See that word? Pretentiousness? Fifteen letters? Really? Where did I get the nerve to use such a, well…pretentious word in my article’s title?
I could’ve been slightly more annoying and used this synonym: ostentatiousness. A whopping sixteen letters. There are a hundred more synonyms, many less obnoxious, but all having roughly the same definition.
However, I don’t think any of them quite capture the essence of pretentiousness as the word ‘pretentious’. The word itself suggests its meaning.
So, what exactly is pretentiousness and what does it have to do with writing Light Novels (LNs)?
Pretentiousness, as I intend to discuss it, is the act of showing off or trying to impress someone despite not actually having anything of value to say or display.
It’s a restaurant full of velvet chairs, sparkling silverware, and eloquent waiters, but only serving expired donuts and hot dogs of dubious origin.
It’s an art gallery with divine wine, delicious hors d’oeuvres, and Beethoven in the background, but showcasing kindergartners’ colorings.
And, worst of all, pretentiousness is a piece of fiction that makes a whole lot of noise, but doesn’t say a thing.
You know the type. A book that engages you from start to finish with a story that doesn’t make much sense, though you imagine it will by the end, but it never does.
It has seemingly deep and profound characters, but they’re really shallow at best. Its language is riddled with big words that were clearly chosen by right-clicking and selecting the word with the most letters from the thesaurus.
They commit many more offensives, but each is the same crime of putting on a show without really having anything of value to say—of being pretentious.
And that is what you should try to avoid when writing your LN. Not only does it harm your writing and reputation as an Author, being pretentious is a direct insult to your readers’ intelligence.
DON’T INSULT YOUR READERS’ INTELLIGENCE.
What? First you tell me not to employ a hard-to-grasp story and big words, but then tell me not to insult my readers’ intelligence? Then how am I supposed to write?!
In exactly the way you would want to read. It’s the Golden Rule of writing. Write for others as you would want them to write for you.
Now, as you’ve probably figured out, that doesn’t really mean anything. You might even accuse me of being pretentious. You could argue that the type of fiction you want to read doesn’t match what others would want to read.
And you’re right. You can’t appeal to everyone and never will. But that doesn’t mean you should just write whatever pretentious nonsense you like and hope the handful of readers who would actually enjoy it come across your LN.
And yes, there is always someone who will enjoy pretentiousness in any form of media. Mostly because they themselves are of the pretentious variety. But do you really want to appeal to this (hopefully) small group of readers?
I don’t. And neither should you. If you want to
make money succeed as an Author, you should try to appeal to more readers, not less.
Sure, but what about mysteries that are supposed to be vague or all those great stories with deep lore that only a thousand YouTube videos could explain?
Does a mystery explain itself by the end? Were you able to enjoy the deceptively deep story on a surface level without having to watch all those videos?
If the answer is ‘yes’, then such pieces of fiction are not pretentious.
Writing a deep story with buckets of meaning laying underneath is perfectly fine and often impressive. But you must make the surface understandable.
If your readers want to go out of their way to extract more from your world, great. If they don’t, you’ll have at least succeeded in entertaining your readers with an understandable story, loveable characters, and a believable world.
Your readers are smart and can tell when an Author is insulting their intelligence.
- Treat them like kindergarteners
- Use 10+ letter words in every sentence
- Never explain what is happening in the story or why characters do what they do
- Fake deepness by using lots of meaningless metaphors
…you will insult your readers’ intelligence. (These are just a few as an exhaustive list would start feeling pretentious after the millionth entry.)
So, you need to be as clear as possible. Don’t make your LN pointlessly easy or hard for readers to understand, but enjoyable. You don’t have to explain every little detail about what your story means, but you should make them realize there’s more to it than just the entertaining surface (if there is).
In the case of a mystery, for example, you should give readers enough hints to guess at the truth without outright telling them. But you must also avoid deceiving them with poorly devised red herrings, having an unexpected plot twist at the very end (deus ex machina), or failing to explain every facet of your mystery by the end of the story.
The same is true for any genre. Any act of pretentiousness will insult a reader’s intelligence and himself by extension. And I shouldn’t have to tell you that insulting your readers will quickly result in your needing to find a new profession or penname.
Ok, I think you’ve explained enough, you pretentious buffoon. Can you just tell me what pretentiousness looks like and how to avoid it?
With pleasure. As I’ve said, there are many ways to be pretentious while writing fiction, but I’ll focus on just three: story, language, and characters.
A Pretentious Story Is Shallow
There are few feelings worse than one of confusion upon finishing a novel. You wonder if you’ve missed something, if some of the book’s pages were stuck together and you missed the all-explaining paragraph, if, perhaps, you’re just an idiot too blind to comprehend the infinite depth of what the Author was trying to say.
Don’t worry, you’re not a moron…probably. In almost all cases, it’s the Author’s fault his readers failed to understand his work.
But how does this happen? Are such novels crafted with an intentional pretentiousness or was it a mere accident?
There’s no way to confirm without asking the Author. However, it’s safe to assume most want their work to be understood by others or else they’d never let it out of their computer.
There are, of course, those who are intentionally pretentious, but even they have an intended audience in mind while writing.
So, how do you avoid writing a nonsense story and being labeled pretentious?
By not trying to make your story appear ‘deep’ or ‘cool’ when it isn’t.
I get it, you want to show off how clever you are. We all do. And you can, but you can also take it too far. If you ever find yourself making any aspect of your LN confusing for the sake of feigning depth, you are neither deep nor cool. You are pretentious.
If your LN truly has depth, it will make itself known on its own. Let your story, characters, and world progress naturally. Should you try forcing depth, the lower the chance it will ever manifest.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say your character, Saori, killed someone by accident in the past before we meet her in your story. You could have her allude to how she ‘has blood on her hands’ or make her ‘break out in a cold sweat’ when she encounters a scenario similar to her accident.
There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s a common, effective method to build tension and mystery around a character. But, again, you can take it too far. If you constantly have Saori say or do things like the above without ever outright telling your readers why, they’re going to be confused and subsequently annoyed.
Once you’ve achieved the upper limit of tension, you should reveal Saori’s true nature. This creates genuine depth by allowing readers to reflect on her past actions and retroactively understand them with their newfound knowledge.
Besides character arcs, the same logic should apply to every other element of your LN. If you use random metaphors or have characters talk around the plot without ever addressing what’s really going on, you will be labeled pretentious.
Instead, be bold, clear, and precise. Don’t tell your readers everything up front or you’ll lose the chance to create tension, but don’t fail to explain once readers are likely tired of you beating around the bush.
The Caveat: In the case of LNs, which are usually a series, you only have to explain what is important to each volume. It’s fine, advisable even, to throw in lines or mysteries that you don’t intend to explain until a later volume. Doing so will make readers curious and more likely to read the next volume.
Prententious Writers Use Galaxy Brain Language
I adore uncommon words. While editing, I love to dig through a thesaurus looking for just the right word to make my sentence perfect.
That’s how every Author will tell you to write. Don’t use weak, but strong words. And what’s stronger than seventeen letters? That’s right, eighteen letters. But I’m afraid this advice is mostly useless without a little elaboration.
Big words are like cayenne pepper. A pinch will add an addictive kick to your dish that will leave you unable to stop eating until it’s gone lest the burning begin. A cupful will render it inedible.
In the same way, every other word in your LN need not be a powerful one. A bodybuilder among a group of regular people catches the eye. A bodybuilder in a room full of them is just another man.
I learned this lesson the agonizing way during peer-review in one of my English literature courses. Whoever happened to be sitting to both my left and right, I had to review their essays and provide constructive criticism.
The first essay I reviewed was riddled with a million and one galaxy brain words, had zero commas, and made absolutely no sense.
However, as the person to whom it belonged was one of the most outspoken people in class and genuinely believed everything he wrote (and said) was worthy of every literature prize known to man, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him how insufferable his essay truly was.
And I’d say I made the correct decision. A man far braver than I, his second reviewer, decided to tell him the truth. The reviewee did not take kindly to this and I found the two still arguing with each other in an empty classroom thirty minutes after the lecture had ended.
It was clear the man had vomited his thoughts all over his word processor of choice and proceeded to right-click-thesaurus (this is a verb) every single word until he thought it looked pretty enough to fool the professor into giving him a SSS ranking.
Don’t do this. Ever. You risk making no sense and encouraging readers to read the instruction manual for a toaster instead of your book.
Instead, choose the right word for the job. A strong verb is always better than a weak one, but sometimes the weak one works just as well.
If your character is a pretentious galaxy brain, then by all means, have her use giant words. Conversely, if he’s an idiot, have him speak like one.
A pinch is all you need.
Pretentious Characters Are Like a Bags Of Chips
Ever open a bag of potato chips and immediately curse the manufacturer? The bag looked so huge and yet 75% of it was just air. The label might claim filling it with air protects the chips inside, but we know the truth!
Year after year they reduce the amount of chips without ever having to decrease the size of the bag! Animals! How dare they play with our fragile salt-craving emotions like that!
Anyway…many Authors do the same with their characters. They seem to have a lot going on, but in truth, they’re just full of air.
Let’s return to Saori, except this time, she didn’t actually murder anyone. However, the Author writes the story as if she did.
She keeps talking about the blood on her hands and experiences random mental breakdowns, but there’s no meaning behind her actions. The Author might’ve thrown in these random character traits in the hopes of making her seem deeper or cooler than she really is.
She’s been pumped full of air to make up for a lack of content.
That example’s kind of out there, but you get the idea. Unless your character has a reason for their actions (a reason you’ll have to explain at some point), they shouldn’t engage in them.
Characters are loveable because they’re believable or relatable on some level. Imagine meeting someone in real life who, for no discernable reason, rambles nonsense at random or writhes in the floor when he sees the color pink. You’d think them insane (or at least a Chuunibyou).
If you were to author such a character, your readers would regard them in the same way. And if they didn’t find them mad, they’d at least be confused and annoyed by their behavior.
A shallow character is fine if they’re supposed to be. We don’t need to know the innkeeper’s entire backstory, but you shouldn’t allude to her troubled past unless it’s A: integral to your story and B: you intend to explain it in full.
If your characters are lacking in content, go back to the drawing board. Don’t pump them full of air in an attempt to deceive your readers. They might still eat your chips, but they won’t forget the pretentious wrong you’ve done them.
Tell Your Light Novel’s Story Like It Is
All that to say: no one likes opening a treasure chest only to find nothing inside. It looks nice and anyone would be excited to unlatch it and be dazzled by the contents. But the level of disappointment upon finding nothing of value is upsetting to say the least.
If your LN is shallow, make it deep. Don’t be pretentious by hiding the fact that it isn’t. Writing a bunch of cool stuff in an attempt to look cool is no different than laughing at your own jokes in an attempt to make others laugh. Nobody likes it.
Be obtuse when you need to build tension and be clear when it comes time to explain.
Finding that balance is key to writing a great LN that will have readers coming back for your next volume.