At first blush, Light Novels (LN) aren’t much different from standard novels. The only difference is the word ‘light’ slapped on the front.
Both have words, scenes, chapters, prose, dialogue, and so on. But upon closer inspection, you’ll find they are worlds apart.
Anyone comparing the two will immediately be able to spot the differences in presentation—the style of writing.
How LNs came to possess such a unique writing style is another article, but in short: LNs were originally intended to mimic Visual Novels (VNs). Just stripping away 99% of the visual aspect (LNs still rely on illustrations).
And because VNs are a primarily visual experience, their writing style reflects that. When you already have character sprites and background illustrations, there’s no need to describe them in the text.
It would be redundant and kill a reader’s immersion. Why do I need to be told this character has blue hair? She’s standing right in front of me.
This leaves only prose describing events (not locations) and dialogue. Both of which become the bulk of a VNs script.
LNs don’t completely mimic this writing style, but their inspiration is obvious.
So, what does it look like? How do you write in the Light Novel style?
The light novel writing style is comprised of three key elements that set it apart from other fiction. Limited prose and descriptions, a heavy focus on dialogue, and a reliance on illustrations. Each are instrumental in making your light novel feel truly ‘light’.
But what do each of those elements look like? Can I not just write a standard novel and then edit it into a LN?
You can, but you shouldn’t. You’ll have done twice the writing you needed to do.
A light novel is just that—light. Keeping that aspect in mind from page one is key to mastering the LN writing style.
And I’ll show you how to do just that by covering each of those three elements in depth.
Light Novels Don’t Rely on Description
When it comes to LNs, the less words you spend on details, the better.
A standard novel is expected to contain lengthy descriptions of each character, location, thought process, and so on.
This is referred to as the prose. It’s necessary to set each scene, create a strong image of what’s happening in a reader’s imagination, build atmosphere, and a whole bunch of other things necessary to craft a great story.
On the opposite end, dialogue is used to progress the story or reveal aspects of each character. However, it cannot tell the reader what they need to know in order to understand why there is any dialogue at all. A novel without prose is a play.
So, you definitely need prose in your LN, but not a lot of it.
The following are approximations, but a standard literary novel contains about 70% prose (P) and 30% dialogue (D). Genre fiction contains around 60% P and 40% D.
It varies, but in most fiction, the focus will be on an introspection of the story rather than a discussion of it between characters.
LNs, however, are and should be 50% prose and 50% dialogue.
The hallmark of LNs are their loveable, colorful characters. The focus should be on them. And the best way to make them shine is through dialogue, not prose.
The prose can make them shine, but heavy dialogue is expected from the LN writing style—just stick with it.
Prose is necessary in order for readers to understand the where, what, and why of your story, but that’s about all it should do in an LN.
To put it bluntly: nobody cares about your extensive description of a snowy mountain or wants to read 20 pages detailing what your protagonist had for breakfast.
The key to keeping an LN ‘light’ is by limiting the amount of description you include in your LN. You should always describe each aspect of your story, characters, and world as vividly as possible. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend several pages doing so.
Standard novels go for several pages without a single line of dialogue. That should rarely happen in an LN.
For every line of description, you should have a line of dialogue, 50/50. Not back and forth obviously, but that would be better than five pages of prose followed by five pages of dialogue.
Too much of one or the other will only bore readers in the first case and confuse them in the second.
So, write like you normally would, but be prepared to hack any long descriptions into much leaner forms.
One might argue doing so will hurt the story and that LNs are often regarded as ‘inferior’ fiction because of their lack of prose.
But I posit the opposite. A long description refined several times over to be strong, clear, and concise will always be better than ten pages of a snowy mountain.
Hence why short stories are often lauded as great pieces of literature.
Brevity does not make a piece of fiction bad, nor does long-windedness make it good. Quality depends on how hard you’re willing to work to improve your skill as an Author.
Maintaining equal amounts of prose and dialogue will have you edging ever closer to mastering the LN writing style.
But that’s not all you need to watch out for when it comes to your LN’s prose.
A Light Novel’s Prose Should Reflect It’s Target Audience
A key ingredient in keeping your LN ‘light’ is making sure your prose isn’t ‘heavy’.
And what does ‘heavy’ prose look like?
- College-level vocabulary
- Descriptions focused on ‘boring’ topics
- Purple Prose: prose littered with heavy vocabulary, metaphors, and other pretentious sounding things
You know ‘literary fiction’ when you see it. It’s full of words you have to look up in the dictionary every five seconds, the narrator describes a puddle and how it reminds him of his life, there’s an overcomplicated description of a curtain that is near-indecipherable, and so on.
To the great majority of readers, such literature is unpleasant. Call me dumb, but I’ll pick a trashy Harem LN over a stuck-up novel such as I’ve described every time (though I have read quite a few, they win awards for a reason…still snobby though).
And if you wish to master the LN writing style, you must adhere to my desires. LNs are targeted toward LN readers. And LN readers expect a very specific style of prose.
So, let’s walk through the above three topics to determine what your LN’s prose should look like.
Did you notice that word I used? Indecipherable. Yea, don’t use that word in your LN.
It’s impossible to know the education level of every single one of your readers, but we can make an educated guess.
The average age of LN readers is 14-25, give or take. Personally, I started reading around 15 and stopped reading them by the boatload around 21.
Because your word choice should reflect your target audience’s vocabulary level, it should be ‘above-average’.
This means any middle or high school vocabulary with a few college words thrown in for flavor. LN readers (many being Chuunibyous (like me)) adore big words to make them feel smart, so sprinkling a few wouldn’t cause much damage.
However, dumping a pile of ‘hard’ words into your LN will make readers feel dumb and they will never touch your series again.
It’s difficult to say exactly what above-average vocabulary is, but this article is a good example. The majority could be understood by any middle schooler, but there are a few college words sprinkled throughout.
In any case, if you have to look the word’s definition up before using it in your LN, DON’T USE IT.
A Focus on Characters and Events
“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”Eleanor Roosevelt
The above quote is as brutal as it is true.
A puddle as a metaphor for the narrator’s life is an idea. Only ‘great’ minds can understand the complexities of such a description.
Good for them, wisdom is a blessing. But it doesn’t necessarily increase one’s bank account. And the best way to do that is by appealing to the masses who primarily have ‘average’ or ‘small’ minds.
Most of your LN’s descriptions should be focused not on abstract ideas, but your characters (people) and the events in which they are involved.
Readers don’t want you to describe why the fight is happening, but the fight itself. They don’t want to know why your protagonist gets excited by a girl in her school swimsuit. They just want you to describe her wearing the swimsuit.
Some exploration of ideas can be nice for variety, but the vast majority of your LN should be focused on ‘the action’. Pull your readers into your story by placing them where the excitement is.
This is why battle-focused LNs are so popular. Readers want the adrenaline rush that comes from an intense description of a fight, not the thoughtful description of a puddle.
Your prose should not be ‘purple’, but functional, as in: it serves an obvious purpose, that being to move the story forward or explain what’s happening to your readers.
But what is ‘purple’ prose? Well, a description would be lacking, so here’s an example:
He descended into my life as a messenger from on high—a luminescent blaze illuminating the confines of my ruptured heart. What magnificence did he possess. Kaleidoscopic eyes, windows to his magnanimous soul. A countenance chiseled from the most pulchritudinous of marble.
I could go on, but I’m tired of digging through the thesaurus.
As you can see, purple prose is needlessly wordy and a pain to read.
Don’t include such prose in your LN. Many would argue it has no place in any form of literature, but I don’t completely hate it and wouldn’t mind coming across it in small doses…
But such fancy prose does not jive with your target audience. All it would do is annoy them. And their skipping over it is the least of your worries. Too much ‘obnoxious’ prose and they’re liable to never touch your LN again.
Your prose exists answer every 5-year-old’s favorite questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how.
Purple prose can answer those questions, but it doesn’t do so in a hurry. You’re in a hurry. If half your LN is dialogue, you only have so much room for prose. So, you’ve got to make that prose count.
Don’t skimp on evocative, meaningful descriptions, but answer those six key questions first.
Making your prose functional is ultimately more important when mastering the LN writing style.
How to Write Dialogue for Your Light Novel
Ok, moving right along, let’s learn how to master the Light Novel style of dialogue.
It’s going to take up 50% of your LN, so you’d better know what you’re doing. However, most Authors will tell you writing dialogue is difficult and making it sound realistic even more so.
I won’t teach you how to write ‘good’ dialogue in this article, but will instead cover what it should look like to be considered ‘good’ within the context of LNs.
Making your LN ‘light’ extends not only to your prose, but also your dialogue. And if you’ve ever had a one-way conversation with someone who knows everything and wants to tell you—you know that dialogue can get ‘heavy’.
Here’s how to keep your dialogue entertaining and engaging so you can deliver on readers’ expectations and not bore them to tears.
Your Characters Should Play Ping-Pong
LNs are known for their characters. You should give them a lot of ‘screen-time’ and in equal amounts.
If you have more than one character talking in a scene, have each speak in short intervals, as if they’re playing ping-pong with words.
This can be done with as many characters as you like, but I wouldn’t go over 4 or 5 lest you confuse your readers.
The best way to achieve a ping-pong effect is to have each character’s personality clash. This way, each can present different opinions on whatever the topic or situation is.
A says one thing, while B disagrees, and C tries to present a middle ground. Have the proverbial ball passing back and forth as much as possible.
- A: “We’ll have a better chance if we sneak in from the roof.” Marika points to the top of the fortress.
- B: Keisuke scoffs. “And how are we supposed to climb up there?” He shakes his head, hands raised. “Forget it. Let’s just bust down the front gate.”
- A: “You go right ahead and get yourself killed.” She rolls her eyes. “We’d be lucky to last five minutes against those maniacs. There are thousands of them.”
- B: “Speak for yourself.” He draws his massive, steel blade and stabs it into the hard earth. “No one can stop me.”
- C: Norio steps between the two glowering at each other. “You both make…fine points, but look at this.” She unfolds a map of the fortress grounds. “There’s a back entrance leading inside from the moat.”
And so on and so forth. Marika prefers a covert approach, Keisuke a frontal, and Norio an intellectual. Even in a short interchange like this, the reader learns about each character’s personality and receives an equal dose of dialogue and prose.
Furthermore, rarely should one of your character’s ever drone on about whatever for several sentences.
In order to give equal amounts of ‘screen-time’ to each character, you can’t have one be prone to long speeches.
Having one character drone on and on can be interesting, but not so much in LNs. Readers expect the back-and-forth dialogue you’d find in sitcoms or action movies. The longer a character talks, the faster your readers will want to find something else to do.
Info-dumps may be useful, but are often boring and can feel ‘heavy’. Something you want to avoid in your ‘light’ novel.
Sometimes it really is important to your story for a character to speak for a long time. That’s fine, but try to break it up by having another character chime in or spread the information out over several scenes.
There’s no benefit to having them dump all the important information in one scene. Besides, most readers won’t remember half of it if they make it through the info-dump at all.
Play ping-pong with your dialogue and you’ll find your LN to be so much lighter.
You Need as Much Dialogue as You Do Prose
To attain that 50/50 split, you need a line of dialogue for every line of prose. Having small blocks of each is better than huge ones.
Thus, you should have your characters engaging in dialogue frequently.
If they enter a new location, describe it and then have the characters comment on it or start discussing what needs to done there.
You don’t need one for every single event, but you should try to break up long sections of prose with dialogue as much as you can.
Here’s an example:
- Prose: As the party finally reaches the fortress’ interior, an unfamiliar, rotten stink assaults their noses. Fearing a torch will give them away, they pass through long hallways submerged in total darkness, footsteps echoing. An eternity later, a dim yellow glow manifests in a room to their left. The stench is strongest here, but they prefer it to the dark.
- A: “Where are we?” Marika tiptoes forward to a wide table in the center of the room. “The kitchen?” Grabbing a ladle, she scoops imaginary soup.
- B: “Perfect. I could use a snack.” Keisuke grabs two apples from a pile of many.
- C: Norio swats both out of his hands. “Don’t you know better than to eat food you found on the ground?”
You could continue this scene with another few sentences of prose or simply continue the ping-pong dialogue.
Don’t feel like you have to have ‘prose, dialogue, prose, dialogue’ through your whole LN. It won’t necessarily hurt, but some readers might notice your formula and suffer some loss of immersion—but most won’t.
You should always aim for equal amounts of prose and dialogue, but it’s more interesting to have variety over formula in your writing.
Keep Your Dialogue Nice and Fluffy
LNs being what they are rarely deal with dark topics. They can and do, but most follow a group of high-schoolers whose biggest problem is whether or not they can get their maid-café ready for the school festival in time.
This extends to the dialogue. Most of it is—
Fluffy: friendly, avoids morbid topics, and contains simple vocabulary.
Rarely will you find a pair of college professors engaged in a heated debate about the criminal justice system in an LN. And if such a topic needs to come up in your LN, they shouldn’t be using galaxy-brain vocabulary to discuss it.
And even if your LN’s subject matter is dark, you should still keep the majority of your dialogue fluffy.
Your characters may be in the middle of a war or trapped in a murder house, but that’s no reason they can’t laugh about it. You should take your subject matter seriously, but there’s no benefit to having every single character lamenting and vocalizing their despair.
Being dark occasionally is interesting, being dark all the time is depressing and usually ends up devaluing your subject matter because of the frequency effect. One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.
You don’t have to follow the above three methods to the letter, but keeping them in mind is sure to make your dialogue tight, engaging, and most importantly—light.
Eye-Catching Design: They Only Read Them for the Illustrations
There’s a meme that LN fans decide to read a series or not based only on its illustrations.
Unfortunately, this is true on some level.
In his book, Thoughts on Art and Life, Leonardo da Vinci claimed literature could never measure up to paintings or illustrations.
I’m paraphrasing, but his logic was that because paintings can be understood by anyone, as they are an entirely visual experience, they are worthy of being called art.
Literature, however, isn’t worth anything because it cannot be understood by everyone. It requires both basic literacy and years of studying to be able to extract meaning from it.
A person can observe a piece of art and it will immediately make them experience some emotion or another. They don’t have to understand how it was made or extract meaning from it beyond their initial reaction to enjoy it.
An Author asks the reader to not only have the ability to read his words, but also understand them beyond the raw definition of each word in order to enjoy it.
Broken down and twisted into an idiom, that logic becomes: a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s more complicated than that, but you get the idea.
I hate to admit it, but your LN’s illustrations are going to move more copies than the blurb on the back ever will.
So, let them do a good portion of your work for you. And in doing so, you’ll be adhering to the LN writing style.
You can eliminate overlong character descriptions by including an illustration of that character. There’s no need to describe every detail of their face when the reader can just flip back a few pages to see what they look like.
You should do your best to describe them in an interesting way, but don’t have to go the same lengths as a standard novel without illustrations.
Unless a certain important character doesn’t receive an illustration, that is. You only have so many after all.
In such cases, do your best to provide readers with a memorable description of that character, but don’t go too far lest your text start to feel ‘heavy’.
Furthermore, the majority of LNs only feature illustrations of its characters, but many also feature key scenes, weapon designs, or maps.
Don’t go so far as to commission the equivalent of an entire manga, but don’t be afraid to include illustrations you think will enhance your readers’ overall experience.
Also, putting a little extra work into the design (chapter headings, scene breaks, typesetting, etc.) will go a long way in capturing the eyes of potential readers.
In short, spare yourself the agony of a thousand more words and use an illustration instead. The key to writing in the LN style is knowing when to not write anything at all. If you can use an illustration to better illustrate your story, then do so.
You’ve Cracked the Code, So Get Cracking on Your Light Novel
The key to mastering the light novel writing style is in the name—light.
That’s the primary idea you need to have in mind while writing your LN.
If you’re able to keep each element ‘light’ in feeling, you’re sure to gain and maintain plenty of readers. If you deviate too much from what your target Audience expects, you’ll be catering to a different audience. One that doesn’t buy LNs.
So, keep the above tips in mind and read plenty of LNs to get a feel for what Otaku expect to find in your LN.
Your writing style may not appeal to every reader ever, but you can tailor it in a way that makes those numbers in your bank account go up instead of down for once…
You’ve got what you need, get cracking on your light novel!