Day #6 – Alternative Dimensions and Not-So-Normal Schools

By Jennie Goloboy

The last few NANO break posts have dealt with plots I’ve seen too frequently.  I should say, to be fair, that all of these plots CAN be done well– but they make your book a little less likely to stand out from the crowd.  Today’s common queries involve problems with the novel’s setting.

1.  Protagonists who travel to a different world/dimension in their dreams

I usually request a book because I’m interested in the characters, but worldbuilding is just as important.  The world has to feel fully thought out and coherent, even though we don’t have to understandeverything that’s going on when your story starts.    (No infodumps, please!)  Make sure that when you say your world is a dream world, you’re not warning me to expect sloppy and inconsistent worldbuilding, and an episodic, disconnected plot structure.

A second underlying problem with dream worlds is that when a world isn’t real, it doesn’t matter.  There’s always the implication that the character can just wake up and the whole thing will vanish.  Or in the case of traveling to a different dimension, all he has to do is find his way back.

2.  On the  first day at a new school, a student learns that this is no normal school; it’s for X, where X = wizards, spies, etc.

Of course this can be done really, really well, for books as different as Harry Potter and Lev Grossman’s Magicians.  But for this to work, the school has to be quirky, unusual, and unique.  It can’t be Harry Potter redone– it can’t be exactly like a John Hughes high school, but with spies.

In other words, most of us have attended school at some time in our lives, but you still need to do some serious thought about what this kind of school would look like.