HarperCollins released book two of The School for Good and Evil series––A World Without Princes––in April 2014. Let’s revisit Chainani’s debut and how it can inform our writing craft.
1. Lightning speed––why not?
Many novice writers struggle to make sure that each chapter, scene, and sentence moves their plot forward. Chainani’s prose offers a great model. Every sentence hurtles the book forward. For an adult reader, this pace can be uncomfortable. Having cut my fantasy teeth on the lush world-building of Tolkien, at times I wanted more description, more quiet lulls. But for the middle-grade audience, the rapid pace was spot on. Kids have the imagination overdrive to fill in the rest for themselves––so chug ahead with the action, please!
2. So what if it’s been done?
I grew up on Harry Potter––grew up with him, really. His wizardly presence looms so large in my imagination and in my reading life that I would never have the guts to write any story that combines magic + school. (Well, never say never. But it’s highly unlikely!) Chainani says––why not? I’ll go for it. There are many nuances that distinguish the respective schools for the Evers (good) and the Nevers (evil) from Hogwarts, but the classes, rankings, and academic tasks inevitably echo Rowling’s massive, omnipresent world. Chainani doesn’t seem perturbed about dwelling in what for many would Derivative Risk Zone. He knows his take on fairy tales is fresh, so he goes for it. His publisher even begs the comparison with a jacket quote:
“Chainani takes the racing energy of Roald Dahl’s language and combines it with the existential intensity of J.K. Rowling’s plots to create his own universe, inhabited by characters we grow to love.”
– Maria Tatar, Author of “The Classic Fairy Tales”
3. Middle grade can be existential, too
Speaking of “existential intensity!” The ending (which I won’t give away), and the epic themes of good and evil that comprise the book’s core, have even left many adults a little confused. He didn’t tie up all the loose ends! Wait, are we supposed to like (somewhat evil) Sophie or not? What is this trying to say about who’s good and who’s evil? What does it all mean?! Shedding the black-and-white nature of most middle grade fiction, The School for Good and Evil doesn’t give readers any easy outs when it comes to engaging in some serious moral and philosophical thinking of their own. It’s far more ambiguous––and thus far more puzzling, and fascinating––than most books for readers of this age. Bottom line: in this book, Chainani takes several risks. And that’s something every writer should strive to do.
Adapted from my writing advice blog Better Writing Now.