So, you’re trying to create a unique setting for your Light Novel (LN). Well, what’s stopping you? You can write literally anything. That is the beauty of fiction isn’t it?
You can set it in a 16th century France where they’ve discovered space travel or in an underground colony of half-cockroach people living in the Xenion galaxy.
There’s nothing wrong with either of those. However, I wouldn’t give yourself license to write anything and everything that comes to mind.
But having lots of choices is supposed to be a good thing, right?
Wrong. Cramming a million ‘cool’ concepts into your LN is the same as there being none at all.
The Painful Paradox of Choice
When you walk into the bookstore, do you wander through each aisle and read the back of every book?
No, you beeline straight for a genre that you already know you like. Choice is terrifying. When we’re faced with millions of choices, we freeze and usually don’t end up choosing anything at all.
So, we subconsciously limit our own pool of choices. We choose hobbies and don’t stray from them. We choose a specific major so our selection of jobs is limited. Instead of a thousand acquaintances, we enter deep relationships with people we want to hang out with most. Because anything will do, but having everything is stressful, we limit our choices.
Why don’t writers do the same in fiction?
Often, you’ll find a whole mess of different elements thrown into a novel. Usually, they are there for decoration and chosen simply because the author thought they’d be cool. I mean, he has the ability to put anything in, why wouldn’t he? But this is dangerous.
Why? Because the more you add, the less you have. Your story and setting will look the same as if someone pulled every ingredient out of the fridge and threw them in a blender. It can be interesting, but that won’t make it good. And you certainly aren’t going to want to take a bite, much less finish the meal.
Ok, but how do I avoid this?
By limiting choice. First with yourself, then your setting, and then your characters.
Don’t Let Your Imagination Run Too Wild
You can write anything. Don’t. You are a unique person with unique experiences and circumstances. Life as you’ve experienced it is completely different from anyone else’s. Thus, the knowledge you’ve gained and how you perceive it cannot be replicated. This is your greatest strength.
Readers want to read stories through a unique lens. And because you’re unique, you can deliver that unique perspective. You don’t have to go out of your way to invent insane stories in an attempt to stand out from the rest. Your story is already unique because you’re the one writing it.
When you sit down to write your LN, don’t throw things in for the sake of having them. Dig deep into your brain for something you can make shine.
A plot no one has ever seen with characters that are totally foreign and weird can be good. But more than likely, they won’t be interesting. The same stories have been written a million times, but because they’re delivered from a unique perspective, they remain interesting.
So, limit your choices. When you outline your Light Novel, it’s OK if it sounds similar to others. Your characters can be tropes, the plot can be as extensive as a children’s book, and your setting can be a high school in the Tokyo suburbs.
And none of those will be a detriment. Your job as a writer is to make those things unique and interesting via your unique perspective and writing ability.
Places Limits Your Light Novel’s World
Your LN’s world can contain anything you like and it can, but it should also be full of restrictions. Every time you place a restriction on your world, you gain a chance to create a unique scenario. If your world allows anything, your characters won’t have any problems. Thus, you must limit choices within your world. The easiest way to do this is through laws.
Real life is riddled with restrictions (laws) that limit our choices. For example:
You are hungry, so you need to obtain food. You could take it from someone else, but that’s illegal. So, you need to get money. You try to get a job, but you don’t have any experience. So, you volunteer until you have enough.
There, because of one law restricting theft, you’ve created an entire story linked by believable causes and effects.
The exact same logic can apply to your LN’s world.
Fill your world with ‘laws’ that restrict the characters movements in some way. Your job as a writer is to make your characters suffer and impede them at every path.
For example, outlawing firearms will force your characters to either:
- Fight with other forms of weaponry.
- Smuggle firearms into their city.
- Avoid getting shot by foes who obtained them illegally.
And from either of those paths, numerous complications could arise.
If a character only carries a sword, they could be forced into fighting someone who has a gun. This can be an intense scene where plenty of unique solutions can be written.
Another example. If your characters decide to smuggle firearms, they could be discovered by the police. And from there:
- They could fight off the police and escape.
- If they’re arrested, they could break out of prison.
- They could go to court and have to hire a lawyer.
But actual laws aren’t the only method of limiting your world. The setting itself could be full of restrictions. For example, you could set it on a planet in which air is limited. There, the people would suffer from oxygen deprivation and must fight for/steal air resources to survive.
You never want everything to work out for your characters (until the end). The setting should be full of restrictions and dangers that limit their ability to progress toward achieving their goals.
Places Limits on Your Light Novel Characters
You’ve probably been told you should avoid writing characters that are overpowered and have no flaws. Whoever told you that couldn’t be more right.
While many have tried to make such characters work (and some have succeeded), a flawed character will always be more interesting than a perfect one.
And what is a flawed character? A character without a lot of choices.
At no point should your character have everything going for him unless he’s about to lose it all. Your character should have options, but never enough to be comfortable.
Rather, you should make it seem as if they have no choice at all for the maximum amount of tension. The trope ‘kill or be killed’ is popular for a reason. It provides a seemingly hopeless scenario, but also provides a chance for unique solutions.
You can limit a character’s choices through a variety of methods, but I’ll focus only on two, flaws and power restrictions.
A character can have any number of flaws, but only to point of believability. If you give them too few, you run the risk of deflating tension. Too many and them achieving their goals will seem a little ridiculous.
For example, if they’re in a wheelchair, it will require a lot of extra writing to have them win a physical battle. And even if you somehow manage to explain it, many readers will likely be left wondering why you put them in one at all.
If all a flaw adds to your story is cheap tension—take it out.
Balance is key. For every positive, provide an opposite negative.
- If they’re intelligent, make them physically inferior.
- If they’re good looking, give them a rotten personality.
- If they’re rich, make them discontent.
And with every flaw, you give yourself a unique scenario. As you must give your characters problems to overcome, you should tailor these problems to the character’s flaws.
Thus, when faced with said problems, they will have a hard time tackling them. If a problem isn’t a threat to a character’s unique weaknesses, there won’t be any tension.
LNs being LNs, most will contain characters who possess special powers. Whether they shoot fire out of their hands or can fly, you should never make it easy for them to utilize their powers.
If you allowed them to use their powers at maximum capacity from the get-go, they likely wouldn’t encounter any significant issues. You could introduce an element that deactivates or restricts their ridiculous power, but using it over and over can get boring fast.
So, just limit them from the beginning. Readers love progress and seeing the character’s go from level 1 to 100 over the course of the story is always satisfying.
How to do this? Limit choice.
If you write a magic-based world with wizards, make it so the character can choose only one branch of magic. If they encounter someone with another branch that is inherently stronger (Fire Magic < Water Magic), you have instant tension.
And whatever power they have, limit their ability to use it to its full potential. You can make them a complete beginner in a specific sword-style. Or, if they have a super powerful ability, make it so they can only use it every once in a while.
Never allow them to just use it whenever and wherever. Doing so devalues the power as a whole. The more you see something awesome, the less awesome it becomes due to familiarity.
This is why magical girl Anime always save the transformation sequence for the very last second when everything seems hopeless. It may be cliché, but it works. If they transformed three times an episode, it would make their power appear cheap and ordinary: the opposite of magical.
The Less Choices, the More Interesting
By its very nature, limiting your choices will allow you to write a unique LN.
It is tempting to include everything you find interesting, I know. But don’t fall for that trap. It might work in the first few volumes, but you’ll run out scenarios to write sooner rather than later.
Your characters can save the world in volume two, but what are they supposed to do after that? There’s nowhere to go from there besides saving the universe. Your readers already know your characters won’t have much trouble is they saved the world already.
And I’m sorry to say: No tension = boring LN.
So, limit choice. Limit your story, characts, and world as much as you like. Doing so will only make your LN better.