Plot Your Light Novel Quick and Easy Using ‘But, Therefore’

You’re ready to write your Light Novel (LN). You’ve got a brilliant story idea, some loveable characters, and a unique setting, but just can’t put your fingers to the keyboard.

There could be two reasons for this:

  1. You have a beginning and an end, but no idea how to move your characters from prologue to epilogue.
  2. You’ve written an outline, but it feels lacking in momentum.

For the first, the method I’m about to teach will allow you to plot out your LN’s entire story at Mach 5, which you can then turn into a 1000 word outline that will streamline the writing process.

As for the second—don’t worry. Your problem is not an uncommon one and will be remedied by the end of the article.

But first, let’s talk about why your story feels a bit lacking.

What is the ‘But, Therefore’ Method Used in Writing Novels?

All stories are nothing more than a series of events happening in a sequence. Most commonly, stories considered boring are written in a ‘and then’ style, in which one thing happens and then another thing happens over and over until the end.

I will warn you now: if your light novel is presented in the ‘and then’ format, your readers will find it boring.

But why? If all stories are the same at their core, how could any one of them be boring?

Simply because of motivation, tension, and progress. These three elements can make even the most objectively boring plots interesting.

Before I demonstrate, let’s test out the ‘and then’ method with a short story.

Miku takes the train to Tokyo. And then she eats at a sushi restaurant. And then she runs into an old friend. And then she takes the train home.

Objectively boring? Yes. Presented as boring? Painfully so.

Thus, the question becomes: how can you make your story interesting?

Easy. By wielding an Author’s ultimate weapon: But, Therefore.

Your goal as an Author is to make your characters suffer throughout every step of their journey. No one wants to read a story in which everything goes smoothly and the characters never experience any conflict.

Even Slice-of-Life anime have conflict. A discussion of the characters’ favorite foods can have tension if clashing opinions are presented.

I would’ve never expected a discussion of Chocolate Cornets to be interesting, yet I was glued to my seat the entire first episode of Lucky Star. Image Copyright: Lantis

And the best way to create tension is through cause and effect: But and Therefore.

For every step your characters take toward achieving their primary goal, give them another problem to overcome.

This problem is prefaced by ‘but’, and how your characters solve it comes after a ‘therefore’.

They want to move forward, but something gets in their way, therefore, they do something about it.

We’ll discuss why and how this works in a moment. But first, here’s an example so you can see its power in action.

Let’s go back and see if we can make Miku’s trip a little more exciting:

  • Miku is bored and wants to go shopping in Tokyo, but she doesn’t have enough money, therefore she does chores for her mother until earning enough to go.
  • But she’s starving upon arrival, therefore she goes to a sushi restaurant.
  • But she’s so hungry, she forgets to look at the price and can’t afford the bill, therefore she begs them to let her wash dishes as payment.
  • But once she finishes and leaves, an old friend spots her and embarrasses her by asking why she’s working for pennies so far from home, therefore she explains herself and her friend gives her enough money for the train ride back home.

Still objectively boring? Probably. And a little long-winded too.

But presented as boring? Not anymore.

We learn the motivations behind Miku’s actions and how each one leads her to next. And for every step Miku takes forward, she encounters another wall she must climb over to achieve her ultimate goal.

Your characters should suffer the same fate. No matter what they accomplish, have another problem waiting for them on the other side of each proverbial wall.

How Does Using ‘But, Therefore’ Make Writing Light Novels Easy?

Writing with the ‘but, therefore’ method creates an endless loop of tension and progress. And those two elements are what readers crave from a story above all else. Otherwise, there would be no reason to read your story in the first place.

A story progressing, like in the first example, is not the same as a story having progress.

The first example is a mere sequence of events without any meaningful cohesion. Miku has some reason for her actions, but we are not told what they are. You could reorder each event and nothing would be lost. There is no cause and effect linking her story together.

In the second example, however, every one of Miku’s actions is a direct reaction to some event, internal (boredom) or external (not having enough money).

Everything she does is linked together in a chain. If you rearranged the events, the story wouldn’t make sense anymore. The chain would fall apart. She wouldn’t be washing dishes if she didn’t enter the restaurant and she wouldn’t have gone in at all if she wasn’t hungry.

Think of the ‘Buts’ as the vertical chain-links and the ‘Therefores’ as the horizontal ones. Without establishing Cause and Effect, the ‘chain’ of your story will fall apart. Image by günter from Pixabay

Despite having the same plot, the first example lacks this relationship of cause and effect and is therefore boring. Readers want to see the chain that is your story have new links added with every step of your characters’ journey.

At no point should a reader ever have to wonder what the point of a scene was. If your story includes scenes that have no place in the chain of cause and effect, take them out or make them fit.

Three Elements Necessary to Make Your Light Novel Interesting

Every facet of your story should contain these three elements in order to be interesting:

  1. Motivation: A reason why your character(s) set the story into motion.
  2. Tension: A sense of unease readers feel when a problem prevents your characters from achieving their goals (which were established by their motivations).
  3. Progress: A sense of relief readers feel when your characters solve a problem and relieve the tension.

Miku’s motivation (boredom) establishes why the story occurs > her problem (not having enough money) creates tension > and her solving the problem (doing chores) generates progress.

The same three elements make up the other events.

Motivation (Hunger) > Tension (Being unable to pay) > Progress (Washing dishes)

Again, this logic should apply to every aspect of your LN. Not only the plot, but individual scenes, character arcs, and even conversations. Here are a couple examples:

Character Arc

Hayato doesn’t want to be weak anymore (motivation), but he doesn’t know how to become stronger (tension), therefore he finds a mentor (progress).


Riko and Sakuya want to go out to eat. (Motivation)

  • R: I think we should have pizza.
  • S: Pass. Let’s grab sandwiches. (Tension)
  • R: But the pizza place is closer.
  • S: I don’t mind walking a bit further…wait, I think there’s a place that serves both nearby. (Progress)

Not too exciting, but you get the idea. All three elements must be present to establish meaning and thereby make each aspect of your story interesting.

Also, depending on your story, you may only have to establish the motivation once. Once you have, you can create the endless loop of ‘but, therefore’ until your character(s) achieve their goal.

Hayato’s goal of becoming strong, for example, only needs to be established once for the rest of his story to unfold. He could gain other motivations along the way, but don’t feel you need to establish his primary motivation in every single scene if you already did early in the story.

What to Do if ‘But, Therefore’ Doesn’t Apply to Your Light Novel’s Story

But what about X, Y, and Z?

Hold on, don’t dump your LN in the garbage; there is one caveat.

First, please realize that having motivation, tension, and progress is non-negotiable if you want to make your story interesting to the average reader. However, you don’t have to follow the ‘but, therefore’ rule to the letter.

It’s perfectly fine if your story looks something like this:

A, but B, therefore C, and then D, but E, therefore F, and then G…

There doesn’t have to be a ‘but’ for every ‘therefore’ and vice versa.

It’s alright to have an ‘and then’ every once in a while. I wouldn’t have them in succession (no one likes an ‘and then, and then, and then’ story), but having a few won’t render your LN unreadable.

Iyashikei stories like Yuru Camp are mostly told in a ‘and then’ format, but are just as enjoyable as any action-packed ‘but, therefore’ story. Image Copyright: Sotsu

Rather, I encourage including a few if they are beneficial to your story as a whole. You should never sacrifice your story making sense for the sake using ‘but, therefore’.

Slowing down the action on occasion can actually be beneficial for pacing purposes. If there’s non-stop action and reaction, it will keep readers engaged, but won’t give them or your characters any time for reflection until the very end.

A Good Light Novel Plot is One that Has Meaning

The true goal of this method is to make each and every bit of your LN matter. Readers desire progress above all else from a story. And the only way to have progress is to present a problem and a subsequent solution. And the only way to have a problem is for your character(s) to have motivation.

Motivation begets a problem which begets progress upon solving it.

It doesn’t matter if a character’s motivation or the problems they face are objectively interesting so long as they exist. Your protagonist wanting to earn money to buy a figurine of his waifu can be just as engaging as an alien invasion if presented in an interesting way.

But without any motivation, you can’t progress your story. Your job as an Author is to take a pile of unrelated events and craft them into a meaningful chain.

And the easiest way to do so is by using ‘but, therefore’.

I outline all my LNs using this method. It has never failed me. If I ever get stuck, I simply slap a ‘but’ on the end of a plot point. Eventually, I’ll think of a problem and the solution in the form of ‘therefore’ soon follows.

So, go on, dig out your LN drafts and see if you have a beautiful chain or a just a bunch of unrelated events.

If you discover the latter, don’t panic. All you have to do is establish why the scene is happening (motivation), present a problem to be solved in order to achieve the characters’ goal (tension), and have them solve it (progress).

You want to write an LN, but you don’t know how to make it engaging, therefore you read this article.

See? You’re already progressing towards accomplishing your goal.


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!

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