Townscaping Part 3: The High School

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About nine months ago, I wrote a post about creating your own fake town.  To this day, it’s one of the most actively read posts on my blog – people are still finding me via that post.   And it’s still the reason why people FIND my blog.  So I figured I would do a series of posts, elaborating on some of those ideas.—————————————————————————————————————————–

One of the most important aspects to a lot of YA novels is the high school.  It’s a major setting for wackiness.  It’s a haven for wickedness.  It’s…a building.

I try to put a lot of thought into the high schools I write about.  I do this for several reasons – one, because I want there to be a common thread throughout the novel, things that I can reference when I’m in a tight spot.  And two, because my own high school was fairly unremarkable.  (Hey, I’m just being honest).

A high school is a lot like a miniature town in a teenager’s life.  Actually, it IS a town.  Think about it, you’ve got different classes of people (preps, wannabes, burnouts, etc), prime real estate (locker assignments), exchanges of goods and services (the cafeteria…or drug deals in the bathroom, your choice), and government (the popular rule the rest).

Some basic things to cover at first: is the school public or private?  Private schools cost tuition, usually require uniforms, and are considered “harder” by some people.  Public schools, on the other hand, don’t have uniforms, usually have a lot more students, and sometimes have less funding.

What is the school called?  Is it named for the town, or does it have another name?  What do the kids call it?  Is there a nickname?  What would kids see when they’re staring out the window bored out of their minds?  Is the school in the middle of the city, or in the middle of a residential area?

Where is the school located?  How many students attend it?  Private schools usually have less than 1,000 students enrolled total, where public schools can have 4-5 times that.  My graduating class was only 125 students.  Location is important – how do kids get to school?  Is there a big commute?  Do they have bus service?

Things to think about when you’re trying to flesh out your fictional high school:

What are the school colors? (For some reason, this is ALWAYS the first thing I think of).
What’s the school mascot? On Veronica Mars, they were the Neptune Pirates, and their mascot was Polly the Parrot.
Who is the school’s rival? What is their mascot?
What does the school look like? (look up Stadium High school in Seattle, Orestad High School, Bolingbrook High School, for some examples of different looking schools).
Where do kids congregate in the halls? Are there lounges?  Does everyone eat in the cafeteria, or outside if they can?
Is the school known for sports? Just look at Friday Night Lights – football is huge in Texas.  Are athletes allowed to slide so they can still play in the big game?  Is the school known for particular sports?
What clubs does the school have? Different schools can have vastly different afterschool programs.  And in some schools, clubs can become dominated by one clique or another.  At my school, the drama kids were all part of the rich and popular group – but I know at most schools Drama is a haven for people who don’t fit in with the rest.   Are there service clubs?  SADD?  Think about what kinds of students would be interested in those clubs.
Who rules the school? It’s all a matter of trickle down economics.  Does your school have a Mean Girl, or Alpha Male Jock?  Do seniors control everything?  Are underclassmen blips on the radar?  These things can affect how your characters are treated on a daily basis, who they deal with, and maybe even places they avoid while in school.

Just some things to think about when you’re crafting your own fictional high school.

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4 thoughts on “Townscaping Part 3: The High School

  1. never thought of a high school as being a town before, but sooooo true! I based the high school in my last book on my old high school. It’s what is in my head so I figured I might as well use it 🙂 Excellent post 😀

  2. Great post. Another thing to think about is that not all high schools have the typical cheerleader-jock-nerd social structure. I’m Canadian, and up here football is pretty much non-existant in high school, therefore no cheerleaders either. In my high school everyone was pretty much equal, went to the same parties… the only division was really by neighbourhood. I think Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall nailed this kind of social structure. It makes for a more unique novel, in my opinion.

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