Setting off

The Happiest Days of Your Life?

This month's theme is all about that Back-to-School feeling.  For me, that's all about a fresh start.

I associate bright September mornings with pleasure.  There would be dew on cobwebs, juicy blackberries and seeing school friends again. My heart was buoyed up with expectation of learning new and interesting things - and the joy of choosing stationery.

That has never quite left me!

I asked my long-suffering husband about what Back-to-School meant for him. For him, it was the sadness of summer ending,  and the worry that there would be some awful homework he hadn't done. He dreaded the tedious trips to get uniform and finding shoes that fitted. Any good autumn weather taunted him about being stuck indoors.

Well, that was a surprise - such different perspectives on the same idea. I had no inkling. But it got me thinking about characters and their own individual take on the same things. I imagine at the same time at different ends of the country (Yorkshire and Sussex) two children going to school. One packs up her satchel (yes, I am that old) and skips along happily with a scrumped apple. The other pulls his covers over his head. He drags his feet -

Then, the whining school-boy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.
Shakespeare, All the World's a Stage, from As You Like It
Talk about compare and contrast!

Your mission, should you choose to accept it ...

Think about two characters going back to school. It could be anything from Nursery School to College - or something more informal. It could be anywhere - and any time. Witches in the Balkans, spies in communist Russia, dragon tamers in another world - anything goes. You just need two beings returning to their studies.

You also want a sequence of scenes - something like this:
  • preparing things - clothes, supplies, food perhaps
  • travelling there - how, with whom, how long?
  • arrival - procedures and how they are different from life before
Then you need to consider how to show contrasting moods in the two - say anticipation v. dread, or confidence v. anxiety.  It's up to you whether the two are going together - or whether they are separate. The former gives a direct contrast of attitudes - the second might be better when their lives intersect later.

Either way, action (which can include dialogue) and the use of colour (literally or figuratively) are your tools for getting across their emotions. Who is optimistic - and who has a dismal view on the whole thing? Do they express their feelings openly - or conceal them? The latter will make your job more difficult, perhaps - but may intrigue your audience.

Using a situation familiar to many readers should build empathy - even if one character has an unusual perspective. What do you think?


  1. What a lovely article! I loved going back to school as a child and since the others didn't, I used to pretend I didn't, either. Then later on I really was sad at the end of the summer. It's fun to think how vivid those memories still are!

  2. Thank you, Philippa - a really useful way of looking at characters, and how they react differently in the same situation. I shall be employing this forthwith!


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