How to Write a Light Novel [with Tips & Examples]

Write a Light Novel

If you want to start writing but don’t want to commit to the process like George R.R. Martin or J.R.R Tolkien, it’s a good idea to write a light novel. Most people often think of light novels like short stories, and while they do have a smaller word count than a novel, that’s where the similarities end.

Believing this can lead to confusion, because a short story and a light novel are two completely different things. So, before you focus on how to write a light novel,  let’s take a closer look at what a light novel actually is.

What Is a Light Novel?

Light novels are a form of Japanese young adult (YA) literature and are known as raito noberu or ranobe. The novels are standalone books or series, with each chapter being published slowly. The most distinguishing quality of light novels is that they are always animated in manga or anime style.

Their popularity and readership are very similar to anime and manga in Japan, China and Taiwan, but light novels are read primarily by teenagers and high-school students. Many great manga series, anime and even live-action films also got their start from ranobe.

Most light novels have a word count of 40,000 to 50,000 and do not exceed 200 pages. This makes them similar to novellas but completely different from short stories or normal story chapters. Western light novels are also different.

They don’t follow the traditional standard that is showcased by Japanese light novels. The target audience and cultural difference to make an impact here.

Western Examples of Light Novels

In western cultures, the closest thing to light novels is the stories that were published in magazines, such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or the Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens or even The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas.

All these novels were published chapter by chapter, and it took months or even years for the entire story to finish. Modern day examples of light novels aren’t hard to find either, but the most prominent one is The Worm, which was first published online in June 2011 and ended in November 2013.

In the end, the series had a total word count of 1,6482,400 and the author, John McCrae, a.k.a. Wildbow, is said to have written 11,000 words per day. It’s also said that Alexander Dumas and Charles Dickens were paid by the sentence for their work, so each chapter was stretched to the maximum limit.

How to Prepare to Write a Light Novel?

When you are wondering how to write a light novel for a Western audience, you get a bit of a break here as your light novel will not have to feature illustrations. This means that a lot of your focus is going to be on the writing style and fine details only.

Writing light novels does require preparation beforehand, so the following are a few things that you need to consider before you start writing one:

There are Many Genres for Novels

Not all light novels are “light”, in the sense that they are airy or carefree. They can have stories that are deep, emotional and build a bond with the reader. YA novels also don’t just focus on love, romance or heartbreak. There are a vast number of genres that you can pick and choose from here.

This is why your genre can be science fiction, historical, thriller, suspense and even horror. Picking the genre makes it easier for you to incorporate themes into your light novel as well. Flying unicorns will definitely have no place in a suspense based light novel, but if you’re writing science fiction, there’s definitely room for them.

Similarly, you can also mix and match different genres for a more interesting story, such as a comedy romance, a historical thriller or a science fiction horror.

The Story Line

Even before you start thinking about the chapters, you need to have a storyline. This will give your light novel a lot of direction, and it will be the major backbone. It’s a good idea to make a mind map of each chapter.

It’s also easy to start with a rough outline when you want to write a light novel. Suppose you’re writing a feel good, comedy or a romance based YA light novel. Your rough outline can look like the one given below:

  1. Girl (Betty) gets a gift meant for someone else from a different city – Secret Santa type of service.
  2. Coincidentally, she is going on vacation to the same city–Thinks it’s Fate – Decides to return it in person
  3. Meets the guy (Henry) – He thinks she’s cute –Despite her saying no, assumes the gift is from her – Decides to be nice on a whim and show her the city
  4. They spend the vacation together –Do cute stuff all day like picture booth photos- Have a good vibe – Fall in love.
  5. Original sender appears –She’s interested in Henry – There’s some drama – Betty goes away.
  6. Henry is unhappy – Tries to find her– Gives up because of stuff (lazy or accident) –Thinks Betty is happy with someone else.
  7. Months go by – Henry gets a present – Same Secret Santa type service – It’s meant for Betty! He has a legit excuse to find her!
  8. Finds her, confesses love – Betty feels the same way – Reveals that this time, she was the sender, hoping for this outcome.

This outline relates to the whole story of the light novel, from start to finish, with 8 chapters. Not only is it easier to flesh out the content by following an outline, but you can also build continuity and prevent yourself from straying too far from the story.

Even writers, who say that they just build the story as they write, have a rough outline to follow. 

The Characters

Always have your characters fleshed out before you start writing. There are moments when you’re writing and you can make up one character on the spot, but don’t leave all your characters to just “come to you” when you’re writing.

It’s a good idea to think of your characters beforehand so that you are able to think of mannerisms and or build a personality for them.

To do that, you should try and create viable personas for your characters. Using the outline mentioned above, you can build up your characters in the following manner:

Girl –Betty – Responsible, hates losing stuff in the mail and a realist. Has a good sense of humor. Likes taking photos, traveling, puppies, food and cute stuff – Has a best friend –Traveling alone for the first time so she’s anxious

Guy – Henry – A bit of a hot head, doesn’t like surprises but is an optimist. Has a dry sense of humor that is often sarcastic. Likes meeting new people, food, puppies, not a traveler – Has a big friend’s circle.

This should also be applied to any characters you add to the story, including the best friends and other supporting characters that will show up in the light novel.

A good character can build an emotional connection. Think of Harry Potter and his two best friends, Hermione and Ron. Similarly, there are other characters that are extremely relatable to people such as Sherlock Holmes.

In fact, when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ended the series in a cliffhanger, which caused the death of Sherlock, hundreds of readers wore black in mourning for his demise. Sir Arthur received so much backlash for killing off Sherlock Holmes that he had to re-write the ending so that people would be happier.

Now, your characters might not incite such an emotional reaction, but these examples show that when you write a light novel, your characters need to be well developed as well.

Useful Writing Tips for Light Novels

Now that you’ve worked out a few of the fine points, you must feel that you have a grasp on how to write a light novel. If you’re still feeling a bit uncertain about it, the following are a few useful tips that you can apply to your writing process.

1. Read Some Light Novels

To understand how to write light novels, it’s a good idea to spend some time reading them. This doesn’t mean that you read the Japanese light novels – this only applies if you’re writing for the same audience. If you’re writing for western audiences, you need to read the works of authors who are known for serials that were published through mediums like magazines or newspapers.

Earlier, we mentioned that good examples of western YA light novels include Charles Dickens, Alexander Dumas, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and John McCrae, a.k.a. Wildbow. You can start off by reading their work.

Pay attention to how they introduce characters, hold conversations and build up the plot of the story. The more you read, the more you will understand the format of the light novel.

If you are not interested in reading, then you can watch a light novel script. Series like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and The Game of Thrones apply the light novel writing method as well. There’s a reason why you end up binge watching these shows – you can’t wait to see what happens next.

2. Always Ensure Continuity

This is the most important rule of light novels and any serials. Always ensure continuity so that when you read all the chapters together, there are no plot holes, no missing details or any area that causes confusion.

Light novels are meant to be simple, neat and to the point novellas, and it can be annoying for readers to keep wondering what happened to a character, only to find that the author forgot about it in the next installation. If you’re afraid of this happening, always start the next piece by first reviewing what has already been published.

You’ll need to keep checking and referencing things to tie in all the pieces together. When you’re going from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2, it might not be an issue to maintain continuity, but when you’re at Chapter 6 or 7, you need to re-read your work so that you’re not missing out fine details here.

3. There’s More Dialogue

One of the major writing differences that you will notice when you write a light novel is that there’s a lot of dialogue and often no indication of who said what. To show you how there’s more dialogue, we’ll write a conversation following the story that we previously mentioned:

As Betty pushed on the door, she looked down to check the address on the package. She was caught completely off-guard when someone else pulled strongly on the door. She fell forward, tripped on the doorstep and landed with a painful thump on the ground. The package flew out of her hands.

“Oh my god! I am sorry I didn’t see you there,” the man exclaimed.

“It’s no problem; I was trying to pull on a push door. You’re not at fault.”

“Let me help you up.”

“No, it’s okay. I just need to catch my breath.”

“You sit here, and I’ll just pick up your bag and that package you dropped.”

Confusion is avoided by adding a few descriptors, but these are used minimally. Readers are usually able to follow this conversation very well and they become more immersed in the writing. You’ll notice this style distinctly when you read Sherlock Holmes or the Count of Monte Cristo.

4. Cliff-Hangers are Your Best Friends

To build readership, your light novel has to do more than just give them an enjoyable story – it has to leave them wanting more. For this reason, you always need to end your chapter on a cliffhanger. This is something that you’ll see not only in light novels but also in series.

Ending on a cliffhanger makes your readers want to know what happens next. It makes the next chapter worth it, and your readers will not mind waiting to find out more. You’ll notice that in the outline mentioned as an example here, each chapter does end on a cliff-hanger of some sort.

This will leave your readers guessing about what will happen next. By adding cliffhangers, you are also able to break the monotony or the predictability of the storyline. Readers who’re able to pick up on it usually do not want to finish reading a light novel to the end.

By being smart about it, you can build up a better reading experience. With the help of these tips, you’ll understand how to write a light novel with a deep storyline that makes your readers want more! So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to start writing now!