focusses on an idealized version of the United Kingdom. So set it somewhere else. Have the boarding school be a techno-submarine which sails between Australia and Japan during the 14th century. Or something similarly different. Make the magic different from wave-a-wand. Or maybe they don't so much teach magic at the boarding school but rather just school stuff and the magic is a side-thing (I always wonder, didn't wizards learn maths or foreign languages or sports...). I would go wild with the setting.

Having said that, if you write a story about a kid going to magical boarding school then you will be compared to Harry Potter. There is no getting around it. I remember reading a comment from Terry Pratchett. One day he received a letter from a Harry Potter fan accusing him of stealing Hogwarts and using it for the Unseen University in AnkMorpk, as well as several characters. I think Pratchett kindly pointed out that he came up with the idea some 14 years before Rowling. So, don't worry about it and write the story you want to write. As long as you don't actually copy Harry Potter you will be fine.
 

Chasejxyz

Inkling
The biggest way to make your story different is to make EVERYONE trans. The school is truly multicultural (like, you know, modern England actually is) and you actually see students celebrating Hannukkah and non-Christian holidays. The students learn about magic from all over the world and it's all treated as valid and good. Your werewolves aren't an allegory for AIDS and your characters don't defend slavery.

Anyways, JKR wrote herself into a serious corner when she decided each book would be 1 school year, because it means that the Big Problem happens towards the end of the school year. Like imagine stressing out about finals at the end of the year AND you know some crazy magic thing is going to happen and people are going to die. And then Gryiffindor wins the house cup because they saved everyone's lives, again! So every book is very same-y in that regard, learn from her mistakes and have the stories be as long as they need to be, not arbitrarily a certain span of time. Also the students really don't LEARN anything, just magic. Did anyone take algebra? What about regular history? What if someone actually wants to be an electrical engineer when they grow up? Have your school be an actual school and not just a cool setting where things can happen.

HP is an MG book, so all the characters are that age, and the problems they have (and run into) are the problems an average MG reader would have. Even though they turn into high schoolers towards the end, they're not doing typical high school stuff like serious dating. There's never going to be a teen pregnant wizard because the idea of anyone having sex doesn't fit the target audience. But if your wizard school is about high schoolers and is YA/NA, then you can go in that direction, and your teens/young adults will be using magic for the sorts of things people use at that age. Between the polyjuice potion and an honest to god "love potion" in Harry Potter, it would be very, very easy to have things turn into Law and Order SVU, but would never happen in HP because of the target audience.

What is your target audience? What kind of story do you want to tell? What is your character like? What about the school is critical to your story?
 

Unknown

Acolyte
So what if you have a young witch in a magic school? This in and on itself does not make your story an Harry Potter copy. I actually would like very much to read more magic high school stories and am really dissapintement that there aren't more of them. Look at epic fantasy- you have so many books with the same stereotypical dragons/dwarves/elves... A magic higschool is nothing compared to that. I really think that as long as you write your original story that you really want to tell it will be OK.
 

MrNybble

Sage
It all really depends on the overall plot. Things can happen at a school or happen because of the school. I'm working on a story that starts in magic school, but doesn't revolve around it. This school is for people that get magic later in life. So people from all ages, backgrounds, and races attend. Unlike childern school where school is their life, these people have a life and now must attend a school. There are dozens if not hundreds of ways to teach people how to use magic. If the target reader is still in school, you can't get to crazy about none standard schools if you want the young reader to relate.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
>a young witch who goes to a magic school called Ellsford academy for young witches and wizards.
Well, it's already different with your premise. Now it's just a matter of *how* different you want it to be.

You might give this a consideration: try making it as much like Harry Potter as you can. It won't work. Yours will be different, even unintentionally. Then you can take a hard look at see where you've imitated but you don't like the results, letting you introduce changes deliberately. The key here is that the changes you make will be because they're important to the *story* rather than trying to introduce changes just for the sake of the change.

Once it's all done, you can show it to others. If they say it's too much like Harry Potter, you can take a hard look at still more changes. Honestly, though, I think you'll find it's impossible for you to imitate too much. Your own voice, your own concerns and preferences will come through.
 

Malik

Auror
Write it from a different POV.

Somebody for the love of God write one of these "wizard academy" stories from a teacher's POV. Imagine the teachers' lounge at a wizard academy. Imagine the parent-teacher conferences. Imagine grading homework.

Someone please write about a teacher of sorcery who has to keep getting her idiot students out of trouble. Show me all the conversations involving the word "frankly" when the headmaster discovers one of this teacher's students is The Chosen One and she's like, "hey, that's great, but I have twenty-nine other kids to worry about, so . . ." and all of them make our concepts of "gifted" and "special needs" look like child's play. Someone please write that. I'd buy it.
 

Malik

Auror
My WIP is already getting comparisons to Stargate because it's about a modern-day Special Ops team and a couple of archaeologists exploring a fantasy world.

But . . .
I put a spin on it: Stargate gets almost literally every single thing wrong about the military, and I'm career military.

So my counter is, "Imagine a Stargate novel with graphic sex and violence written by Tom Clancy." And that shuts people up, and gets them interested.

So, I mean, find a spin. What did Rowling miss? Start there.
 
Somebody for the love of God write one of these "wizard academy" stories from a teacher's POV. Imagine the teachers' lounge at a wizard academy. Imagine the parent-teacher conferences. Imagine grading homework.
I just thought of the same thing actually. That would be a great story. It just wouldn't be YA but adult fantasy. But there's so much potential here. I now actually want to write that story. I even already have a setting kicking around in my head which would fit this story.

Must finish other project first.... Must resist temptation to run after the next shiny new project...

 

Queshire

Auror
Well gee, now I feel like i'm jumping on the bandwagon by saying I thought the same thing.

In my case it'd be a mix of Harry Dreseden style urban fantasy with Harry Potter.

The protagonist is a supernatural detective in the vein of Harry Dresden or John Constantine. She's hired to investigate the spat of incidents that happen at the magic academy. You know how things go at magic academies after all, but she has to investigate it discreetly. That means going undercover as a teacher.

The pay is good, but it means getting dragges back into all the politics and ancient & noble houses of wizarding society. Hell, avoiding all that had been half the reason she fucked off to a crappy apartment in the city to begin with.

The other half was avoiding her ex-girlfriend. Unfortunately that Ex is now her client and a fellow teacher.
 

Miles Lacey

Maester
The Harry Potter series was little more than the traditional British boarding school stories that had been very popular until about the 1960s when boarding schools began to fall out of favour with most British parents. The genre was dead and buried by the 1970s. Rowling added magic and other fantasy elements to those boarding school stories and resurrected that genre in the process.

One of the most radical changes that could be made is to ditch the almost idyllic view of school life as shown in Harry Potter and introduce a more gritty, real life school environment where magical students have to deal with more than teachers of the dark arts trying to kill or otherwise harm or obstruct the Chosen One. Abusive parents, dates gone bad, drug and alcohol use and abuse, exam pressures, peer pressure, eating disorders, reckless driving, wagging, misusing magic both within and outside school, teacher's pets etc would certainly make a change from the sanitized school life of Hogwarts!

Telling the story from the point of view of someone who isn't the Chosen One would add a very distinct flavour as well.
 

Penpilot

Staff
Article Team
If you have kids learning magic at a magic school, no matter what, it's going to get compared to Harry Potter. You can't control that. Just based on that fact, people will say you're copying/ripping-off/etc.

What you can do is focus on the story you want to tell. What makes it unique to you? Why are you the only person that can tell this story? The person you are, the perspectives you have on the world, and how you imbue those things into your story, those are the things that will make the story unique, not broad elements that can and will show up in many-many different stories.


A bunch of years ago, I had this idea for a story after seeing a documentary on the Great Wall of China. It was about a land surrounded by a wall that is supposed to keep the lands safe from mythical creatures called the Others. While outlining it, a friend kept pushing me to read a Game of Thrones because the TV show was just starting. I'm sure most know the wall and the Others is a key element a Game of Thrones.

As you can imagine, I'm in the middle of reading this book while planning my story, and I get to the point where these things are mentioned, and I let out the loudest F-bomb one could imagine. BUT, my story isn't a Game of Thrones. It's something different, so I wrote it any way.

So then fast forward to this past year. I'm putting the last touches to the first draft of my current book. It tells the story about the supposed last dragon in the world. I was going to call it the Last Dragon. Straightforward enough, right? Then I hear about Disney's new movie Ray and the Last Dragon. *Sigh* What'cha going to do? But again my story isn't the same as that story, at least what I can tell from the trailers.

Control what you can control. Focusing too much on the things you can't, IMHO, it's just wasted energy.
 

S J Lee

Inkling
Everything has been done before - the question is can you do it well, and maybe just a LITTLE differently.

EG - a cover letter pitch "Like Harry Potter, but darker, for grown-ups, set in the Middle Ages" might actually work wonders - at least I can visualise what it is...whether I WANT that or not is a different matter, but someone should, surely? EG, Nothing wrong with pitching a tale as "Jane Eyre in space" or "Like Frankenstein, but a god is creating flawed superhumans to rule over a newly-created universe"

Don't call the school such a similar name? Call it "The Hall of Discipline" or something.
Don't call them "witches" learning "magic" - call them "students" or "candidates" learning "the power" or "the art"

Don't make it portal fantasy - set it on a "different world" world where we don't have to worry about "But why doesn't an evil wizard nod to his 5 muggle goons he turned invisible, who pull out AK7s and shoot the rival wizard from different sides without any bloody yakk or warning?"

AND don't make it English middle-class-ish schoolkids in a bloody faux-gothic boarding school. Orphans who have been adopted into a large family, by a commune of polyamorous trans (OR SHAPESHIFTING!! INCLUDING GENDER!) adults ... who have a secret ... who REALLY killed the parents of such talented children, whose power would have gone to waste if they had not met teachers at a suitable age, before they turned ten? Hmm......
 

LAG

Troubadour
I've always imagined Hagrid like a sorta groundskeeper, to write as a janitor or beastmaster might be interesting.

Hmmm... WIzardry University, where the students use levitation to do keg stands, summon eldritch horrors to haze new students, sneak into the dragon pens to do bong rips. There must be a parody like this out there.

In regards to OP, you're not creating an HP fanfic, so go wild with your own ideas. School trips into other dimensions, entire curriculum devoted to communication with and control of insects, teacher's union strikes, parent involvement as someone here noted(Why did my Charlie come home with a frog morphed into his forehead? Why doesn't the school cafeteria have a vegan option? A wyvern sharted on my car, and my insurance doesn't cover it, I want damages damn you or I'm pulling Sandy out!)
 
Having said that, if you write a story about a kid going to magical boarding school then you will be compared to Harry Potter. There is no getting around it. I remember reading a comment from Terry Pratchett. One day he received a letter from a Harry Potter fan accusing him of stealing Hogwarts and using it for the Unseen University in AnkMorpk, as well as several characters. I think Pratchett kindly pointed out that he came up with the idea some 14 years before Rowling. So, don't worry about it and write the story you want to write. As long as you don't actually copy Harry Potter you will be fine.
Oh my. Children these days.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
The protagonist is the Rejected one - a dyslexic schoolgirl who causes accidental carnage every time she tries to cast spells so the story begins with her expulsion.

She's gonna show em though!

Over to you...
Um, speaking as a dyslexic person, thats not how dyslexia works. The fact that we have trouble reading and writing doesn't mean we can't pronounce or write things correctly. Reading and writing just takes more time. So no, that won't work as a concept.
 
Don't call the school such a similar name? Call it "The Hall of Discipline" or something.
That sounds like a reform school. Would make for a very, very dark story. I don't know if that's what the OP is after, but it wouldn't be that similar to Harry Potter!
Don't call them "witches" learning "magic" - call them "students" or "candidates" learning "the power" or "the art"
Even Hogwarts students are called students. What are the characters in OP's story going to be called when they grow up? If it isn't something like "witch" or "mage," then it may not sound like a magic user at all. I suppose the story could be designed more subtly... the witches could be euphemistically known as artists... but the question is, does that work well with OP's intention?
 
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