Writing Prompt: Send Your Characters Back to School

by David Safford | 0 comments

It's back to school season, and students everywhere are returning to classrooms after weeks away. With all this transition, it's the perfect time for a writing prompt.

Writing Prompt: Send Your Characters Back to School

4 Writing Prompts to Capture the Change

The return to school each autumn isn't just a rite of passage. It's a major change.

The best stories center around change. That's why you should use the return to school as the Inciting Incident for your new story.

Also, to make sure your writing exercise produces something that you can work into a truly enjoyable story, we're going to make sure it has two important elements:

Giving your protagonist a goal helps them make choices and act. We don't want to read about a passive character who simply lets things happen to them. Give them a goal.

Stakes are why that goal matters—it's what at risk. To determine stakes, ask yourself what the character truly achieves by reaching their goal and what they lose if they fail. The higher the stakes the more tension and emotional investment readers will have in the story. 

With that in mind, let's write about going back to school!

Writing Prompt #1: You Are Going

Starting the school year is an exciting time in the life of a student. It can also be quite scary, too.

As you write, let your first-person protagonist see the return to school in a conflicting light. Mainly:

  • Returning to school allows him/her to pursue or achieve a major goal.
  • Returning to school also involves plenty of risk.

To fill the role of risk, do a quick free write or bubble map to brainstorm the types of risk a student faces when returning to the school. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few: a mean teacher, an antagonistic bully, fixing a low GPA, staying out of the principal's office.  

Writing Prompt #2: Your Child Is Going

In this writing prompt, the protagonist is the parent who must prepare, both physically and mentally, for a child's return to school. It could be the first day of school ever, or sending a grown child off to college. Whatever it is, that return sparks some conflict in the protagonist's life.

  • The child returning to school either creates or disrupts opportunity for the protagonist to pursue a goal.
  • The child returning to school introduces plentiful risk into the parent's life.

In this case, the risk must affect the parent. It can threaten the child, too, but try to make it immediately relevant to the parent and how he/she is trying to get what he/she wants.

Writing Prompt #3: Your Parent Is Going

This flips the previous writing prompt on its head. In this case the protagonist is the child, but the parent is the one going back to school. Perhaps the parent never finished high school and is attending night classes to earn a GED. Or the parent is heading off to earn a Masters or Doctorate, or something else entirely.

Whatever it is, the fact that the parent is heading off to school ignites new conflict in the protagonist's life.

  • The parent returning to school either creates or disrupts opportunity for the protagonist (the child of the parent) to pursue a goal.
  • The parent returning to school introduces plentiful risk into the child's life.

As you can see, this idea is a little less “inside-the-box,” but it is very true to life for many people. Have fun exploring the possibilities here!

Writing Prompt #4: The School Isn't “Normal”

This idea has been thoroughly explored, primarily in novel series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. However, a school need not possess magical or mythic properties to be abnormal and ripe for conflict.

To approach this prompt, don't try to think of a marketable idea that makes the school weird. Rather, think of how the school creates risk and conflict in the life of your protagonist, particularly as they attempt to accomplish a goal.

Maybe the school is underwater or at the North Pole. Perhaps it's mountain-climbing school, or an academy for ninjas or interstellar astronauts.

The idea is to tell a story where the protagonist's expectations are flipped upside-down.

  • Going to this school must create and disrupt opportunities for the protagonist to pursue a goal.
  • Going to this school must introduce plentiful risk into the protagonist's life.

A quick note about Harry Potter, to hopefully save you from merely copying or falling into clichés. When Harry first goes to Hogwarts (the abnormal school), his goal isn't to become a wizard or to see how cool the magical world is.

His goal is to discover the truth about who he is. 

Becoming a wizard, and learning about life at Hogwarts, are deeply entwined with his identity. Being a wizard at Hogwarts introduces many opportunities to help him discover more about being “the boy who lived,” but it also overwhelms him with challenges and enemies who threaten to destroy him. In other words, pursuing his goal at Hogwarts may lead to success, but it is also fraught with risk and conflict.

The Harry Potter books aren't about Hogwarts. They're about Harry Potter.

When you tell a story with an abnormal world, or in this case an abnormal school, don't forget that the school is merely a vehicle for telling a story about change in a protagonist's life.

Embrace the Change

The annual migration back to school is both an exciting and nerve-wracking time. These emotions affect parents, students, and children alike. How will you capture the essence of this human experience in your story?

Take this opportunity to capture a memory, a current experience, or a future dream, in the form of a story about going back to school. You never know where it might lead!

How have your school experiences influenced your writing? Let us know in the comments.


Choose one of the writing prompts above and write for fifteen minutes. When you're done, post your story in the Pro Practice Workshop here. Be sure to read someone else's story and leave an encouraging comment!

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You deserve a great book. That's why David Safford writes adventure stories that you won't be able to put down. Read his latest story at his website. David is a Language Arts teacher, novelist, blogger, hiker, Legend of Zelda fanatic, puzzle-doer, husband, and father of two awesome children.



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