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Magic School

Discussion in 'Original Fiction Discussion' started by Joe, Oct 20, 2014.

  1. Joe

    Joe The Reminiscent Exile Prestige DLP Supporter

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    So - magic schools. Are they done to death?

    For my next original novel, I've the option (if I take it in that direction) to introduce my own magical training facility - in Japan. I'm thinking nestled in the mountains, a cherry blossom strewn valley, twisted forest, ancient temples, and old orders of disciplined samurai-wizards. As Harry Potter has basically set the standard upon which all YA magical schools will be compared, what do you think Hogwarts was missing?

    What I'm asking is what would you want to see in a magical training academy?

    Can it be done without feeling like a poor man's Hogwarts?

    Is the world ready for another magic school, or am I just asking for hurt?
     
  2. ScottPress

    ScottPress The Horny Sovereign Prestige

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    1. First of all - magic.

    It's not a science university, it's fucking magic. Magic fucks with science. So don't make your magic school look like a school mundanes attend to get their degrees. Classes, universal schedules, set times for meals, all of that has been done to death and beyond.

    Go crazy. Give everyone a personal mentor. Have the pupils do ridiculous stuff that doesn't seem to make sense at first glance. Make it a hostile environment that will force the wizard trainees to get off their asses and do something.

    2. Setting.

    Hogwarts was in a castle, but a castle could just as well house a normal school. Have your magic academy sit atop a mountain peak, with buildings stacked vertically. Or have it float over an active volcano. Or have it carved into rock in a fjord, overlooking the water. A giant tree the size of a skyscraper. An enormous underground cavern with facilities in hollowed out stalactites and if you fall into the miles-deep lake below, a seven-headed hydra will eat you.

    You know, something exciting.
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2014
  3. Joe

    Joe The Reminiscent Exile Prestige DLP Supporter

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    Those are some awesome ideas. The individual mentor thing in particular strikes me as useful.
     
  4. Genghiz Khan

    Genghiz Khan Unspeakable

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    If you want to encourage a slightly mercenary environment, you could even make different magical guilds, which teach different kinds of magic, and are barely civil to each other. Not int he vein of Naruto's Hidden Villages, though, which I find more similar than not. Something closer to Heroes III, but instead of unique town types, you have unique kinds of magic being taught by different guilds. You can even have bastard groups which cannibalize the magic these guilds teach. I say this in the context of Scott_Press's ideas, which I wholeheartedly love.
     
  5. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast Prestige DLP Supporter

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    Something important to provide, I think, is a reason why people actually attend in the first place.

    A reason beyond "magic and swords, awesome!" that is. Whatever they learn there has to be actually useful for the students, in terms of giving them opportunities they would not otherwise have had.

    Depending on the magic you're using, something Hogwarts didn't do was turn magic back upon the learning process - that is, using magic to enhance learning.

    Magical ninjas/samurai in Japan is really well-worn ground, so you're going to have to really push the boat out to do something novel. I'd say sword focus is a dead end in this area. Perhaps find some other part of Japanese culture to base the magical system on. Maybe draw on Japan's very strict social structure and do something with that... kinda like how vampire mythology plays with sires having power over their children, stuff like that. Or go the "writing is magic" route with Japanese script.
     
  6. Joe

    Joe The Reminiscent Exile Prestige DLP Supporter

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    Good points.

    The general premise already established in the first two books is that the kids/people/whatever absorb a crystal element that grants them abilities. Think materia in FFVII, although it can't be removed once absorbed. These abilities are varied, some can be learned, and some are unique to the user.

    I call it Yugen, after the Japanese aesthetic. A magic user has to maintain a moral/ethical balance, otherwise the power turns against them. The trick there is the balance is based on their understanding of right and wrong. If you think killing someone is wrong, but you use your power to do so, it tips the balance against you. If you firmly believe that killing someone is right, and use your power to do so, then it won't turn on you.
     
  7. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast Prestige DLP Supporter

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    The ability to argue yourself into accepting any proposition would be quite a useful skill, then. Send them to a philosophy class XD
     
  8. Republic

    Republic The Snow Queen Prestige DLP Supporter

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    Yes, but not in Japan.
    It is, just not in Japan.
     
  9. Perspicacity

    Perspicacity High Score: 3,994 Prestige DLP Supporter

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    I think my initial reaction is similar to that of Republic's. Magical schools have been done quite a lot in fantasy fiction: JKR's series, Grossman's Magicians, LeGuin's Earthsea, Canavan's Black Magician trilogy, Pratchett's Discworld, Rothfuss's Name of the Wind, Jordon's Wheel of Time, to name a few. Worse, Japanese-themed academies with a martial and/or magical element are a manga staple--think Bleach's academy, Fairy Tail, even Naruto (essentially a story about elemental wizard-samurai calling themselves ninja).

    In my opinion, the pervasive Japanese manga and small novel tropes are a big reason to avoid a Japanese setting for a story like yours--unless, that is, you dig the culture so much you can't not write about it. There's just so much existing baggage, even for Western YA readers, that'll feel tired before they even get to that first fresh idea.
     
    Joe, Ash
  10. Ched

    Ched Da Trek Moderator DLP Supporter

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    No. And they never will be. The market might at times become saturated, as it was right after HP, but unless the world evolves such that schools are no longer a part of the dailies lives of most children there will be a place for more stories in school settings. Kids are always going to relate to it.

    I like it. First thought: Make sure you include some Japanese culture and get it more or less right. I feel it's lacking in a lot of western fiction, seeing the little things to celebrate (instead of deride) how awesome eastern culture can be. I want to see it in little details.

    A few things come to mind here, but some of them (like 'competent adults who believe kids about things like bad guys trying to steal stones') are part and parcel of writing for the 9-12 demographic. JKR did improve on that aspect a bit as we progressed out of MG and into YA.

    But what about a feeling of progression via studies? There's loads of stories out there where Harry 'trains and gets good' at magic, because in canon it often felt like he wasn't learning much of anything. Yet Hogwarts is considered a good school and Harry's grades at at least average (better in some areas, like DADA, and worse in others, like History). But we only ever see a handful of spells and limited creativity in their usage, etc. It's one reason why I like Santi's fanfic, because playing around with magic is incorporated more into the story.

    To me the term "training" implies that they are training for something specifically as opposed to just going to school. My expectations might be different depending which it is. A school is a school, in which students go to learn and meet basic education requirements. A facility for training would probably have a specific purpose in mind that it intends to instill in the students whether they like it or not...

    ...but then it's quite possible I'm just reading too much into semantics. So on second thought the training academy versus magical school terminology doesn't really matter.

    But what do I want to see? That's a hard one, let me think on it some more.

    Yes. Just make sure you make it different. Start from scratch with your ideas, don't try to start with Hogwarts and change things to suit, etc.

    Both. I'd be ready for a good one. But I tried to read both Charlie Bone and uh, the Tapestry series. Both magical schools. Neither impressed me (at all) but I think both did reasonably well with their target demographic. So while you might have trouble pulling in the adult audience who still reads YA you have a decent shot at doing well with MG/YA itself.

    Maybe. It's not like I know, rofl. Watch me talk out of my ass.

    Luck.
     
  11. CBH

    CBH DA Member

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    I'll reiterate what others have said and agree that there's still a market for magical schools, but I think the Asian setting has not only been done to death, but draws comparisons to anime which could limit the market. Not everybody is interested in the setting. Also like others have said, any 'normal' style magical school will likely draw unfavorable comparisons to HP.

    If you're looking to connect the magic style to a particular culture, have you considered the more ancient world? If you go full ancient, Mesopotamia had a rich system of beliefs on magic relating to the soul, true forms of objects, names, and Gods who existed just to fuck people over. This could let you keep the idea of people using elements and a karmic system. Greece mythology is arguably the richest of all; enough said about them. Israel had kabbalism and shared many Mesopotamian beliefs with their own infusion if monotheism. Hell, you could even keep it in Australia and involve aboriginal magic.

    tl;dr: History is full of systems of magical belief that has been mostly ignored in YA fiction. You've got a ton of options to choose from and I think you'd limit the novelty of any school you made by sticking it in the traditional Eastern or modern Western setting.
     
    Ash
  12. LittleChicago

    LittleChicago Death Eater DLP Supporter

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    As far as I'm aware, there's really only five ways of structuring an education system in the muggle world:

    1) Straight-up classes, right out of elementary and high school, or even night school, with multiple teachers and classrooms, ie HP.

    2) One-on-one apprenticeships, ie Dresden Files.

    3) Grand-scale lectures, like a university, though this would be very similar to HP.

    4) Small-group education, ie home-schooling, field-trips, or 'gifted' classes for exceptional students.

    5) Learn-at-your-own-pace classes, ie on-line learning or Montessori-type.

    'Travel-the-world' learning, like out of Naruto or Avatar or even Pokémon is far less akin to traditional 'schooling' and is much closer to on-the-job training.

    Ultimately, you have to remember your audience, and what they'll want (and be able) to relate to. If it's YA, they may be most comfortable and able to understand a HP-analogue. If you want to challenge them a bit, give them a different system.

    Or, be sneaky and walk both sides, and fully explore one system with your protagonist while alluding to other systems out there (personally, I think learning magic on-line would be gosh darn hilarious).
     
  13. Glimmervoid

    Glimmervoid Groundskeeper

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    I think the nature of the school will also depend heavily on the type of magic your using.

    Is magic in the book something you can learn sitting in a class room listening to a teacher lecture? Is it personal/spiritual ala Kingkiller naming? Is something you must win by overcoming obstacles in a mystic otherworld like Glorantha heroquesting?

    In the first case, school might be a pastiche of the American education establishment or Japanese cram schools. In the second the school might be a deeply weird place, with zen gardens, Escher rooms, miniature meditation mountains, mysterious mazes and so on - places to make the students think in different ways. In the last case, the school could group students in the small teams while teaching them the skills they need to meet and overcome Otherworld challenges. In this case, much of the instruction could be non-magical in nature. Swordskills to beat the sword demon in the Otherworld to earn X magical prize for example.
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2014
  14. fire

    fire High Inquisitor

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    Why do it in Japan? Unless one has a deep understanding of a particular nation's culture, and plan to weave that culture into the story, what's the point of setting it in an "exotic" location?

    I think the question being asked isn't the correct one, Joe, if you know what I mean. I think it's better to look at it from: "What is this world like? In this dangerous/peaceful/intrigue-ridden/apolitical/prosperous/starving world, what would a magical school look like?" From answering this question, couldn't we get a better and more coherent idea of what the school should be like? If its a world at war, then perhaps a magical institute geared towards combat and military tactics would make sense. If the world is a magocracy, should politics play a bigger role? If the world is post-apocalyptic after the initial emergence of magic, would people have disavowed combat-oriented magic, and instead focus on using it for food production and terraforming and technology advances?

    It also depends on what kind of character you'll want to write? I won't pretend to lecture a better writer than me, but wouldn't you agree that the kind of school you'll want to write needs to fit well with the characters you plan to set loose in it? It doesn't matter if the tropes are well-worn, does it, as long as they fit? An intelligent and cunning character for a magical academy with lots of politics going on; perhaps a thrill-seeking and venomously ambitious character for a magical academy that is self-professedly pacifistic; or a naïve and soft-spoken character that is a fish out of water in a magical Academy that admires the manly and military virtues.

    But I think it all really depends on the themes you wish to discuss? I think the magical school genre is ripe for deconstruction. Give people, let alone children, the powers of gods, and put them all together - shouldn't there be death and worse resulting? And if the school puts into place an elegant and draconian system to prevent this, won't it inevitably fail spectacularly, in some Lord of the Flies hell-on-earth climax? If the school's headmaster is the Most Powerful Man Alive, why doesn't he run the world? Perhaps he does? Do the muggles know about the school, and what if they oppose it? Do teachers and students have to go out occasionally and help put down dissent, either violently or covertly or in both ways? Or are wizards hated because they were the cause of civilizational collapse in the past? Are they now in effective bondage, and are chafing to be free? But how can muggles control wizards in the first place? Is there some dark secret lurking behind it all?

    Honestly, I think those are the kind of questions I'll be more interested in - and the story will be interesting, no matter the tropes it employs, if those tropes are handled in refreshingly realistic (and perhaps very dark) ways.

    I hope that helps.
     
    Ash
  15. Erandil

    Erandil Headmaster

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    In an Eastern/Japanese setting I would go with something similar to a monastery - where one tries to improve everything about him/herself (mind, body etc.) - instead of a traditional (boarding) school idea - where one only goes to learn about external things.

    One thing I would avoid though is having a school setting and then have your plot evolving around stopping world ending threats.... Nothing irks me more than that. For me school/university is a place of character interaction (new friends, first love etc.) and learning about being independent/yourself and not just a base of operations.
     
  16. Ched

    Ched Da Trek Moderator DLP Supporter

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    A few more things...

    1. People are saying that Japan has been done to death. I disagree. Someone tell me of a book series for YA about a magical school set in Japan? I don't know any and I'd like to read them. Yes there's tons of Manga/Anime but that is a different format for storytelling altogether.

    2. If this is for the third book in your current, ongoing series... then that changes things a bit Joe. You have already established the world and can set the school wherever you want (like Japan) by playing with politics or something within your story.

    2a. It also means, if you are just now forming the school in-universe, that you can play around with the struggles of a school trying to get its feet off the ground. It's not a thousand year old institution. It's currently busy trying to figure out WTF to do with its first class. That's a fresh and original take by itself. Play it up if that's the case.
     
  17. melior

    melior Seventh Year

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    This. I was going to post something similar this morning, but I didn't have time to write it all out.

    Structured classes like in HP allow relatively few teachers to instruct many students, and the students have the opportunity to come out reasonably competent in every branch of magic. This also allows the school to start from scratch, to teach students who have no practice at all, which is important if unskilled use of magic is dangerous. Like the school we know, though, it can stifle creativity and hold advanced students back in favor of teaching the students in that peer group that are lagging.

    If you look at the similarly (or perhaps slightly less) complex magic system in the Elder Scrolls series, the schools are far more unstructured: copious self-study, impromptu lectures, lower-level mages begging higher-level ones to teach them, students teaching students, etc. It could be interesting, but you get no consistency and a lot of specialization. And taking the time to teach someone starting from scratch would be very unpopular, perhaps a punishment.

    And then there's the personal tutor method, e.g. the Jedi master/padawan system. This might be good if the magic system isn't terribly complex, and you don't have a lot of students or are selective. If it's hereditary you might have parents teaching children, though again you get even worse inconsistency.

    Just a rough categorization, e.g. Name of the Wind might fit somewhere between the first and second, but hopefully it illustrates the point. Schools might be over done, but they have significant advantages in many respects, especially if they teach standard subjects alongside magic.

    I agree, or also disagree, however you wanna say it. More western-authored wuxia like Jade Empire please.

    One of David Farland's points in Million Dollar Outlines is to have a diverse cast of characters such that people of different nationalities can identify with one or more characters. He gave an example from his own series, but it made me immediately think of Wheel of Time. You might have already considered it, but that is all to say that there's nothing wrong with setting it in Japan or a Japan-analogue, but you might consider having at least some of the students come from around the world. That's easy setup for culture clash conflicts, anyway.

    Also, just because something has been done a lot doesn't mean it's going to flop. If you aren't tired of magic schools, then chances are very, very good that a lot of other people aren't tired of them. If anime focused on magic schools or just schools with magical characters in them is the basis for arguing that they're overdone, I know I'm not the only fantasy fan who rarely, if ever, watches that stuff.

    EDIT:

    Awesome thread, by the way.
     
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2014
    Joe
  18. Joe

    Joe The Reminiscent Exile Prestige DLP Supporter

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    That gives me a few ideas that may be fun to play with. Instead of rival Houses, Gryffindor v. Slytherin, I could have factions - Epicurus v. Locke! Confucius v. Descartes.

    Or just rival understandings of what it means to harness and use magical talent. There's something to it.

    Heh. I worry if I stray too far from Rowling I'll end up in Rick Riordan's territory.

    That kind of works, actually, given the current set up in Books #1 & #2.

    It's actually our world, set in about 2026. There's a somewhat evil corporation that controls most of the world, run by a silver-haired, power hungry, madman. This man starts mining a mineral that can grant magical ability. Our characters discover this and are contacted by a group from Japan - from a place called Haven - that have been using and studying the mineral for a few hundred years.

    The wealthiest and most influential families in the world have been sending their children to Haven to absorb the mineral and gain special abilities. My characters are criminals on the run that kind of stumble ass-backwards into it all. True to form, my MC is somewhat special and epically powered. But at a cost!

    Yeah, this isn't the case. The magical school will feature prominently in Book #3, but the greater threat has already been established well outside of the school. Although it will play a part in the future of the series.

    Yeah I couldn't really think of a Japan-based YA fiction setting either. So that's promising, particularly if I manage to pull off the culture that would have bled through the place.

    The school has been formed for a while, but the game has changed in Book #2 - a rival source of magical crystal, different rules, different game. So many of the aspects are fresh to the school itself. That could be useful for establishing some ground rules, or perhaps a splinter faction.

    I'm swaying towards such a method, yeah. Or, say, limited class size to half a dozen or so. Perhaps 10 teachers each with a group of students, and there's prestige associated with training the best group, and so on. Bit of friendly rivalry between groups, a series of games and contests throughout the semester, which will inevitably result in the rebirth of the Dark Lord. Brilliant!

    Wait... shit.
     
  19. Nauro

    Nauro Headmaster

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    This thread gave me an idea for a short story about a magical school. Not set in Japan, though.

    The idea is that you, as say 14 year old are called to this school and not to attend classes. Rather, to teach. The teaching lasts for up to seven years upon which point you either decide to stay or leave.

    Good old-bearded magicians patiently sit in class as you lecture them on what you have learned as a novice magician - a fourteen year old self-study. As you grow older, you get fewer lectures and if you wish, you may stay to listen to the new arrivals or leave.
     
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2014
  20. Genghiz Khan

    Genghiz Khan Unspeakable

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    That's definitely not been done before.
     
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