One of the most difficult tasks you’ll face when writing your Light Novel (LN) is creating and then maintaining a sense of tension. Without a problem for your characters to overcome, your story won’t have any progress. And without consistent progress, you’ll have no story at all (or at least a boring one).
So, you must have conflict.
But what kind? How much? How serious? There are a million questions you could ask, but none would have clear answers. A world war can be just as engaging as buying groceries if well written.
Instead of telling you a specific conflict you should have in your LN, I’m going to tell you about the different types.
But before that, you need to know about something I like to call Anti-Progression.
The More Problems in Your Light Novel, the Better
As your LN’s series progresses, more and more conflicts or unsolved mysteries should be stacked on top of the series’ overarching conflict. Your characters should feel crushed under the weight of all the problems they’ll eventually have to address.
In order to provoke the strongest emotional effect from your readers, you need to build tension until the last possible second. Your characters can resolve smaller conflicts or those necessary to resolve each volume’s primary conflict, but save those creating the greatest amount of tension for last.
The best way to achieve this compiling tension effect is via—
Anti-Progression: For every step forward your characters take toward achieving their goal(s), they should be forced to take two steps back.
In the case of a stand-alone novel, anti-progression should only be used sparingly. It would be both contrived and difficult to have your characters resolve so many problems by the end.
But as LNs are almost always series, feel free to employ Anti-Progression as much as you like (i.e., what you’ll be willing to deal with later).
Because you’re writing a series, you don’t have to resolve every conflict that appears in each volume. The primary conflict and those necessary to resolve it should be resolved in each individual volume. But you can leave some for later volumes or the end of the whole series.
In either case, you should never build your entire story around resolving a singular conflict.
Why? For one, it’s boring. It might work in a short story, but having to watch your characters only work toward resolving a single problem is not going to engage your readers for long.
And two, it’s unrealistic. No problem in real life ever came without other problems that must be resolved in order to resolve the original issue.
For example, you want to get a job.
- You have to find an open position
- Create a resume
- Schedule an interview
- Figure out how to get there
- Go to and make it through the interview
Even the simplest tasks can balloon into an entire novel if you make it hard for your characters to achieve them.
Ok, I’ve thrown around a lot of terms and you’re probably sick of not knowing what I’m talking about, so let’s address the types of conflict one by one.
The Six Types of Light Novel Conflicts
Let’s say your LN series is set to run ten volumes. Assuming each one is 50K words, you’ll eventually hit 500K. So, I shouldn’t have to tell you that a pile of conflicts will (and should) appear along the road to the end.
One of your goals as an Author is simply to create conflicts and have your characters resolve them. But not all problems are the same. Some are huge, others small, and many not worth remembering. Thus, you need to know both the types of conflicts and how to best utilize them. Here they are:
Let’s breakdown each one to learn why you must include them in your Light Novel.
1. The Overarching Series Conflict
The overarching series conflict (SC) is that which you’ll resolve at the very end of your LN series. Examples:
- Becoming the strongest samurai / ninja / boxer.
- Finding true love in the case of romance / picking one girl to marry out of a harem.
- Stopping the antagonist from destroying your hometown / country / world.
Such conflicts could be resolved along the way, but only if you have another higher-tension conflict for your characters to resolve. And that’s the key to the SC.
It must both cause the most tension and be ever-present. Never let readers forget its presence. Here’s an example:
Your LN focuses on the protagonist doing private detective work in order to pay off her massive debt. She could do something else, but being a PI pays the most and it’s all she’s good at.
Every once in a while, you need to remind your readers of the above. After all, that’s the only reason she bothers to resolve mysteries in the first place. You never want readers to think: “Why is she running away from some insane clown with a machine gun? Why doesn’t she just work at McDonalds?”
Furthermore, the SC can evolve along the way. Let’s take the above example.
Our detective might start out resolving a big case only for the money. But along the way, she could uncover a plot to assassinate the president and start another world war. If she wants to get involved, her SC would switch from paying off her debt to saving the president.
In any case, your SC should be treated with the greatest care. You don’t want to let readers forget about it, but you don’t want it to wear out its welcome either. Remind readers of it, but do so sparingly.
The more readers hear about it, the less meaningful it becomes. Allow readers to get caught up in your story and the other problems your protagonist faces so that when the SC rears its head, it seems all the more important.
2. The Volume Conflict
The volume conflict (VC) is an individual volume’s unique conflict. It should be the main focus of that volume and be resolved by the end of it. Examples:
- A single case in a mystery series
- Solving one girl’s/guy’s problem in a harem
- A tournament between warring factions
The VC can be anything you like so long as it moves the characters closer towards resolving the SC. Your characters should have a reason for everything they do and that reason will typically be working toward resolving the SC.
Readers love a sense of progress. Achieving one is only possible when you avoid filler arcs and pointless side-quests.
Unless you can stretch it out to two or more volumes, a VC must be resolved within the same volume it is the focus of. Because it is being presented as a major issue, it cannot be left unresolved for two reasons.
- Readers will feel cheated and annoyed that they sat through an entire volume only to have nothing resolved (no progress).
- Its seeming importance detracts from the SC’s importance, which hurts your overall series.
Also, you don’t necessarily have to introduce the VC in the same volume it gets resolved. It can (and should) be mentioned at the end of the previous volume in the form of a cliffhanger. And, even better, you could hint at it in an earlier volume.
3. Necessary Conflicts
Necessary conflicts (NC) are those that pop up as a result of the VC.
Let’s say your characters need to cross an ocean. But they can’t without first acquiring an airship. Getting the airship itself is a NC, but many more NCs can be generated from it. Your characters could need:
- Money to buy it (getting a job)
- Fuel to fly it (bartering if they don’t have money)
- Someone to pilot it (meeting a new character)
- Permission to use flying routes (potential faction worldbuilding)
And so on and so forth. The possible NCs are endless if you want them to be.
These might seem annoying/overwhelming, but are great for you as an Author. Every problem that appears is a chance for you to write another scene. Having your characters work through even the pettiest of problems is ripe for potential character or world development.
NCs should generally be resolved in the volumes they first appear, but they can also be resolved in later volumes. However, if resolving a NC is necessary to resolve the VC, you must resolve it in that same volume.
Be careful to not to have too many NCs. If you do, you might be accused of fluffing your LN with pointless side-quests. Each NC should have a clear reason and their being resolved be absolutely necessary to progress the story.
But just resolving them isn’t enough. The scenes in which they are resolved should be filled with character interaction or world building. Reading about the characters resolve one problem after another by itself is never fun.
Take time to make each NC and its corresponding scene really matter to your series as a whole.
This might sound counterproductive, but leaving a few minor, unsolved conflicts or those that resolve themselves throughout your series is fine.
Mini-conflicts (MC) are those that can serve to add small doses of tension, but don’t have any significant impact on the story as a whole. Here are a couple examples:
- One of your characters receives a minor wound, but are still able to fight without major issue. The wound should be addressed and you should take time to mention how they patched it up, but it doesn’t necessarily need its own scene. There is a nice dose of tension that comes from a character being wounded in battle, but readers won’t expect you to spend much time on it besides the receiving and mending of it.
- Your characters need to travel to a new location. Such an event can provide some tension if they don’t have any way to get there. However, you don’t have to dwell on it outside of them hiring a taxi / taking a plane.
You could turn both of those MCs into NCs, but addressing each and every problem your characters face will annoy and exhaust readers after a while.
In regards to leaving them unsolved, I mean that if they’re not terribly important, you don’t have to go out of your way to address them.
For example, your protagonist might be worried one of her classmate’s is jealous of her relationship with the class pretty boy. This adds some tension, but since it just comes off as a random thought, your readers likely won’t care if you address it later or not.
If it’s actually is important, you should address it, but don’t bother explaining every single thing your characters say/think/do. Your readers are smart enough to draw many conclusions on their own.
Overall, MCs are just that, problems not worth spending a few sentences on at most. They’re important for maintaining tension and you can have tons of them compared to NCs, but they should never take center stage.
5. Saved-for-Later Conflicts
Conflicts you can save for later are unique to series.
You don’t have to resolve each problem introduced in a singular volume by the end of that volume. Readers love guessing what the next or a later volume’s VC or NCs might be.
And if they’re right, they’ll feel smart (and thus entertained) that they were able to figure it out. So, a great tactic is to hint at it in an earlier volume. For example:
In volume two, a character mentions their hometown is famous for mining unique metal deposits. Later, in volume four, your characters encounter a NC in which they need that metal in order to forge a weapon they need to tackle the VC.
Hopefully (if you made it memorable enough), your readers will remember that metal being mentioned and guess where the characters will be heading next.
The above is an NC, but I don’t recommend mentioning those early as they are difficult to make memorable. Stick to mentioning VCs in early volumes because of how important they’ll eventually become. Don’t make their being mentioned a big deal, but don’t let readers forget that it was brought up either.
As for those you can leave unsolved until later, a typical example would be that of an amnesiac character.
Unless it’s important for them to recover within the volume they’re introduced, you could leave it unresolved for however long you need.
However, they should always be taking small steps towards resolving the problem. If they just suddenly made a full recovery three volumes after they were introduced without regaining at least a few memories along the way, readers would be disappointed and likely wouldn’t take it seriously.
6. Meta Conflicts
Meta conflicts aren’t necessarily related to the other types of conflicts, but are still important to every story.
They could be woven into the other conflicts, run parallel to them, or not have anything to do with them at all. Because of their existing outside of the system, they don’t necessarily have to be resolved either. Here are a couple examples:
These are conflicts unique to each character (internal) or between characters (external). They are also known as Character Arcs.
They could be resolved within the volume that one character is heavily involved with the VC. Or, they could be resolved over the course of the whole series.
Conflicts between characters might not even have to be resolved if one character’s purpose is solely that of harassing the protagonist. The audience will be confused if said character started being nice to the protagonist at the end just because you felt the need to resolve every conflict.
These are conflicts that typically happen outside your characters control.
There could be an earthquake that prevents them from easily getting to the next location or a war breaking out in another country.
They should impact your characters in some way (lest them seem out of place), but they won’t necessarily be able to do anything about them. Thus, they typically go unresolved.
There are many more Meta Conflicts, but these are the two primary types. Generally, any conflict that cannot be directly addressed or takes place regardless of the protagonist(s) actions could be considered Meta.
Never Let the Tension Die
Your job as an Author is to make your characters suffer as much as possible.
They should be drowning in problems and seeming as if they’ll never escape. Only when the tension has been maxed out should they be able to get it together and tackle their problems head-on.
So, with your newfound knowledge of the many types of conflict you can litter your LN with and the power of Anti-Progression, you’ll be able to craft engaging conflicts that will leave your readers unable to put your LN down until the last word.