So, I have a few short stories happening in a magic school (two actually) and both of them are not very safe. They have leaky classrooms, dangerous, and sometimes cursed equipment, and unsafe lessons. Bullying from other students is common, but that’s the point. The schools are government-funded, and the government is corrupt, and most of the magicians have better things to do than teach. Basically, it’s the magical equivalent of a badly run public school. No one tries to pretend otherwise. Any advice on 1, keeping it non-cliche, and 2, making it clear that this is a bad example of a school?

Thanks.

-Kat

Hi Kat,

I don’t know what fits into the short stories you’re doing, so I’ll just offer advice on building a world like this in general. Then you can set whatever stories you want there.

I think what you’ve described has a lot of potential. The key thing to keep in mind is that when public schools are bad in that way, it’s not generally because they are run by corrupt or incompetent assholes, it’s because they’re dreadfully underfunded. And if they’re bad like that, only those who are desperate and in poverty would attend them. To make the problems at the school feel natural instead of plot convenient, you’d want to integrate that sense of poverty into the setting and characters.

  • A corrupt government could explain why the school is so underfunded, but the government could also just be underfunded itself. It’s unlikely the school would want students to get hurt, but it wouldn’t be able to pay to replace things that have fallen apart and are now dangerous.
  • As a result of the public schools being underfunded and becoming bad, any parents with enough money would send their kids to private school, and that would make the issue worse because those parents would no longer have a strong incentive to support and fix the public schools.
  • Most of the kids attending would either be orphans or have non-magical parents. Maybe they’d have a magical parent with tons of debt and wages garnished by creditors, but most magical adults would have plenty of money because magic.
  • For these impoverished students, attending the dangerous school would be a worthwhile risk because it gives them a path out of poverty. Their choice to attend will be more believable if magic is useless without years of schooling. Otherwise, they could earn enough money without risking their lives.
  • Qualified teachers are also less likely to want to work at this school, because they’ll be underpaid and working in terrible conditions. They could work at a private school instead. However, some good teachers would stick it out for the students’ sake. Even so, there could be way too few teachers for the number of students, keeping them from giving their students enough protection even when they’re trying. There are lots of real world examples of problems at underfunded schools to give you inspiration.

The class divisions in a setting like this are great for creating conflict. Your protagonist would be an underdog at the get-go just by attending a public school. The downside is that you wouldn’t have a Draco Malfoy at the school. (Maybe his family has lost their fortune and he doesn’t want to admit that, though everyone would know because he’s at a public school). So I would look for opportunities for your scrappy students to interact with the rich kids at the neighboring, much safer private schools. There could be inter-school activities and competitions where the students of your magic school would be at a disadvantage against other schools.

If you go with this poverty framework, your setting will be a little dark, but there’s no risk of it being clichéd.

I don’t know if that’s what you were going for, but I hope it gives you some food for thought.

Happy writing!

Chris

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