How To Write A Light Novel

Hey friends! There’s a Lite Novel Jam going on over on itch.io. Did I mention there’s a Lite Novel Jam going on? I only ask because I want to make sure that you’re aware of the Lite Novel Jam going on.

There are good odds you have never written a Lite Novel before. That’s great. Neither had most of the people who wrote their first Lite Novel and that’s exactly what this opportunity is for.

Why should you write one? Well, because you want to write one. But this is a particularly good opportunity because right now, you have a gathered audience of people who are at the very least, going to read your book title and maybe give it a shot.

What I want to present here, then is a super-duper crash course on a Lite Novel, as suggested by someone who has written, let’s say, comparable stories.

Scope

A Lite Novel at its litest weighs in at around 8,000 words, quite short. For comparison, this blog post is 1231 words, and you’ve read around 200 of them. When you have only a small number of words, you don’t have a lot of room for what we call world building. You don’t have room for a huge cast or a glossary of every character and their relatives. You need to focus on a small group of characters, maybe as few as two or three, and how they get through their story. You don’t need to isolate them – just like, remember, if you’re doing a story set in school, you don’t need to flesh out every single other student. Focus on what you can.

This scope also means you don’t have tons of room for complex explanations. You may have a reason or an explanation for how your hacker exploited McDonalds’ code for their registers, but you don’t need to put that there.

Part of why we give these Lite Novels such silly, ostentatious names is because that title becomes part of how you set the scope for the story. Substitute Familiar pretty much straight up tells you that hey, familiars exist in this world, and there’s probably, like substitutes for them like substitute teachers or other temp work. It’s a load-bearing title but that load bearing does a lot to frame what you read.

It’s also typically a genre full of what’s known as magical realism. That is to say, there is an assumption that things are, pretty much, like reality, and occasionally, magical things will happen, but it will go uncommented on and unexplained. This can help you with the scope. If your story wants to have a character turn into a talking tree that’s got va-va-voom hips, you don’t have to give the backstory for how that happens, you can just have characters reacting to the thing itself.

You know what does this? Gremlins. Yeah, I know, weird, but in Gremlins, there’s no point where grown adults, encountering Gizmo, go ‘that’s a totally weird thing, and a new animal, and why can it talk? That’s extremely weird.’ Nobody notices or remarks on Gizmo, Gizmo is just there to set up the next bit of the story, and be adorable.

Structure

Okay, so there’s some temptation when you get diving into a lite novel to rip off the standard hero’s journey, or if you don’t know it that way, the star wars plot structure. You know, you start with some sign of a problem, you introduce a character, then you explain their world, etc etc – that’s fine for a sprawling epic, but you don’t have that kind of time or space.

What I want to suggest for you, in Lite Novels, is the Pixar plot.

The Pixar plot structure is something you can reduce by watching any given Pixar movie, and it doesn’t matter if they’re big and epic like Wall-E or small and personal like Ratatouille or Toy Story. They’re stories that follow the same basic pattern:

“Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.”

The important thing about this structure is that it often doesn’t need a villain or an antagonist as much as it needs a disruption, an interruption. Now, most Pixar films feature some form of opposition or enemy, but you’ll notice how they’re kind of just… there, often only there to compete for something at the end or in the mid-point. Consider the evil Chef in Ratatouille or the rival driver in Cars. They’re not there to enact a grand plan. They’re just there to provide some contest at the end, because you’re at the second Until Finally.

These Pixar movies start out with a pretty good status quo. Life is okay, and people are pretty happy though there’s some small thing, one single thing, that’s… flawed. Then something changes them, and the protagonist is not happy about it, and then something happens and they resolve it, and return to that status quo without the flaw. That really is it. Woody has a nice life as a toy except he has to be paranoid about new toys arriving, then Buzz arrives and he gets mad about it, the Buzz plot is resolved and Woody is happy again with the paranoia removed because now he recognises new additions to his life are potential friends.

This is the formula I recommend for your Lite Novel and I recommend it in part because it’s kind of how Cat Wishes works. In Cat Wishes, everyone at the start of the story is pretty okay with their lives but all have something going on that they keep hidden. Then a cat grants a series of wishes and they’re left trying to adjust to their new life, and when it resolves, they more or less go back to their former life. They’re still friends, except now, you know, they’re catgirls and one of them is making out with someone they really wanted to make out with.

That’s all you need! Think of the end point for the status quo you think would be cool, then you can work backwards to think of the way those events might have looked before.

No Need For Bummers

Finally, you don’t need to make your story sad or miserable or anything like that for it to be fun or worth reading! If you want your story to be as simple as characters going to the store and negotiating around some fun quandrary that happens there, that is totally fine. You don’t need to make your characters miserable to have your story taken seriously. Let me repeat that: You don’t need to make your characters miserable to have your story taken seriously.

What you want to do with a Lite Novel is put forward characters you (and a hypothetical reader) can care about, doing something that lets you show how they’re the different or the same, and then give them a resolution that means the situation at the start of the story is not exactly the same as the situation at the end.

Is this the only way to do this? Of course not. That’s silly. This is a toolkit – something you can grab to get a hold of your story and get it underway. And I recommend you do it, because hey, writing is fun, and a Lite Novel is a great way to get started!

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