When writing the first draft of your Light Novel (LN), you should write as much as you can. Set a total word goal and do your best to shoot a few thousand words past it. Because, in the editing process, you’ll likely lose several thousand words.
So, you should set a word count goal and do your best to meet it.
However, most LNs are 50K words total. So, if you find you’ve written twice or even triple that amount, you might’ve written too much.
Depending on how deeply you detail your setting, describe your characters and the things they do, or any other element of your LN, it could start pushing 300K words.
And that’s totally fine…if the story demands it.
If 250K of those words are pure fluff or not engaging to readers, you have more paperweight than novel.
The primary problem with writing too much is that it can hurt your LN’s pacing. Pacing meaning the speed at which you tell your story.
If you spend half your LN describing every single little action your characters do, think, and feel, the pacing will plummet and so will your LN to the ground where readers won’t likely pick it up again.
Ok, so I won’t do that.
So you say! But there are a million other ways you can take it too far. Balancing your pacing is but one of many things you must keep in mind while writing your LN.
I could go on and on about the dangers of writing too much, but I’ll stick to three main points today. Let’s see what they look like and how to avoid them.
Your Light Novel’s Story Needs to Have Progress
There’s a brilliant arc in the Oreimo Season 1 OVAs in which one of the characters, Kuroneko, writes a visual novel (VN) for a game competition. Skipping the details, she doesn’t just lose, but her VN earns an award for ‘Worst Game’.
They don’t say exactly what she did wrong, but it’s implied that whatever she wrote was likely 1,000,000 words long.
One million?! You cry, but shouldn’t be too surprised. Some of the most highly-acclaimed visual novels are longer. Here are three I’ve read and loved.
- Fate/Stay Night – 1 Million
- Little Busters! – 1.3 Million
- YU-NO – 1.3 Million
And several more that took over 50 hours to read.
So, what did Kuroneko do wrong?
Quite simply, she didn’t tell her readers a story.
The other characters continually make fun of her writing because it requires reading a stupidly long encyclopedia of how her magic system works, each character’s backstory, each faction’s history, and so on and so forth.
Can a story be good even though you have to read an encyclopedia to understand it?
Yes, Fate/Stay Night was able to do it, but only because the Author mixed in info-dumps with character interaction. Readers don’t mind having complex things explained to them because a cute, well-written girl (Rin) is doing the explaining.
In general, you need only remember one rule to avoid falling into the trap of being so detailed that no one cares.
Progress your story. Your story must have some form of progress at all times no matter how big or small.
Kuroneko failed because she delivered information without giving readers a reason to care about it. Had she spliced in an engaging story with proper structure alongside the explanations, she would’ve succeeded. For example:
- Explaining how your characters cast magic spells by consuming special crystals is central to understanding your LN.
- Great, don’t tell me about it in the first paragraph.
- Establish the characters (so we have someone to care about), their motivations (so we understand why they do what they do), the world they occupy (so we can imagine them doing it), and the conflict they must resolve (so we have tension to keep us reading).
- Then, still don’t tell me. You need an excuse to tell me. Have the characters enter a situation where they need to use spells. Have one run out of magic power and be forced to use a crystal. Then, and only then should you tell me about your magic system (because up to that point, the info wouldn’t have been important to readers).
- Even better, have a character that doesn’t know how any of it works ask someone. It can be jarring if an unknown entity just starts explaining how stuff works. Or, even worse, a character who should know exactly how it works explaining it. Who’s she even talking to?!
In short, it’s OK to have the most complex world ever imagined so long as you frame it in an interesting way. Readers love unique systems, characters, and worlds, but only if you provide incentive for them to care in the first place.
Readers Don’t Care How Your Laser Gun Works
I took a class called Science Fiction (SF) in college in which we had to read 11 SF novels. Most were alright, some were meh, and three I couldn’t read without vomiting and just pretended I knew what was going on during discussion.
One (The Forever War) was pretty good, but one aspect I couldn’t stand was the Author’s insatiable desire to detail how all his novums worked.
What in the world is a novum, you ask.
Well, it’s stuck-up literature doctorate speak for: scientifically plausible concept in a SF universe.
This could be faster-than-light space travel, cyborgs, teleporters, or, what I’ll be talking about: laser guns.
Any object or concept not necessarily found in reality and imagined by the Author can be called a novum.
The only catch is that it must have somewhat grounded in reality. If something is explained by ‘magic’—it’s not a novum.
A time-travel machine is a novum because there are real-life theories that explain how it could work.
Anyway, the only one of many novums I remember are the laser rifles the soldiers in his story used.
I remember nothing else about that book; only the laser guns. Why?
Because he wrote way too much about them. For what felt like five pages, he detailed the intricacies of how they worked.
But was it cool?
Maybe when the book was written (1974), but not today. I know what a laser gun is. Anyone who’s watched any SF movie ever knows what a laser gun is. If you were to invent a similar novum today, it would be pointless to explain it to your readers.
Especially in the niche realm of LNs, most readers are going to know all the tropes and concepts to expect. You don’t need to remind them unless your novum is truly unique and important to your story.
Was it interesting?
No, not to me at least. There will always be readers who love to read how stuff works and could care less about characters and story, but I assure you, they are in the minority.
Should you appeal to them? Yes, but don’t go too far lest you bore the majority.
Was it relevant to the story?
No, all I needed to know was that they fought with laser guns that are prone to malfunction for a bit of tension. All the technical-manual description could’ve been left out.
All that said, I will add a caveat.
You can make your novums super-detailed, but only if you space the information out. One of the primary reasons readers stop reading is because of what most call ‘information-dumps’.
When a character or the narrator drones on and on about details that are certainly important, but aren’t interesting, without doing anything else while explaining—you have a boring info-dump.
In most cases, you should tell readers only what they need to know to enjoy the story and character interactions.
Your laser gun might be the coolest thing ever to you, but maybe not to your readers. Consider them first. If you were just writing for yourself, why bother publishing at all?
And, as a final suggestion, I don’t know if this is the best idea, but it works for me.
Rather than pump my LNs full of details, I take my own advice and just tell readers what they need to know. However, I still write three pages about my proverbial laser gun.
But instead of cramming it in my LN, I stick it in a glossary that I include with my LN.
This way, readers who don’t care can just enjoy the story without getting annoyed by slow pacing. And readers who love details can have a look at the glossary.
I’m probably breaking some sacred law of fiction by doing that, but that’s just how much I don’t care how your (or my) laser gun works.
There Are Some Details You Should Leave Out of Your Light Novel
Note: The following is a weird tangent, but it must be said.
You can take your worldbuilding too far.
Not just in word count, but in the details of your world themselves.
That sounds strange, I know. The common advice is to be as detailed as possible in order to craft a living, breathing world that readers will want to come back to again and again.
I agree. The better you realize your world, the more readers will love it. I believed this for a long time and 99.9% of the time, it’s true. However. I recently encountered the 0.01%.
Its name: Nekopara.
Hold on, don’t leave. I’m going somewhere with this.
What? How can that goofy cat-girl harem have anything to teach us about writing?
Many things, actually. I mean, has your LN sold over 10 million copies? Yea, mine neither.
Anyway, I could discuss what it does well and what it doesn’t all day, but I just want to focus on one negative aspect that almost no one (probably only me actually) ever noticed.
To understand what I’m about to say, however, you must know a few things about the world of Nekopara.
- There are cat-girls. They’re basically just real girls with ears and a tail.
- They age the same as actual cats. Meaning in a few years after birth, they grow to the size of full-grown humans.
- Humans can legally take on a cat-girl as a lover.
Now, what the game wants me to do is just take all this at face value. Ok, I can do that. As an Otaku, my suspension of disbelief is much higher than the average reader.
However! It can only be pushed so far before I start asking questions.
What Nekopara did wrong was take its worldbuilding much too far.
I can accept cat-girls; they’re everywhere in Otaku media. What ruined the experience for me are the other two points. How?
Because the Author committed the crime of saying too much, but not enough.
They went out of their way to detail:
- How cat-girls live
- How society perceives them
- How they have to pass a test to be allowed outside on their own
- How they’re raised
- How they’re treated legally
Detail after detail that nobody asked for and didn’t necessarily need to enjoy the game. And I found all of it interesting. I really did. An Author taking the time to explain how cat-girls can even exist in real life was a novel idea.
However, again, they didn’t say enough. Had they left all the above out, I would’ve just taken it at face value. But by including it, they set a precedent.
A precedent that every aspect of a cat-girl’s existence can be explained logically.
So, I started looking for logic. Hence the earlier three points.
Here are the questions I had no choice but to ponder, but the game never answered:
- If there are cat-girls, are there cat-boys?
- Where do cat-girls come from? Are they born between cat-girl and cat-boy? Raised in a lab? A genetic experiment involving human and cat gene-splicing?
- If they age like actual cats, will all the characters I’ve come to love be dead in a few years? How old are they in the story? Is my waifu actually 5 years old or 50?
- Can cat-girls and humans have children? Would it be a 25% cat and 75% human?
And a million more unanswered questions that only people as dumb as me would ask.
However, asking sort-of ruined the story for me. I was so concerned with all my stupid questions that I couldn’t focus on just enjoying the silly story for what it is.
All that to say: in some cases, you can take your world building too far.
If you can help it, say as much as you need so that readers aren’t left asking too many questions. It’s good for them to care about your world, but try to say only what’s necessary to enjoy your LN or be as insanely detailed as possible.
Saying too much, but not enough is sometimes worse than if you’d under or overwrote.
Less is More
To sum all that up in a phrase you’re tired of hearing: balance is key.
Sugar is a wonderful additive when the proper amount is used. Dumping the entire bag into your cake mix will make your cake inedible except to a handful of people with very unique tastes.
The same can be said of your LN’s story details, character settings, and worldbuilding.
Write whatever you want, but don’t dump ten pages of dragonology on us all at once. If it’s truly interesting, please include it, but space it out.
One of the LN medium’s greatest strengths is that they are typically series. You have plenty of volumes to space out the details of your intricate world.
Your primary goal is to get people to even read through to volume 5 to reach that information. And the only way you’ll do that is by not taking it too far all at once.
Readers will be happy to absorb every bit of your world so long as you give them a reason to do so and not bury them in it all at once.