You’re ready to write your Light Novel (LN). You’ve got your story outlined, character sheets filled, and some worldbuilding done.
But you hesitate. You reflect on all the stories you’ve read—how evocative they were, how each character seemed a real person, how the world sucked you in, made you feel like it was a real place.
Could you write such a story? Surely the Author must’ve lived a life replete with unique experiences to convey such a story.
Do you feel like you’ve had a lot of life experience? If you’re reading this article, probably not.
We Otaku aren’t the most adventurous sort. If not for my parents dragging me everywhere, I’d have never left my room. So many hours of anime watching and LN reading lost…
Anyway, if you’re anything like me, this question passed through my mind several times before I forced myself to start writing my LN.
Can you write a Light Novel without any real-life experience?
Yes, you can write a Light Novel without any real-life experience. A million and one Authors have written novels about events, characters, and place they’ve never experienced, met, or been. You yourself have plenty of ‘experience’ in the form of knowledge gathered over your entire life. All you need to write a Light Novel is what you already know and the drive to research what you don’t.
And I could send you on your way to start writing your LN, but four sentences probably didn’t convince you.
Plus, the real answer to the question is a bit more complex. You 100% can write a LN in your current life-experience-less state, but trying might not leave you with the confidence necessary to actually write your LN.
So, let’s take a deeper look into what ‘life experience’ actually is and what it means to ‘write what you know’.
What Does It Mean for an Author to Have Life Experience?
The common understanding of someone having ‘life experience’ is more complex than it sounds. It doesn’t just mean they’ve ‘experienced life’, everyone’s who has ever breathed air has done that.
It means they’ve really ‘lived’. They’ve:
- Experienced a great range of emotions from falling in love to losing someone they love.
- Visited famous or fascinating places all across the world.
- Met all manner of interesting people.
All of which would make it easy for them to translate such experiences into a brilliant novel.
However. This is an absurd notion. How many Authors have actually lived such fantastical lives? How many LN Authors have? I doubt half of them have stepped outside of Akihabara for more than the time it takes to visit their mother.
So, we need to take a look at the second definition of ‘life experience’. That being in reference to a novel’s core subject matter.
If you want to write about a private detective investigating the Yakuza in Osaka, then it follows you would need to know:
- What’s it like working as a private detective.
- The intricacies of a Yakuza organization.
- What Osaka looks/feels/sounds/smells like.
And I pose the same question. How many Authors who have written stories such as this have actually ‘experienced’ what they’re writing about?
Zero. The answer is zero. Just like the amount of Authors who have been space marines in the year 2479 on planet Tyriochom is ZERO.
Ok, so how in the world are all these Authors writing life-like stories despite having no relevant life experience?
Because there’s actually a third definition for ‘life experience’—Knowledge. As in:
- Every place you’ve been to, seen, or heard about.
- Every person you’ve met, seen, or heard about.
- Every story you’ve ever read or heard.
- Literally everything you’ve ever experienced, heard, seen, felt, or smelled.
Regardless of the source, everything you know counts as life experience and can be used to write your LN.
But it’s not all of that is ‘real’, you protest. Isn’t it better for my writing if I experience it for myself in real-life (IRL)?
In short, no.
Real-Life Experience Is a Waste of Time
IRL experience is completely overrated. There’s no reason to experience something for yourself to be able to write about it.
But wouldn’t experiencing it in real life give me a far deeper understanding of it? How can I be authentic in my writing without experience?
Easily. See, as far as your brain is concerned, everything you experience is ‘real’.
On a chemical level, watching a video of Osaka is the same as having been there. Your brain cannot tell the difference.
This phenomenon is easily observed by watching sports fans watching a game. They get so lost in the experience they can’t help but to leap from their seat screaming for a player to “Go! Go! Go!”. And if favorite team wins, they’ll say “We got them!”.
Not “They”, but “We”. To the fan’s brain, he is part of the team. He was down there in the field making plays and scoring goals. That game is now part one of his life experiences.
This extends to anything and everything. If you:
- Watch a movie set in Paris, you’ve been to Paris.
- Hear a story about a strange uncle, you’ve met him.
- Listen to your friend detail her unrequited love, you’ve experienced that pain too.
Experiencing things through others is no different than doing it yourself, so don’t bother trying it IRL.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when people say ‘don’t knock it until you try it’. They mean well, but it’s a harmful attitude. It’s useful when you’re afraid to start writing your LN and someone uses the line as encouragement. But most people use it to justify stupid decisions.
For example, your protagonist is a cocaine addict. Great, I’m sure he’ll be an interesting character.
However. That does not mean you need to ‘not knock it until you’ve tried it’ and abuse cocaine so you’re able to write using IRL experience. There’s literally no need for you to try cocaine to know that it’s destructive and addictive.
But that lack of IRL experience doesn’t prevent you from writing from the perspective of a cocaine addict. You need merely to read about the life experiences of a drug addict. Just by reading about it or asking an actual addict for his story, you’ll have ‘experienced’ it according to your brain.
All that said, one could argue you’ll never pen a ‘true representation’ of something you’ve never experienced yourself. But this too is dumb.
Such an argument isn’t totally wrong, but how many cocaine addicts will read your LN? And how many of them are going to accuse you of not properly telling the ‘truth’ of their lifestyle? Even more, who cares?
The majority of readers won’t be able to tell anyway. Some of the most famous war novels were written by men who’ve never held a gun, much less experienced the horrors of war firsthand. They merely read or heard about war.
And by the power of imagination and plain good writing, they were able to deliver evocative novels that actual soldiers would swear the Author must’ve been a soldier himself.
Real-life experience might be a waste of time (mostly, we’ll get to that later), but that is no excuse to not gather up as much ‘experience’ as you can.
A Great Light Novel Author Has Lots of ‘Experiences’
Despite what I’ve said thus far, having a real-life experience would be the fastest way to be able to write about your chosen topic.
Even if you’ve seen it, without actually visiting Osaka, you won’t truly experience the smells, sounds, the way the light hits your eyes, and so on.
But, again, you don’t need to experience all that yourself in order to write about it. Just ‘experience’ it through someone else’s experiences. Seek out those who’ve been to Osaka and ask them about all those extraneous details.
In fact, I would go so far as to say asking someone else is better than experiencing it yourself. At least in regards to writing.
Let’s take riding a plane for example. The first time I did, the last thing I was worried about is how I might detail the experience in a LN.
My primary thoughts were “(CENSORED), (CENSORED), (CENSORED), please, please let me get through this. Why is the plane shaking? Are we supposed to be going this fast? How high off the ground are we? Are there enough parachutes?”.
I straight-up do not remember anything else about my first plane ride. So, for the sake of writing about an experience, it’s usually more useful to ask someone who was paying attention.
Even if you have no intention of experiencing something yourself, you still have to ‘experience’ it to be able to write about it.
No matter how outlandish the contents of your LN, you still have to get it from somewhere. It’s impossible to just divine knowledge out of nothing.
This is why the most common writing advice is to ‘write what you know’. Which is good advice. But it’s also a ‘no duh’ statement.
You can only write what you know. You can’t write what you don’t know.
The original intent of the advice, of course, is meant to suggest fledging Authors stick with topics/genres/themes they’re already familiar with. Which stops them from wasting buckets of time researching something new instead of just writing what they already know.
And you should take that advice, but that doesn’t mean you should just give up on a topic you know nothing about.
You can easily turn what you don’t know into something you do know with a couple internet searches. Then you can get back to writing what you know. Because now you, well, know it.
Not doing the necessary research, but trying to write an LN anyway, would be a fool’s errand. If you try to:
- Write science fiction despite never having read any
- Set your story in Paris despite only hearing the name and having no other knowledge of it
- Write about a hotel receptionist despite never having seen one and having no clue what their job entails
You will fail. You can skirt by using your imagination alone, but not for long. Eventually, you’ll get stuck and be forced ‘have some experiences’.
Besides, why bother attempting such a thing? Instead:
- Go look up the ‘best’ SF ever and pick a few to read.
- Hop on YouTube, watch some videos of Paris, and read the comments which are guaranteed to be filled with anecdotes from those who’ve experienced Paris IRL.
- Go read some hotel receptionist character profiles online or hey, maybe walk down to your local Holiday Inn and have a chat with the receptionist.
You may not have to experience anything IRL, but that doesn’t mean you should start writing without any experiences at all.
Which, moving onto the next point, isn’t to say that you yourself don’t already have a million ‘experiences’ already under your belt.
You Already Have All the Life Experience You Need to Write a Light Novel
Whether you realize it or not, you’ve already had a bajillion life experiences. At least in reference to its third definition: knowledge.
As mentioned above, everything you’ve ever experienced either IRL or through the eyes of another counts as experience.
Anything you have written and will write is based on your life experience. And the majority of your writing doesn’t even need additional research. Spare the exact geographical location of an island in the pacific, most of what you need to write your LN is already in your head.
All those ‘experiences’ you’ve had find their way into your writing whether you want them to or not.
Let’s say you’re writing a cyberpunk dystopian LN. Such a genre is inevitable packed with ideas and concepts found in reality taken to their natural extreme. For example, in reality:
- You pay for things by banging your phone against a scanner. It’s not a stretch to imagine replacing the phone for a microchip in your wrist.
- Your government probably imposes nonsense laws and regulations on you. Them doubling down on their insanity in the near future wouldn’t be too surprising.
- People who have lost limbs can use artificial ones. Artificial limbs that are better than actual limbs are a definite future possibility. And people willingly replacing their body parts with them isn’t surprising if you go to any tattoo expo and see the amount of body modification going on today.
All the knowledge necessary to imagine the above is pretty commonplace. Just by living a normal life without any grand adventures or amazing vistas, you’ve had enough ‘experiences’ to write a fascinating LN.
Furthermore, anything you write will be an expression of your personal thoughts and experiences. And those ‘experiences’ you base your LN off of don’t even need to be real.
I spent a great deal of my life friendless. So, most of my closest friends growing up were anime characters. And though they may not be real, they have personalities based off real people.
So, all the characters in my LNs have personalities based off those characters I love which are based off other people’s IRL experiences. It may take a while to reach the source, but the source is always a genuine experience.
No matter what—your writing will reflect only what you’ve ‘experienced. It’s impossible to write without former knowledge.
If you’ve never heard of or seen space, there’s very little chance you would ever be able to imagine it, much less write about it.
Without prior knowledge gained through ‘experiences’, you can’t write anything at all.
So, you must have lots of ‘experiences’, but how?
What to Do If You Have No Life Experience
You cannot write your LN without knowledge of your topic. And the solution to this is obvious: research your topic.
But what’s the best way to do research? If you spend all your time living through other people’s ‘experiences’, you won’t have done any writing.
So, your research needs to be focused. And the best way to focus is to know what you need to research in advance. And the best way to do that is by being inquisitive.
For example, you want to write a medieval-era fantasy that tells the story of lovers torn apart by war. Sounds easy enough. I’m sure you could churn out that LN real quick. But let’s pretend you haven’t been ‘experiencing’ such copy-paste stories for the past decade.
But before doing research, you need to ask some questions, which will do two instrumental things.
One, it will make your research more focused. And two, it will activate your imagination by drawing from ‘experiences’ you’ve already had, negating the need for some research.
So, let’s ask some questions:
- You want it to be set in the 1500s. What was life like back then? How did they live? You have access to tap water, indoor plumbing, and food at Walmart, did they? Probably not, you vaguely remember 7th grade history saying life was a giant pain back then.
- You’ve never been in love. What does it feel like to be in love? To be torn apart from one’s lover? You get sad when leaving your cat to go to work. Is love a similar feeling to such heartache?
- A war is ravaging the country. But what’s war actually like? What uniforms would they have worn? What weapons would they use in that era? Was gunpowder invented yet? You think so, but not everyone had access to it. Would your characters?
And so on and so forth. Each question prompts a million more. Questions you would have never thought of without prior life experience.
If you made it through elementary school alone, you have a wellspring of ‘experience’ to draw from. And if you didn’t, then you have the internet at your beck and call.
Yes, if you’re reading this article, ON THE INTERNET, then you have access.
And if you have access, then you have NO EXCUSE not to go and get all the ‘experience’ you could ever possibly want or need to write your LN.
More knowledge than Solomon himself ever had access to is yours for the taking with just a few keystrokes and clicks.
This obviously makes sorting through all that data a giant overwhelming pain, hence the need for focused questions, but never forget you can acquire ‘life experience’ at any time without ever leaving your mother’s basement.
However, that is no excuse not to leave its warm embrace. And I’ll tell you why in a second, but I need to go on a tangent real quick…
Would It Be Better to Write My Light Novel Without Any Life Experience?
While doing some research for this article, I came across the opinion that it would actually be better to write about that which you have experience with.
The person claimed a great story could be born simply from imagining how you would react to a situation/place you’ve never been in.
And perhaps it could, but the entire thought process is a logical fallacy.
Let’s say you want to write about being a circus trapeze performer.
You’ve never been one and know nothing about them. But wait, how could you know what they are while simultaneously knowing nothing about them?
You wouldn’t have to imagine what it would be like and somehow divine the knowledge. The ‘experience’ already exists within you. If you know what:
- A trapeze artist is: you can write about what they do even with the most basic of knowledge.
- A circus is: you can write about it too.
- It’s like to have a job or known someone who has a job: you know what it’s like to work and make money to survive.
You also likely know that swinging from ropes in the air is extremely dangerous. And because you have a natural human instinct to fear and avoid dangerous situations, you can easily imagine what’s it’s like to put your life on the line during a show.
It’s not that you don’t have any experience, it’s simply that you have no direct experience. And again, you don’t need to do cocaine to know what it’s like.
You need merely to comb your brain for situations and feelings that a trapeze artist might experience and then write about them.
The only person who couldn’t write from a lack of experience would be someone who has never left a dark, soundproof room their entire life.
And even then, they could at least write about that (if they’re captor gave them basic literacy…).
Whether you think you do or not, you have tons of ‘life experience’ and can easily acquire more via a handful of Google searches.
Which, again, you can do from your mother’s basement.
No, You Cannot Remain in Your Mother’s Basement
Just because you don’t need life experience to write your LN, doesn’t mean you should avoid going out and getting some.
This article is not an excuse to hole up in your mother’s basement for your entire writing career.
Yes, anything you write will turn out fine if you do enough research regardless of your own personal experiences.
But wouldn’t it be so much easier to just go experience it yourself?
This is why a filmmaker goes ‘on location’ to get a feel for his setting before spending a lot of time and money on the film.
Not only for the sake of accuracy, but also so he can experience it himself. He could just as easily have others relay their experiences, base the film off those, and it’d come out fine, but why not cut out the middleman and do it himself?
I myself didn’t have the confidence to write my cyberpunk LN series, Garden of PSI, until after I’d spent a year in Tokyo. I had the basis for the novel and all the prewriting done, but it still didn’t feel quite right.
But after walking around night after night soaking in all the neon lit, technology littered streets did I feel like I could properly convey a cyberpunk setting.
IRL experience is definitely overrated. You don’t have to experience anything yourself to write about it, but it sure wouldn’t hurt either.
And before you start snorting cocaine, I hereby disavow myself of any legal ramifications by declaring you should not personally experience anything you know to be harmful. That’s on you, dear reader.
Furthermore, many will say there’s nothing quite like experiencing something for yourself—that you can’t truly write about riding a horse with going through the whole process yourself.
This is not totally true.
You can simply read about someone else’s hyper-visceral experience of riding a horse. You can even emulate it in your house by riding your golden retriever.
That said, there is some truth to what they’re saying.
Riding a horse IRL may not give you the same insights as someone describing it. You’re so caught up trying to not die that you don’t dwell on much of anything.
However, the act itself permanently alters your soul. You no longer identify as someone who has never ridden a horse, but as someone who has.
And that, unfortunately, is the key difference between one Author and another.
One can craft a gut-wrenchingly beautiful story about things they never experienced and sell a million copies. But at the same time, their writing will never match up on a subconscious-soul-level(?) to someone who actually experienced those same things and wrote about them.
It’s not something that be explained or defined, it’s just how it is. But as noted, you don’t have to experience anything directly and still make bank.
Just know that despite everything I’ve said, there is genuine worth in having an IRL experience over an emulated one.
You Can Turn Any Experience into a Light Novel
If I somehow haven’t convinced you yet, I’ll say it again:
You don’t need life experience to write your Light Novel.
You already have tons of life experience. Every anime episode, every LN, every video game, and whatever else you’ve experienced has contributed to your life experiences, your knowledge.
And knowledge is all you need to write your LN.
Knowledge that you both already have and can easily acquire more of.
So, go on, take all those experiences and write your Light Novel. Maybe one day another Author will read it and use it as a part of his experiences.