Goodreads Sci-Fi/Fantasy Authors discussion

writing a story about an academy

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Ryan (new)

Ryan | 5 comments Hello there i'm new here and i came here because i thought this would be a good place to get some advice. I'm writing a book about an academy that is home to people with special abilities. And i was just wondering if i could get some advice about writing a book about an academy. You see I've written my first chapter already but not sure what to write in the second. I've got the main plot down it's just filling in the middle that i'm having trouble with. I'd really appreciate the advice and i'll say thanks in advance.

message 2: by Feliks (last edited Nov 09, 2014 04:16PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) The 'middle' --the second act--of any story usually gives authors more problems than any other.

First, to clear up possible confusion on your part: two chapters does not represent a break from an Act I to An Act II. You could find yourself writing a dozen more chapters before you get to your Act II. So while you may be struggling with your second chapter you are not yet facing any problems in your story's 'middle' (or Act II).

Things you might need to write about in your Chapter 2, might be to describe the characters in your story, and some 'situation' they embark upon. Some event which ensnares them. Some decision they make, which sets off a chain of events.

Next. 'An academy' is merely a setting. You are not writing about a 'setting'. You should be writing about characters. They may be in an academy but that's largely irrelevant.

So: 'not knowing what to write about in the middle of your story'...well, you need to forget about the setting and realize that your story's 'middle' stems from the initial predicament facing your characters in your story's 'start'.

Whatever starts off your story (in the plot) has to deepen, get more daunting, get more complicated. The heroes in your story need to find themselves in more and more 'peril'.

As I said, its something lots of authors struggle with, but it really ought'nt be. Its basically just taking a mess and making the mess even more unmanageable and desperate for the hero of your tale.

Example: 'Joe Blough' (a good guy, your hero) agrees (in Act I) to help his friend Cliff (a loser) cheat on an exam.

In Act II, not only are the two friends, caught, they are expelled and have to live as hoboes on the road.

At the end of Act II, they might find themselves wanted by the police ...for accidentally killing another hobo (!!!!) A state-wide manhunt ensues. Joe ends his friendship with Cliff.

Then (in this example) your Act III maybe Joe and Cliff reunite, (Cliff saves Joe somehow) and they both wind up saving the school from being burned down. They clear their name, help catch the real murderer, and wind up reinstated at the school, everything forgiven. Something like that.

Get what I'm sayin?

message 3: by Ian (new)

Ian Bott (iansbott) | 5 comments What Feliks said :)

It sounds like you've been captivated by the idea of the setting, and maybe had a great image of a scene that you want to capture, but you haven't yet sorted out what the story is about.

Decide on the story - protagonist, goals, obstacles etc., i.e. what actually happens - then worry about the details of academy life. The latter will give you some ideas about how to enact the story, but the "what" needs to come before the "how".

message 4: by Ryan (new)

Ryan | 5 comments actually i already have the plot and i know what the story is going to be about. I've already written a chapter and a half.What i'm having trouble with now is describing stuff and the detail of academy life.

message 5: by Feliks (last edited Nov 15, 2014 10:14AM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) Ian said it as well as I did, but he said it far more succinctly. Bravo Ian.

Ryan, you're still fixated on writing setting as if it is a separate entity. Setting is an extension of character. You, the author, do not need to tell readers about academy life. That is static and flat. Only describe the setting *when your characters interact with it*.

Example: your hero (Joe) is strolling across the grassy quad to meet his friend. Suddenly, a shot rings out! What! Someone is shooting at him? But who? A professor? No, they are all in a faculty conference in the West Tower. A student? No, all the students should be out at the bonfire. Joe turns toward the arcade of the Franklin building, raking his eyes among the shadowy Corinthian pillars--someone there? Yes! There he goes! After him! Through the Marble Arch...

Get me? Describe your setting only as an extension of your characters. That is to say, an extension of the observations they make and the actions they carry out. Otherwise do not waste the reader's attention on a description which does not move the story forward. We can all already imagine what an academy looks like. Only make us 'see' it because your characters are 'seeing it'.

message 6: by Ryan (new)

Ryan | 5 comments See i have trouble just writing a paragraph like that it has so much descriptive words in it. For example Corinthian pillars i would've never thought to use something like that.Here is a part of my description of the academy
The Professor led the students towards the what was known as the academic building which was where all the classrooms were located. The academic building was semi-circular with four separate sections connected by a hallway in-between the sections consisted of plant life going along the sides of the walls and flat mowed grass along between the sections of plants. The four sections each connected to the mountain side which the inside held a large gym as well as some other rooms that were off limits to students. In the center of the four circular sections sat a tall circular marble tower that reached all the way up towards the tip of the mountain. The first floor of the tower consisted of a food court however the rest of the tower was a library which covered from bottom to almost the very top. The very top was the headmaster’s office and no one was allowed in there unless granted access. The area between the tower and the fourth section was a courtyard for students to enjoy at any time of the day.

message 7: by Feliks (last edited Nov 15, 2014 01:20PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) No. Never, ever ask someone to read that. Its impenetrable. Even with the best will in the world, I can't get through the first three sentences.

Your heart is in the right place but your method needs drastic change. You're basically describing the architecture of the building to us. Its nothing against you, but no reader will have very much interest in this.

You're right to 'spot' that I used specific, concrete, evocative words. This paints the picture; whereas words like 'building', 'section', 'classroom', 'center of', large', 'bottom', 'top'..are all very bland words.

Next: there is no action or activity when you simply tell us what an academy 'looks like'. You're not telling us anything about the air, the scents, the sounds..but most crucially you're not giving us a character to focus on. You're giving us an 'author speech'.

What you basically have to do is connect all this via a character's thoughts, dialogs, or actions. Like this... (stand by)

message 8: by Ian (new)

Ian Bott (iansbott) | 5 comments Ryan wrote: "See i have trouble just writing a paragraph like that it has so much descriptive words in it. For example Corinthian pillars i would've never thought to use something like that.Here is a part of my..."

OK, I can see a couple of things to comment on here.

Firstly, the touches of detail. You've given a very cold and geometrical description of the building, no touches to bring it to life. Corinthian pillars? Maybe, but only if Corinthian pillars fit with what you had in mind. Don't just throw in random details because they sound cool :) The thing is, it sounds like you haven't yet put in the mental spadework to bring this building to life, but you are the only person who can do that. You have to decide what this place looks like, and there is no "right" answer that says "this is an academy". It could be neo-classical, red brick, minimalist have to picture it in your mind in far more detail before you can hope to convey it to a reader.

Secondly, having pictured it in such depth that you can describe it, the last thing you should do is actually go ahead and describe it! Paradoxical? Maybe, but by the end of your description I'm banging my head against the keyboard moaning "I don't care. Get on with the story!" Contrast with Feliks' example. The snippet of very specific detail brings the scene to life, but is also incidental to something happening that moves the story along.

I keep thinking about Hogwarts. The HP stories were rich in evocative details, but it was all snippets, clues, fragments woven into the action. I ended up with a powerful sense of feeling for the place, but in no way could I ever draw a map of it.

message 9: by Ryan (new)

Ryan | 5 comments Felix i'm writing this in third person mode so doesn't the author or narrator have to be the one describing it?

message 10: by Feliks (last edited Nov 15, 2014 06:05PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) Professor Richelieu--a tall, hawk-faced, bald-pated man with a shrill voice and a nervous gait--caroled back over his shoulder to us as he pointed to the next school building on our tour.

Semi-circular in shape, and with a slender bell tower projecting from the center--it looked like a lemon wedge with one of those plastic cocktail swords sticking out of it.

"This is the part of the complex which will be of most interest to you, of that I am sure!" he sang out.

Cliff and I exchanged despairing glances. Worst afternoon ever. Our folks twisted-our-arms to do this 'orientation-day' at the Doomsward Academy, but who knew it was going to be this dull? It had quickly become a waking nightmare.

Professor Eldritch (for that was his name) blithely nattered on. "In any case, it is the only part of the campus open for visitors, haw-haw haw! haw!"

Cliff looked at me in anguish. "Who do I have to blow to get off this tour?" he whispered desperately in my ear. We trudged like slaves led along by a gaoler, across the precise, manicured, geometric, green lawn. Sheened with water by automatic sprinklers--and now blazing away in the afternoon sun--every razor-edged blade of grass seemed to gleam cruelly back at us.

"Hang on," I urged him. "Hang on!" I flapped the school brochure under his nose. "Look at the chicks on this cover. Look at those boobs! They have to be around here somewhere. We can't be spending the rest of the day with this bozo. Someone's got to save us!"

message 11: by Ian (new)

Ian Bott (iansbott) | 5 comments Ryan wrote: "Felix i'm writing this in third person mode so doesn't the author or narrator have to be the one describing it?"

Even third person POV, it's common to keep the POV close in so you would describe what the characters can see/hear/think/sense etc. I don't see the conflict there.

And even if you are writing more omniscient, you honestly don't have to lay everything out on the page. You can be selective in which details to include, and focus on those that are relevant to the characters and which move the story along.

message 12: by Feliks (last edited Nov 17, 2014 06:28PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) Ian's right. Don't describe anything which you can see, but the characters can not.

message 13: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) Well?

back to top