Outline Your Light Novel Quick by Writing from a Template


Wouldn’t it be great if someone handed you a half-written Light Novel (LN) and you just filled in the blanks with your story, characters, and world?

Why bother coming up with all those pesky details on your own when you can just follow a template?

What? That sounds like cheating? You’d rather struggle with building your LN from scratch? Well, go on then, I won’t stop you. Your fight is an admirable one. But it is neither true nor worth fighting.

If you break down a story into its raw ingredients, you’ll find simple plots, overused tropes, and generic settings. There are no new ideas, only the same old ones given a bath and doused with a different brand of perfume.

I’m sorry to tell you this, but nothing you ever write will be truly, genuinely, one-hundred-percent original. And that’s OK. You can find out why your Light Novel doesn’t have to be unique by checking out this article.

It’s not the raw ingredients that make a dish delicious, but the way the chef prepares, arranges, and combines them.

The same goes for your LN. Using the same elements as everyone else is not only perfectly fine, but expected and beneficial to all parties involved.

That said, you must be prepared to work hard in order to shape those elements into something truly interesting.

Anyway, writing from a template is one of the best ways to get started writing your LN.

Certain types of stories and genres follow a specific outline or are expected to contain particular elements by its readers. These outlines and elements can be arranged into a sort-of fill-in-the-blank template in which all the Author really has to invent is the setting and characters.

The best example of which may not be what you’re expecting…

A Story Template You’ve Seen a Thousand Times

The best example of template-stories are Hallmark movies.

Each are seemingly different from each other, but are in fact just rearranged versions of the same ten or so stories. Here, I’ll give you something resembling one of their templates and fill in the blanks:

A pushing 30 young woman moves to _ and decides she wants to _, but runs into some trouble and doesn’t know what to do until a wealthy, attractive _ helps her out. They decide to work together and fall in love during the process. However, he cannot commit to her because _. Despite that, they’re able to overcome their problems together, get married, and everyone involved lives happily ever after.

  • Example 1: New York / save a small bakery from going out of business / day trader / his wife left him years ago without ever signing the divorce papers
  • Example 2: Texas / help young girls learn how to ride horses / rancher / doesn’t share her dream of moving to the big city upon getting married

Sound familiar? I hope not. No one should have to suffer the agony of a thousand Hallmark movies at their parents’ house like I have…and, yes, I did make that up on the spot…please send help.

Anyway, it’s simple to understand when laid out like this. Each story is composed of the same core ingredients.

  • A woman moves to / finds herself in new surroundings.
  • The woman wants to do something with her life / make a difference in her community.
  • An attractive man who happens to be wealthy (not always) helps her without stealing the show from her.
  • The two fall in love during the process.
  • The man’s/woman’s dark past comes back to haunt him/her.
  • They overcome both problems, have great success with the woman’s original goal, get married, and live happily ever after.

So long as the Author follows one of the pre-ordained plot outlines and includes the necessary elements, they can guarantee an excellent Hallmark movie.

Is it objectively good? Maybe not, but it does what it set out to do. And those who enjoy such movies are no doubt going to enjoy it. If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be as many as there are.

In fact, the publisher of Harlequin Romance novels sends out a list of required story elements to potential Authors. If you fail to include certain story beats, character tropes, and settings, they probably won’t publish your novel. Yes, believe it or not, they would much prefer a book written from a template.

Why? Because there’s no risk involved. They know what their readers want and don’t dare betray their expectations. No one wants to see a Hallmark movie without a happy ending; that’s not what they came for. They may have seen the same story a thousand times, but they find comfort in that.

You’ve probably been drinking the same brand of soda for years, but keep going back for more. You know exactly what you’re getting when you open the bottle and that’s the best part.

Writing from a template works. It may not be as flashy as coming up with everything on your own, but it can help to get you started in the right direction.

However, Hallmark movies may not be the best example for LN Authors, so let’s get back to our safety blanket of Otaku Media.

Here’s one franchise I’d like to discuss in reference to its worth as a template and how it will help you with writing your LN.

Fate as a Playground

Fate/stay Night (FSN), or the ‘Fate’ series as it’s commonly referred to now, is worthy of a thousand articles in its own right, but let’s just focus on its worth as a template. After all, the original Author, Kinoko Nasu, inspired this article in the first place.

In the afterword to the first Fate/Zero (FZ) LN, he refers to Fate as a sort-of playground for ideas. I’m paraphrasing, but he posits that because the core rules (elements) of Fate are simple, the story that results from using them is entirely dependent on the Author’s imagination and ability.

This makes more sense knowing that FZ was not written by Nasu but Urobuchi Gen. Despite playing by the rules of Fate, Urobuchi wrote a totally different story from the original FSN.

The ingredients might’ve been the same, but the way each was used resulted in different dishes.

For the sake of comparison, let’s look at the rules of Fate and then a couple ways how Urobuchi used them in his rendition.

FSN (These are straight from the afterword)

  1. A battle royal between seven mages (Masters) and their Servants, who act as familiars.
  2. Servants materialize in Heroic Spirit form with an appearance “befitting the era.”
  3. The Master has three absolute commands (Command Seals) over the Servant.
  4. The final survivor wins the right to possess the Holy Grail.

FZ

  • Rule 1: Rather than a battle between each, Urobuchi has one of the Masters join the battle for the sole purpose of helping someone else win.
  • Rule 2: Because it’s set contemporary times, the Lancelot character (who would normally use a sword) operates a fighter plane.

There are many more examples, but you get the idea. As the saying goes: rules are meant to be broken.

And if you’re writing from a template, you need not follow it to the letter. It only exists for you to use as a foundation for your LN.

Once you’ve filled in enough blanks with your own story, character, and world, you might even be able to abandon the template altogether.

Now, as for how Fate can help your writing, let’s focus on its idea of rules. They are simple, to the point, and can be interpreted in infinite ways. But they also serve as boundary lines. Lines that provide a frame for you to tell your story.

The Rules Are There to Help You

Note: I’ll be using the terms ‘rules’ and ‘elements’ interchangeably for the rest of the article. By both, I mean: some aspect of your world that influences your story and characters.

Fate established its set of rules to give the story a frame, but it also had an unintended effect of making readers keep a close eye on how those rules affected the story.

Through the Holy Grail War, readers are concerned with:

  • How many Masters and Servants are left? A Master-less Servant can be taken in by another Master and a Servant-less Master can steal another Master’s servant. So, readers go out of their way to keep tabs on who is ‘still in the game’ despite being seemingly defeated.
  • What is this Servant’s True Name? Each Servant is based off a person from real life/legend (King Arthur, Alexander the Great). Readers will constantly be trying to determine who a Servant truly is based on their appearance, weapons, abilities, and things they say. That simple rule adds extra layers of mystery in addition to the main story’s mystery.
  • How many Command Seals does each Master have left? Servants can be forced to perform actions against their will (kill an innocent, commit suicide) via a Command Seal. They can also be used to give a Servant a massive surge of power or teleport them from anywhere to their Master’s side. Because they’re so powerful, readers feel a sense of dread knowing the protagonist only has one left or that an enemy might use one to turn the tables.
  • Who will claim the Holy Grail? The Grail can grant any wish. Thus, readers are constantly tense over who will win the war. They want the protagonist to win even more because they fear that wish falling into the hands of an evil Master.

Each of Fate’s rules is beneficial to the Author from a writing standpoint (he has a frame so that his story has focus) and for readers in terms of entertainment.

In the same way, any set of ‘rules’ you develop for your story can do the same.

If you’re having trouble giving your LN’s story focus, give yourself a few rules. Each rule you create will develop a frame that will prevent you from straying too far in one direction or another.

You might think it’s better to have no limits while writing, but unlimited choice is the same as none at all. In fact, I wrote a whole article on how limiting choice can make your setting much more interesting.

If you don’t establish some rules, your LN will lack focus and likely be hard for your readers to understand.

If your characters can do anything without consequence, it wouldn’t make sense for them to have any problems in the first place. And without a problem to solve, you can’t resolve it, which means there’s no progress and thus no story.

Let’s use a survival story as an example:

  • Your characters are trapped on a tropical island. This rule provides:
    • A setting
    • Potential story beats of securing food/water/shelter
    • Tension over what creatures may be stalking them in the jungle
    • Readers pondering how they might be rescued/escape
  • They are humans without the ability to use magic and have no knowledge of survival skills. This rule tells readers what the characters are and are not capable of. It also provides a variety of scenes such as:
    • Characters panicking over their impending doom
    • Learning to survive through trial and error
    • Weaker characters stealing/fighting over supplies
  • There is a strange virus causing violent hallucinations. This rule results in:
    • Tension as to if/when one character or another will be infected
    • Readers wondering where the virus came from, if there is a cure, what other negative effects it will have on the characters
    • A potential story development in which the characters find a research facility hidden on the island.

These rules can be reduced to:

  • The characters are trapped in/on a _.
  • They can/cannot _ to help them in their situation.
  • There is a strange virus that _.

You can then repurpose them to fit another setting and story. Each rule in itself is not unique, but can be made interesting by introducing your own ideas into the blanks.

Rules provide frame and thus focus to your LN. A story without either will often be accused of having no personality (read: boring).

Labels Are Your Friend

In the same vain as rules, you can use your chosen genre as a template.

We can call a piece of fiction Science Fiction or Fantasy because it follows a specific set of rules. Every genre typically follows its own unique template and has a variety of elements that readers expect to discover while reading.

Following the rules of your chosen genre will result in your not having to do a ton of unnecessary work. Let’s look at a few typical rules of Fantasy:

  • Set in a medieval-style time period.
  • In addition to humans, there are elves, dwarfs, orcs, etc.
  • Mages/Wizards exist and cast magic spells.
  • The story focuses on a hero going on a lengthy, epic quest to save his town/lover/country.

By adhering to such rules, you already have a base for your setting, a variety of characters to choose from, the protagonist and his goal, and how long your story might be (epic quests being rather long).

But writing such a LN would be generic, you protest.

Perhaps, so it’s your job to turn the above rules on their heads and make them interesting. For example:

  • The time period isn’t actually in medieval times, but an alternate history in which the industrial revolution never occurred.
  • You can invent your own races or feature half-elves who are treated poorly by both humans and elves.
  • Your ‘wizard’ could be someone who discovered the power of electricity and tricks others into thinking she can use ‘magic’.
  • Your protagonist could be an anti-hero bent on hunting down and killing his ex-lover instead of trying to save her.

The rules of your chosen genre must be followed if you want to write in that genre, but as you can see, you don’t have to perfectly adhere to them. And if you blend genres, you have even more templates to play with.

Genres are just labels that make it easy for readers to choose a book to read based on their preferences. You don’t have to follow every rule, but writing your LN based on its genre’s template can make your life much easier.

The Light Novel Itself as a Template

LNs are in the same vein. If you remove the 50K word count, dialogue-heavy writing style, loveable characters, illustrations, and so on, it wouldn’t be a LN anymore.

LNs as a medium (as opposed to novels/manga) have a rulebook that you should follow if you wish to make money succeed.

But that should not be seen as a drawback. Just like using your genre’s template, you can use the LN template to make writing one simple. Let’s look at a few core elements to see how:

Word Count

On average, a LN has 50K words. Making up that are (typically) a prologue, 5 chapters comprised of 3-5 scenes, and an epilogue. To learn why 50K is the average and why you should adhere to it, check out this article on Light Novel word counts.

With that in mind, you already have the structure of your LN determined for you. Readers expect this structure and won’t think you’re unoriginal for having followed it. Rather, they want you to follow it.

Why? Because that structure also provides a frame for your story.

Any Author will tell you that a good story is one that follows a certain format. That being the story pyramid you’re likely familiar with. Introduction, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Conclusion.

That’s the standard, but I prefer the Jo-Ha-Kyuu format and will be referencing it henceforth. You can learn about how it can make your light novel so much better in this article.

Both formats have 5 ‘chapters’. And would you look at that? Most LNs do too.

  • Prologue + Ch. 01: Introduction
  • Ch. 02: Rising Action
  • Ch. 03: Climax
  • Ch. 04: Michiyuki
  • Ch. 05 + Epilogue: Second Climax and Conclusion

No more will you worry about which chapter to place each portion of your story; the LN template already has a spot for each.

Writing Style

LNs are known for being, well, ‘light’. And this lightness is achieved through lots of dialogue/character interaction and a general lack of heavy description/prose.

There is still description, but it should never be hard to read. That means avoiding ‘purple prose’, 15-letter words, and 40-word sentences.

And thus, you have your writing style picked out for you as well. One you can learn more about by checking out this article on how to master the light novel writing style. But in brief, it features:

  • Amount of Dialogue vs. Prose: 50/50~ split.
  • Vocabulary Level: Highschool with some college words.
  • Sentence Structure: Mix of short and medium with some long.
  • Paragraph Length: Not overly long, typically 3-5 sentences.
  • Dialogue Style: Back and forth, few if any long speeches.

Following this aspect of the LN template is beneficial for two reasons.

One, you won’t have to worry about consistency in your writing style. Keeping the above ‘rules’ in mind will streamline the writing process as you won’t be asking yourself if you should include a page-long paragraph, long speech, or whatever. You already know the answer is ‘no’ because you’re writing a LN.

As for two, your LN will be recognized as such. If readers pick up your LN and find a writing style they didn’t expect, it’s unlikely they’ll keep reading no matter how good it is.

They ordered a hamburger and you brought them a steak. Is the steak better? Perhaps, but it’s not what they ordered.

And no matter how much you try to convince them the steak is better, they’ll already be primed to disregard everything you say because you lied to them upfront.

If you don’t like the above writing style, that’s fine, write whatever you want. But don’t be surprised when no one but you refers to it as an LN.

Illustrations

(99.9% of) LNs have illustrations. And those illustrations can make your writing process easy in a number of ways. The most common way may sound lame, however.

In a standard novel (if the Author is any good), you will find character descriptions that may last for several paragraphs. Every aspect of their face, hair, countenance, clothing, and anything else that will paint a distinct picture of that character in the reader’s mind will be detailed in full.

But wouldn’t it be so much easier to skip all that hard-to-write description and show the reader a picture of the character instead?

Yes, you can use Illustrations to ‘skip out’ on descriptions of characters, locations, objects, and whatever else in your story.

You shouldn’t, but you can. Readers will always appreciate your describing something well, but if that’s not your forte or if you think an illustration would be better, then use one.

I much prefer an illustration to a description simply because when I see a character’s name, I find easier to pull up a picture in my mind rather than build my own based off a description.

LNs demand illustrations, so you might as well use them to your advantage.

Let the Template Do All the Work

Writing doesn’t have to be hard. You could just buy a bunch of ingredients, throw them into a blender, and hope for the best, but don’t be offended when no one wants to take a sip.

Instead, use a recipe, a template that has been tested plenty of times and proven to work.

Regardless of what you’re creating, consider your genre and medium. Learn what’s expected from both and create a template to follow for your own creation.

To make life even easier, give yourself some rules to follow. Each rule will provide a frame that will give your work extra focus and consistency that readers crave.

Don’t waste your time reinventing the wheel, just write from a template, both you and your readers will appreciate it.

Additional Template Examples

The article is over, but before you go, I want to provide some additional examples of templates that I think have a lot to offer in terms of learning material. Each have had a slew of new Authors try to copy them after they realized how successful such templates were.

Danganronpa

  • 16 Highschool students who each have an ‘Ultimate’ talent (Detective, Painter, Photographer)
  • Trapped in/on an X (High School, Tropical Island).
  • Forced to play a ‘mutual killing game’.
  • Only way to escape is by one character killing another and getting away with it after being tried in a ‘class trial’.

I’ll add more examples to this section eventually…

Azuma

Hey, my name's Azuma. I first dove deep into Otaku culture in 2010 and never quite grew out of it. After a million different anime, light novels, manga, and visual novels, I learned a lot about each art form. Knowledge I want to share with you from writing advice to drawing tips. I'm also the Author of two light novels series, Garden of PSI and On Creating the Ultimate Weapon. Happy creating!

Recent Posts