Hello. I’m currently working on a newish story idea that I only recently figured out the plot for, which has made me realize that I ought to work on setting more. The story involves another “magic school”-esque setting, but different in that it’s a school for monsters and monstrous beings. I read your guide to writing a magic school, and I found it interesting and relatively useful, but the heavy focus on magic and performing and learning magic isn’t relevant to my setting. I have searched for “writing a monster school” articles and books, but I’m afraid none seem to exist.
So my question is this: what would be some advice for writing a book with that setting? I’m afraid I have no way of making that question any more specific; I would very much appreciate any advice that you have to offer, no matter if it’s in-depth or not.
Hey Victorine, thanks for writing in!
I suspect the reason you’re having trouble finding articles about monster schools specifically is that the requirements will change a lot based on what kind of monsters you’re planning to include. There are many different types of magic systems, but most have a few things in common, whereas the number of monster types out there is nearly infinite. It also probably helps that there’s a hugely popular novel and film series about a magic school, but I digress.
Assuming you’re planning on a relatively standard lineup of beasties like werewolves, vampires, ghosts, etc., a monster school actually has a major advantage over a magic school: the novelty can come from the characters themselves. In a magic school story, the main attraction is watching kids learn magic. This necessitates a really robust magic system since it has to produce new content for every class. No one wants to read about mage kids learning algebra unless it’s magic algebra.
But with a monster school, the monsters are novel all on their own. A vampire taking history? Oh yeah, sign me up. A werewolf in health class? I am excited for the awkward questions that will create. Monsters are just super cool, and putting them in a school environment creates excellent contrast. Plus, then you can use a lot of school related tropes that so many people connect with. For an excellent example, I recommend the show Teen Wolf. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’ll give you an idea of how monsters in high school can work.
If you’re digging a little deeper, you could think about what special classes monsters would take or what accommodations they would need. Is there a special set of classes for catching ancient vampires up on modern culture? Do ghost students need note takers since their hands go through the paper, or do they have special ecto-laptops? Do werewolves get mandatory counseling sessions to help them handle the effects of the full moon?
Beyond that, you’ll mostly want to consider the standard list of storytelling and worldbuilding best practices. What abilities the monsters have will affect both your story and how the school works. If vampires can read minds, for example, there will probably be safeguards against that to prevent cheating. You’ll also want to consider how balanced the monsters’ powers are compared to each other’s, the same way you would for superpowers. If werewolves turn into invincible killing machines at will, but banshees can only scream a little louder than normal, that might be a problem.
Then there’s the larger world to consider. If this setting has a masquerade, you’ll need to consider how the monsters stay hidden. If it doesn’t, you’ll want to think about how the various types of monsters fit into society. Is anyone even afraid of death if they know they can come back as a ghost and keep taking classes?
Finally, it’s good to consider which school tropes you want to use. They often have broad appeal, but some of them can actually hurt your story. We’ve all seen stories where the attractive main character is bullied for no reason, but that’s not how bullying actually works, and it can be harmful to pretend otherwise. Similarly, a lot of high school romances depend on sexist tropes like a boy needing to wear down a girl’s resistance, or even just that it’s weird and wrong for girls to ask boys out.
Whatever you decide to do, I think there’s a lot of potential in your monster school idea, and I wish you good luck with writing it!