When I first decided to write a Light Novel, I wondered how many words it should have in total. How long should it be? It’s ‘light’. So, it must be short. 20,000 or 30,000 words long, right?
On average, a Light Novel is 50,000 words long. That’s about half the length of the standard American novel. However, light novels generally range from anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 words. Some are much longer, but never shorter than 40,000 words.
So, not quite. I wasn’t too far off, but they are longer than you might’ve thought.
And in case you’re wondering, I got that number from averaging the word counts of twenty different Light Novels (LN) from varying genres and authors.
Now, for the benefit of comparison, here are average word counts for commercial and literary fiction:
|Short Story||1000 – 10,000|
|Novella||10,000 – 40,000|
|Novel||50,000 – 110,000 (Average is 90K-100K)|
|Genre Fiction||40,000 – 120,000 (Average Differs Between Genres)|
A LN must be longer than short fiction and is around half the length of a standard novel.
In fact, 50K is the bare minimum most western publishers will accept for a novel.
Although, what the modern reader has come to expect are novels on the longer side. The average bestseller runs 100K words long.
This varies between genres and is dependent on the popularity of the series. The more popular, the more an Author can write because fans are willing to ‘put up with it’.
If your first novel is 200K words, there will be few readers willing to dedicate that much time unless they already like you (i.e. your mother).
50K may be the industry standard, but in truth, LN word counts are as random as a ‘standard novel’.
As evidence, here are the word counts of five of the LNs I tested from shortest to longest (these are approximate counts):
- Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance 07: 40,512
- Hidan no Aria 08: 41,900
- HEAVY OBJECT 05: 52,025
- Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko 02: 70,604
- Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon 4-A: 117,766
Blade Dance and Aria are Action-Harems featuring fast-paced scenes rife with character interaction and snappy dialogue. Both are mostly simple entertainment without too much critical thinking required, so they run on the short side of the word counter.
HEAVY OBJECT is an Action-Adventure with a few geopolitical themes tossed in the mix. It can be deep, but doesn’t make that its focus, so it runs the standard length.
Denpa is a coming-of-age comedy/drama/harem with lots of character introspection. It aims for a slower pace and the longer word count reflects that.
Horizon is a mixed-bag of genres with a million characters, intricate plot, and enormous well-detailed world. It’s comparatively super-long word-count is necessary to pack everything in.
From such examples, we learn than the 50K word count is not necessarily what makes a LN truly ‘light’. A LN’s lightness comes from a variety of factors related to the writing style of LNs. A writing style you can learn to master by checking out this article.
So, if 50K isn’t necessarily the right answer to “how long should my Light Novel be?”, what is?
There are a number of factors that will determine your ideal word count and no two Authors have the same needs.
So, we’ll be covering those factors next to answer that all-important question.
How Long Should Your Light Novel Be Based on Genre?
LNs are unique in that regardless of genre, the vast majority of them fall in the 50K words range. Conversely, the word counts other of forms of fiction vary quite a bit between genres.
Even though it doesn’t matter too much for LNs, it’s useful to determine why there are differences between genres average word counts (AWC), as it reveal what readers expect from different genres.
Let’s take a look at a few:
|Romance||70,000 – 100,000|
|Science Fiction / Fantasy||90,000 – 120,000|
|Thrillers / Horror / Mysteries / Crime||70,000 – 90,000|
|Young Adult||50,000 – 80,000|
This tells us something about each:
- Romance needs extra space to develop character relationships to make the romance seem authentic, but there’s not a lot of worldbuilding needed. So, the AWC falls in the middle.
- Science Fiction and Fantasy both require a ton of worldbuilding on top of their story to make their setting compelling, hence the longest AWC.
- Thrillers / Horror / Mysteries / Crime novels are packed with action and plot twists. Because the genre is focused on story over characters and worldbuilding, they have to get to the point fast lest readers get bored. The shorter AWC reflects that fast pace.
- Young Adult novels’ AWC is much smaller as to cater to their audience. Shorter novels don’t have space for long introspections, over-complicated plots, or taking forever to get to the point. All of which younger readers typically despise, so they’re left out.
Every bit of the above logic also applies to your LN. The key difference is all LNs count as Young Adult fiction. Your target audience is people aged 14-25—young adults.
And because it is a Light Novel—something seen as inferior to ‘real’ fiction—readers don’t expect to find the same ingredients they would find in ‘adult’ novels.
This translates to a general lack of:
- Walls of text without dialogue and deep introspection on abstract concepts.
- Complex plots that might confuse teenagers or outright put them to sleep.
- Too much downtime between ‘action’ scenes.
All that to say: no matter what, you’re writing in the YA genre. But within that ‘audience genre’, your LN has an actual genre like Romance or SF.
So, your word count shouldn’t just be based on the YA genre, but also account for elements of your chosen genre.
Again, as noted earlier, word count doesn’t matter in the slightest. You should have as many words as you need to write your LN, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get any readers.
So, you should keep the AWCs of your chosen genre in mind while writing your LN. So, here’s some examples based on our earlier conclusions using 50K as the LN standard.
- Romance LN: 40,000-70,000, depending on how much space you need to make the romance authentic.
- SF/Fantasy LN: 50,000-80,000, depending on how much space you need for good worldbuilding.
- Thrillers / Horror / Mysteries / Crime: 40,000-60,000, sticking to the average 50K is your best bet here as to not pull too far away from the action.
Yet, I still recommend you aim for 50K words regardless of genre. Both my series fell within this range despite being in the SF/Fantasy category. Here they are:
(SF) Garden of PSI Volume 01 -Hornet’s Nest-: 45,624 Words
(Fantasy) On Creating the Ultimate Weapon Volume 01: 50,511 Words
Both are action-harems like Blade Dance and Aria that I referenced earlier, so I based my word count off series like those two.
However. I still feel comfortable with the amount of worldbuilding and character development I did in both. And why?
Because of the greatest and most important difference between LNs and standard fiction:
Light Novels are almost always a series.
There is no such thing as a word count when the total amount could be 1,000,000 words by the time you pen volume 20.
You should always strive to pack as much brilliant worldbuilding and character development as you can in each LN. But there’s no need to panic if you can’t fit it all in. You can just put in the next volume.
Unlike standard fiction, you have plenty of space. Most novels are like films that have to tell their story in about two hours so the viewers can get on with their lives. And when it’s revealed a story will be continuing in Part 2, most viewers are upset. They expected the story to be done, but the director didn’t deliver.
But with LNs, readers expect a volume 2, 3, and 17. What you can’t fit into one volume, they’ll be happy to read about in the next if you hooked them properly.
So, regardless of you chosen genre, don’t fret over getting the ‘perfect’ word count. Aim for a well-balanced story instead that will make readers come back for the next volume.
Should My Readers Determine the Length of My Light Novel?
We covered this somewhat in the above section, but there are a few more questions to consider in regards to catering to your target audience (TA).
Now, as said, your TA is young adults. But not only are they young adults, they are Otaku. And Otaku have highly specific tastes. Ones that don’t necessarily match up with other YA readers.
So, you must account for an Otaku audience when determining your LN’s word count.
But don’t fret, there’s only a few extra aspects to keep in mind.
1. Otaku are pre-conditioned to want a shorter length.
Because the industry standard is 50K, the great majority of LNs hover around that number.
This leads to Otaku expecting that length. And once someone is used to something, they tend to shy away at the prospect of something new.
You can have any word length you like, but many Otaku won’t even give your LN a chance if they see it’s twice as thick as the one next to it.
Overlong word counts are simply outside the majority of Otakus’ comfort zone.
2. Otaku like to ‘complete’ things.
This is simple human nature, but anyone involved in ‘nerd’ culture seems to suffer from this impulse far worse than others.
When you first get into a hobby, it’s just that—something fun to do on the side. You don’t dedicate more than a few hours a week to it. But if you start getting sucked into it (like many Otaku do with anime or video games), you’ll get obsessed.
And the most common manifestation of this obsession is the desire to ‘complete’ things. Otaku get high off the rush that comes with finishing an anime, getting all the achievements in a video game, collecting every single figurine in existence of their waifu, etc.
And this, of course, extends to reading LNs. Every time an Otaku finishes an LN, they get high. And once they’ve come down, they want another hit.
LNs are perfect for delivering that dopamine because of how short and easy-to-read they are.
So, in writing a LN that exceeds the AWC, many Otaku might avoid it because of how long it takes to get high off of it. Yes, that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.
I myself was once addicted to getting ‘platinum trophies’. For each game, I would check the trophies to see what it would take to get the platinum. And if I saw it would require more time or effort than I was willing to put in, I immediately gave up and moved onto the next game.
This logic is a bit extreme I know, but if you can maximize sales in any way, you should.
3. Otaku are hard pressed for time.
This extends to everyone nowadays, so it’s not just Otaku, but let’s pretend it is for the sake of argument.
Rare is the Otaku who has but one interest. They have:
- Anime to watch
- Video games to play
- Mobile Games to waste gacha money on
- LNs / Manga to read
- Social Media networks to browse for dank memes related to the above
And somewhere in between all that, you’re asking them to read your LN. Do you really think they have time for it? If they do, it better not be more than so many words, because they only have so much time.
The only instance where it would be fine to have a long word count in this scenario is if they already like you. Fans will read every single one of your 8 bajillion words if they decide it’s worthy of their time.
But if no one’s heard of you? Only those rare fans looking for a deep, hyper-immersive experience packed with piles of worldbuilding would be willing to read your 100,000 word debut LN.
So, unless you’re looking to limit your potential audience, keep your word count low.
Should Your Light Novel’s Word Count Reflect Its Contents?
But what about the actual content of your LN? If word count doesn’t matter, then shouldn’t you base it off your LN’s content rather than some abstract average?
If I answer from the heart—yes, your LN should be as long it needs to be to tell the story you want to tell.
If I let my wallet answer—no, your LN should adhere to the industry standard in order to maximize exposure and therefore sales.
But let’s say the answer from my heart is the correct one. If so, then you’ll need to base your LN’s word count off the following three pillars of fiction.
Exploring each will help you understand what your word count should be based on the contents of your LN.
How Long is Your Story?
Or, how many words do you need to tell your LN’s story?
If sticking to a lower word count, then it follows you can only introduce and resolve so many conflicts in one LN.
However, because you’re writing a series, you absolutely have to have only one conflict—the one that is the primary focus of that volume.
For example, in volume 1, you could introduce the following conflicts (the definitions of which you’ll find in this article that will teach you all about crafting engaging conflict in your Light Novel):
- Series Conflict: Saburo wants revenge against the Bloodhounds Yakuza syndicate for the murder of his sister.
- Volume Conflict: Another syndicate loosely connected to the Bloodhounds has critical information that Saburo needs, so he must infiltrate their ranks and rob their safe.
- Character Conflict: Saburo meets a prostitute, Hikari, that begs for his help in escaping. He decides to help her despite the risk.
You can save the first for the end of or a critical turning point in the series. If you resolve it in volume one, you’ll have nothing to write for volume two.
The second must be resolved in this volume. If Saburo is no closer to solving the series conflict at the end of each volume, readers will be annoyed and disappointed at the lack of progress.
The third should probably be resolved in this volume based on the context. But you could always delay until volume two. Saburo could rescue Hikari in volume one, but her captors could come after her in volume two. Character arcs can be dragged out as long as reasonably possible.
So, when trying to determine your total word count, consider every conflict you wish to introduce.
Introducing several may not be an issue if you can convincingly resolve them in later volumes. But introducing several and trying to solve them all in the same volume will severely bloat your word count.
If you feel it’s necessary for your story to resolve so many, go ahead. But I’d advise delaying their resolution and shooting for a more manageable word count.
How Many Characters Do You Have?
Your loveable characters are the stars of your LN. Above any other element, readers tend to remember your characters. So, you have to handle them with care.
And doing that means first asking: how many can you handle?
You can only introduce so many characters in one volume before they start feeling underdeveloped. This article will help you decide how many characters you should have in your LN.
50K words is a lot, but you’ve got to include your story and world alongside those characters.
And the less characters, the easier they are to develop. The more characters, the harder.
It’s certainly possible to develop a pile of characters in that 50K, but you need to ask yourself if you’re skilled enough to do so without harming your story and world in the process.
If not, you could increase your word count, yes, but the drawbacks to that have already been mentioned. Plus, the more characters you have regardless of word count, the less lovable each one risks becoming.
Memorable characters are thoroughly developed ones. So, if you want (and you should as a LN Author) loveable characters, I’d suggest keeping the character count down.
This is of course in reference to major and secondary characters. Please employ as many minor characters as you need to tell your story. It’s good to develop them too, but you don’t have to go as deep.
When determining your word count, take account of how many characters you intend to introduce in that volume. Your characters are the face of your LN, so treat them accordingly.
How Complex Is Your World?
Alongside your story and characters, you’ll need to fit some worldbuilding into your LN.
Or maybe you don’t. The amount of worldbuilding you do will be based entirely on your setting.
SF and Fantasy featuring settings you’ve invented will need lots of worldbuilding to immerse readers.
Slice of Life or Romance typically feature contemporary settings like Tokyo, so there’s little need for extensive worldbuilding. Readers are a Wikipedia search away from knowing everything they might want to know about your setting.
However, though it may seem as such, this is not determined by genre. A SF LN can be set in modern-day Osaka, while a Romance could take place on the planet Xerionu.
All you need to worry about is determining how much worldbuilding you plan on doing in one volume of your LN.
Just like the other categories above, you can save much of it for later volumes, so there’s little benefit to cramming one volume full.
The best course of action is to determine how much worldbuilding you need to properly tell that one volume’s story. Anything else can and should be saved for later lest it distract from the story.
The More You Write, the Less You Have
Ok, now that you have a clear idea of how to decide your LN’s word count, it’s time to start writing. But wait, there’s more!
Before you grab your
pen keyboard, I have one final warning that will sound somewhat contradictory to everything I just said.
When you sit down to write your first draft, you should write as much as you possibly can.
Never forget the word count you’re aiming for, but don’t be afraid to shoot way past it.
Because your first draft is trash. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Unless you’ve been writing for the past century and moonlight as an editor, it’s not going to come out perfectly the first time.
When it comes time for the dreaded editing phase, a whole lot of that first draft will likely be sliced to ribbons. Whole paragraphs will disappear, entire scenes will be rewritten, blocks of dialogue will crumble into shadows of their former selves.
How do I know this?
Because I experienced it myself.
My first LN went from 50K to 46K after I finished editing it. I met my goal in the first draft and then missed it by 4K in the second!
My second went from 55K to 50K. I learned my lesson the first time and purposely shot past my goal of 50K. And lo and behold, I met my desired word count after the great slice and dice.
Set a goal and write as much as you can. You won’t be keeping all of it for long. Throwing your hard work in the garbage is one of the many joys of being an Author…
Your Light Novel Should Be as Long as It Needs to Be
Yes, but that doesn’t mean you should write whatever you want and hope for the best.
Average word counts exist for a reason. That being readers have come to expect certain word counts from certain genres.
Every Otaku’s concept of a LN is different, yes, but the majority tend to fall in the category of reading what’s popular.
And what’s popular is 50K words.
Do you have to write exactly that number to be successful?
Of course not, but if you’re interested in maximizing sales, you should aim for a 40-60K words range.
Your LN should always be as long as it needs to be in order to tell its story. But because each is just one volume in a series, you can perfectly tailor each to any length you like.
If it needs to be 100K words, just divvy up the content into two volumes.
Again, a story told from the heart regardless of word counts will always be better than one tailored to fit some arbitrary standard. But you should first gain enough fans and clout so you can share that heartfelt story.
And the best way to do that is by always asking “how long should my light novel be?”.
A question to which you now know the answer.