You’ve read a million Japanese Light Novels (LN) and perhaps came across a few written by Non-Japanese Authors. And seeing the latter, you realized you could write one too.
But how? Taking that vague idea in your head and turning it into 50,000 words must be next to impossible, right?
I won’t tell you it’s easy, but it’s not as difficult as you might imagine. The greatest foe you must conquer is not the writing process itself, but your own inhibitions.
And I’ll tell you how to do just that. But before the main event, there’s something that need be said—
Many fledgling Authors think any piece of fiction has several encyclopedias worth of story ideas, character sheets, and worldbuilding written before the Author writes the prologue.
And I’m sure many do, but not only do you not have to do that, doing so can actually be a detriment. For two reasons:
Don’t Follow Your Own Rules
One, the more prewriting you do, the harder it is to actually write. Every idea you have, whether you are conscious of it or not, is your child. And you want very badly to protect and care for that child.
When it comes time to write, you’ll soon realize you can’t include all your children in your LN. So, you freeze up and don’t write anything at all or outright diminish your LN by forcing ideas where they don’t belong.
All your prewriting becomes a rulebook you feel you must follow even if doing so is harmful. You spend so much time crafting clever concepts and unique characters that it feels like a waste to dump them, but it’s OK to do just that.
If your LN doesn’t need them, don’t use them. And if you must keep them, just save them for another series. If you have a genuinely brilliant idea, you should treat it with the utmost respect and not shove it wear it won’t shine.
The less encyclopedias you have to reference, the better.
The More Prewriting, the Less Writing
This is obvious, but needs to be said anyway:
All that time you spend ‘getting ready’ to write? Yea, you would’ve been better off spending it actually writing.
Not matter how many story beats, world details, and character sheets you write, none of them count as ‘actual writing’. And before you say, “but I prewrote a bunch of sentences and scenes”, that’s not prewriting—it’s writing!
Upfront, there’s no real benefit to doing a ton of prewriting. Some is good, a little is necessary, but encyclopedias worth of notes will not bring your LN any closer to completion.
And that’s all you should care about at first. The sooner you crank that inevitably trash first draft out, the sooner you can edit your LN into perfection.
The editing phase is where all those notes you have about your story, characters, and world will come in handy. But you can’t get to it unless you finish your first draft.
And the rest of this article will teach you how to get to a point where you can. And quick!
Start Writing Your Light Novel in Five Fast Steps
In total, there are only five tasks you need to do before you start writing your LN. And, really, you don’t even have to do these. If you want to start pounding out whatever ideas you’ve bursting from your brain, please, please start writing.
But for those of us still apprehensive to put finger to keyboard, the following prewriting steps will have you on your way to writing your LN in no time.
Step One – What is the Concept of Your Light Novel?
The first step to conquering your inhibitions is to put that vague idea floating in your head to paper.
I call this your LN’s ‘concept’.
It contains every idea you might already have, including:
- What you want to write (the basic inspiration behind your ideas)
- Story/Plot (what your LN is about)
- Characters (major, secondary, or minor, any amount is fine)
- The general ‘feel or ‘vibe’ of your LN (what emotions you want to convey through your word choice and writing style)
- Genre i.e. Science Fiction or Fantasy (good to decide early on as it’s hard to switch later)
- Themes (If you write Romance, do you want to portray mutual true love or the pain of unrequited love)
“That seems like a lot!” You cry, but don’t panic. I don’t want you to write more than a few sentences or even just a couple words for each category.
The conceptual phase is purely for getting those ideas out of your head and onto paper.
A problem many potential Authors never overcome. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people I’ve spoken to that utter the exact same line, word-for-word:
“I’ve got it all up here (pointing at their head), I just need to find some time to write it all down.”
And they never find the time. Don’t let your LN ideas rot in your head. Just blast out every idea you’ve got no matter how barebones they are.
The sooner you do that, the easier it will be flesh them out in the next steps.
Step 2 – What is Your Light Novel’s Story?
The next step is to take a few of your elements from step one to form your LN’s story (plot, narrative, whatever you want to call it).
Those being whatever you jot down for the story, genre, and themes. You don’t need to worry too much about the last two, they’ll be drawn out on their own while writing, but it doesn’t hurt to keep them in mind.
Let’s work through each one.
This is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the main action of your LN, what your LN is about. When people ask what a novel is about, they’re asking about its story.
It could be anything from a boy meets girl romance to a quest to save the world from the demon lord.
And those super-generic ideas are all you need to start writing.
Whether you only have a vague idea of what you want to occur during your LN or have mapped the whole story from beginning to end, you don’t need to spend too much time on fleshing it out during prewriting.
When you start writing, you’ll find your story and characters going in directions you never expected. And those scenes born from writing blind are almost always better than anything you might plot out in advance.
Some people just have the introduction, some write the ending first and work backwards, and others just start from a scene in the middle.
I myself don’t write an ending, but have a strong image of the end in mind that I work towards. Everything that happens in my story is designed to reach that image.
Whichever one works best for you is the correct answer. Even if you know only what the first page is about and nothing else, that’s perfectly fine. Just jot it down and move on.
Your LN’s genre isn’t something you must set in stone, but it’s good to pick one or two during prewriting for the sake of consistency.
Let’s say half your story is set in space and the other half in Victorian England. It can be interesting if expertly pulled off. But if you’re reading a beginner’s guide, I’m sorry to say—you might not be cut out for it.
Genres exist for a reason. That being: readers love consistency.
When you visit a bookstore and buy a book from the fantasy section, you did so knowing exactly what you were buying. That’s why you went to that section. If you wanted something else, you’d have gone to another section.
Rare is the consumer that enjoys having the rug pulled out from under them.
Thus, it’s a good idea to pick your genre(s) early on and stick to it while writing.
The old switcheroo can work early on. Every Isekai starts in one place and suddenly switches to a whole different setting and genre. However, such occurrences are always in the first chapter, not the second-to-last-one.
All that said, you can mix genres at your leisure or make subtle shifts if you’ve properly laid the groundwork for doing so in your story.
Here are a couple examples of genre-mixing:
- A space opera: Science Fiction, Romance (between your many characters), and Comedy (that comes as a result of the romance)
- A medieval war epic: Fantasy, Romance, Horror (if the enemy your characters battle is particularly horrifying, ex. Mutants, Lovecraftian Horrors)
Again, you don’t have to perfectly adhere to just one genre, but don’t forget about it either. The less jarring your LN, the more readers will be able to enjoy it.
Themes are what they sound like. But I can never seem to define it when someone asks, so here’s one I looked up—
Theme: an idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art or literature
There were several other definitions, but this one best fits our purposes.
The themes present in your LN are the general ideas you wish to convey through your writing.
If you write a comedy, the themes might include:
- Joy of Laughter (that comes telling jokes or penning comical situations)
- Beauty of Companionship (if you portray a group of close friends who are always having fun with each other)
- Politics (if you write a satire critiquing a particular political ideology)
No matter your genre, a literal infinite number of themes could be explored within your LN. So, don’t have to think about them beyond a few or even just one you want to explore.
Don’t fret over themes. It’s helpful to ponder them during prewriting, but they’ll come out on their own just fine during the actual writing process.
Step 3 – Who Are the Characters in Your Light Novel?
Unlike other forms of fictions, LNs are all about loveable characters. They’re on the front cover, the merch, and should be taking center stage during your story. Your characters are basically the most important aspect of your LN.
Thus, it’s important to do a little more prewriting for your characters than I would normally suggest compared to the other elements of your LN.
However, I still wouldn’t do too much. Again, the more prewriting, the less writing.
The easiest way to get your characters primed for the writing process is by using a character sheet. You can find these just about anywhere online or make one yourself. Some are barebones, while others have over 200 blanks to fill including—With which finger do they pick their nose?
I…wouldn’t go that far. At least not at first. For prewriting, here’s the sheet I made for both my LN series:
I’ll be breaking down each in a moment, but first you should know that I only want you to fill out that much information for your major characters.
Unless a character is going to be around for your entire LN or is integral to your story, don’t waste time prewriting them beyond a couple sentences.
Your goal is to have just enough data to be confident to start writing your LN.
Ok, let’s make your first character!
I wrote an entire article on what you’re about to read. The following are shortened versions of what you’ll find in it. If you want more in-depth instruction on how to create amazing characters for your Light Novel, check it out here.
Deciding your major characters’ names early on is important for two reasons:
- It makes them genuinely feel like a character and thus it’s easier to write them into your story.
- You forge a personal connection with their name and personality, which also makes it easier to write them.
Telling you how to pick a name is another article (this one here), but just know you can make it very easy or very
hard not so easy.
- Easy – Look up a name generator online (they have genre specific ones like ‘anime name generators’) and keep hitting refresh until you see one you like.
- Not-So-Easy – Write everything else about your character and then base their name off who they are.
I always take the second route for my major and secondary characters. Minor characters always get the easy treatment from me.
The not easy process involves a lot of agony trying to get your character’s name ‘just right’. But when you do, it makes that personal connection so much stronger.
Everyone’s naming process will be different, so I can’t give you explicit 100% success rate instructions, but will share my own method:
- I do all the prewriting (covered below) for my character.
- I look up Japanese words related to my character’s ability or personality.
- I go to animecharactersdatabase.com and dig through names containing the syllables or Kanji I looked up earlier until I find one that clicks.
That’s it. However, each character takes me at least two hours before I finally make a decision. Call me a procrastinator, but I want their name to be perfect. I mean, they’re going to be stuck with it for my entire series after all.
This is in reference to the role your character plays in the story. It should answer these questions:
- What is their purpose? How do they contribute to progressing the story?
- Are they the protagonist or a major/secondary/minor character?
- If they aren’t the protagonist, how do they relate to him?
Each of your characters should have some reason to take part in your LN’s story. If they don’t, then they have no reason being in it and will likely be accused of being ‘under-developed’.
So, you must ascribe to them a role.
For reference, here’s an example of what I put on my own character sheets:
- Miko: A major character. She assists the protagonist in his quest to open a cosplay café.
- Haru: A secondary character. A loan shark who lends the protagonist some business capital.
And that’s all that need be said. Feel free to expand on their roles or not even worry about them until they show up in your story.
The LN genre is packed with characters who exhibit some special ability or superpower. And to make writing them easy, it’s important to decide who has what ability early on.
If your LN doesn’t have superpowered characters, feel free to skip this section. But for those that do, it’s as simple as filling in the blank.
If your characters attend a school for wizards, you might separate each character by the variety of magic they specialize in such as Fire, Ice, or Gravity magic.
Whichever it is, you should make at least some effort to detail their ability, like so:
- Sakuya’s Ability: Specializes in Fire Magic. Not very skilled. Only able to cast simple spells using mana crystals as catalysts. Special technique is Fire grenade where she lobs a condensed ball of flame that explodes on impact.
And even that’s too much detail. Feel free to keep it simple or expound on it even further, just don’t spend too much time on it if it keeps you from actually writing.
Noting a character’s ability during prewriting is important as it allows you to write scenes involving them much easier as you know what they’re capable of.
Detailing your character’s appearance is simultaneously very important and largely pointless. It’s useful for you to forge a connection with that character, so knowing what they look like is instrumental.
However, you can also change their appearance at any point during the writing process with no few consequences.
That said, your character’s appearance should reflect their personality in some way, so you’re better off getting the basic details down during prewriting. For example:
- Tsunderes have blond twintails or fiery red hair.
- Stoic, mysterious types have silver hair.
- Characters suffering from unrequited love have blue hair.
It’s not just the hair determining personality though. Muscular guys and tall, busty girls ooze with confidence, while wimpy guys and short, flat girls have inferiority complexes.
Thus, during prewriting, it’s good to base their appearance off their personality or vice versa if you like. As you might’ve noticed, I put appearance before personality on my character sheet.
I first come up with a vague design and loosely base their personality off it. And after detailing their personality, I come back to the appearance and alter it to better fit their personality.
The order is up to you. Just don’t spend to much time on it beyond these detail (the outline of which I lifted from Visual Novel Database’s character profiles, site contains NSFW content, you’ve been warned):
- Hair – Chestnut Brown, Shoulder Length, Bob-Cut, Blunt Bangs
- Eyes – Icy Blue, Half-Closed (Sleepy)
- Body – Average Height, Near-Anorexic, A-Cup, Pale Skin, Teenaged
- Clothes – School Uniform + Giant Overcoat, Casual Clothes all designed to keep out the cold
And that’s all I ever really put down in my character sheets. You can and should describe them in far more vivid detail in your LN.
Your character’s personality is not something you should know too much about upfront. You will get to know them much better during the writing process.
For prewriting, it’s better to just use tropes.
And yes, it’s perfectly OK to use tropes during prewriting. Your characters will naturally break out of them when you write your LN (assuming you make a conscious effort to add to or alter the boring default trope).
I wouldn’t write anything beyond—
- Shiori – Stoic, Humble, Sickly, Doesn’t like to get close to others
- Hayate – Proactive, Extroverted, Loves to laugh
Generic, but that’s the idea.
The more rules you make upfront, the harder it is to break them. If you need your character to act a certain way while writing, but the personality you set in stone doesn’t reflect that action, you’ll have written yourself into a corner.
So, avoid the problem entirely and don’t be afraid to give them a trope-ridden character sheet. The problem will resolve itself later.
A character’s background is comprised of three key elements, those being their:
- Current State
Their history is just that. It’s who they were and what they did before we meet them in the story.
Unless you pen an amnesiac character, each of your characters needs to have some sort of past that reflects their personality. Just like your past has influenced your personality, so too should it impact your characters.
Without a past, it’s difficult to justify why your character acts one way or another or why they make one decision or another. So, even if it’s something like:
- Shiori’s History – Born with an incurable illness and spends all her time in and out of hospitals. Has no close friends, only an older brother who works all the time to pay for her hospital visits.
That’s enough to get the ball rolling so you can write their current state. That being what your character is currently doing when we meet them in your LN:
- Shiori’s Current State – Fed up with her dismal situation, she starts going to high school again after initially dropping out. However, she spends all her time alone in the library on account of having no idea how to make friends.
This is important as it establishes where your protagonist might run into that character and how he might interact with her.
It also allows you to give the character some goal or motivation that gives them a reason to exist within your LN. Without motivation, your character has no reason being in your LN at all, so it’s a good idea to think this one through. Not that it has to complicated, like in Shiori’s case:
- Shiori’s Motivation – To make friends.
Yes, that’s as good a motivation as any. Readers crave well-developed characters. And the first step to writing one is to give them a clear motivation.
This is where you put any extra details that didn’t fit into the above categories. But if you don’t have anything to put here at first, that’s perfectly fine. It will come in handy more during the writing process.
But for the sake of completeness, here’s a couple examples:
- Stutters when speaking to women, but not with men due to her closeness with her brother.
- Has very low blood pressure and is always cold as a result.
Step 4 – What’s the Setting of Your Light Novel?
Moving onto step four, it’s time to start laying the groundwork for your world (or setting).
Just like in the previous steps, there’s no need to delve too deep into the details of your LN’s world.
That said, I recommend putting in a little extra effort. Any major edits you might make later will be agonizing if you don’t do enough worldbuilding during the prewriting process.
Why? Because if you have a particularly unique setting, it’s going to have far more details and nuances than a simple one would.
Thus, you need to establish how it’s unique before you start writing so that it reflects as such in your LN. Too much worldbuilding will turn into a rulebook, but just enough will be useful for keeping you in check.
If you stray too far, you’ll find yourself having to rewrite swathes of text to match whatever worldbuilding you invent during the actual writing process.
Which is totally fine if the newer content is better than your original ideas. I’m just giving you fair warning.
However. If you’re setting is a high-school in the suburbs of modern-day Tokyo, then you can more or less skip this section.
There’s nothing wrong with a generic setting and unless you feel the need to add some flair to it by having everyone communicate through microchips, there’s little need for extensive worldbuilding.
Once you’ve determined how much worldbuilding you need to do (again, aim for the bare minimum that your world demands), you can start worldbuilding by detailing these four elements.
- Current State
Much like character sheets, there are plenty of ‘Setting Sheets’ available online. But the above elements are all you really need to worry about during prewriting. Let’s take a look at each:
Your setting needs to be well—set somewhere. The location is just that. It’s where your LN takes place.
This could be anything from Akihabara in Tokyo to an underwater city on the planet Draxon in the Rictapon galaxy.
There is no right answer here, just make sure your location matches your story on some level. A love story could happen in either of the above locations, but I’d argue that it’d fit the former more than the latter.
This refers to your location’s past. If it’s a well-known, real-life location like Shibuya or New York, the reader (and you) need only visit Wikipedia.
But if it’s a location you invented, you’ll need to spend at least a few paragraphs detailing its incarnation, place in the world, political history, what level of technological advancement it possesses, and whatever else you might need to better convey your story.
Every Author’s needs will be different when it comes to these details. Just detail what you need to move to the next step.
What state is your world in when the story begins? Is the country/planet in a state of peace or in the middle of a war? Is there some political strife that has an impact on your characters’ lives? Can your characters reach the maid café without being eaten by zombies?
And a million other questions you might posit. Most of which can be disregarded unless they have a direct impact on your story or characters.
You only need to detail the current state of your world insofar as it helps you during the writing process.
When does your story take place?
Just by answering that question, you’ll add plenty of weapons to your writing arsenal.
If your story follows a war on a tropical island in August, you know you’re characters will be doing a lot of complaining and you’ll be writing a lot about sweat.
A Tokyo romance in December will invariably end with the couple confessing their love for each other on Christmas Eve.
Time can also refer to the literal time. The majority of my Garden of PSI LN series is set at nighttime, so I’ve learned to refine my ability to use words and images that reflect that.
While how much of an impact it has is up to you, don’t skimp on establishing the time, date, and season of your world. It adds a level of immersion that readers love.
Depending on your world, you can spend quite a bit of time prewriting it or very little. Either way, don’t go too far.
Most of your worldbuilding will pop in your head during the writing process. Write them down, but don’t bother trying to shove them all into volume one. That’s the beauty of writing an LN series, you have plenty of space to pack in all your ideas.
I have piles upon piles of worldbuilding that I don’t plan on introducing until volumes 9 or 10.
Ok, it’s time to take all this prewriting and use it to create that which will give you the strength and courage to start writing your LN!
Step 5 – A 1,000 Word Outline Is All You Need to Write Your Light Novel
Woohoo! We’ve finally reached step five. The easy one.
This might sound insane to some, but you only need 1,000 words to write your entire LN. That tiny amount of words can and will balloon into the average total of 50K words you need to say you wrote a LN.
I wrote a whole article on how this works, but in brief:
Take all the prewriting you did and start outlining your story. You have all the materials necessary. It’s just a matter or shaping them into something you can build into an entire LN.
You don’t need much here beyond these questions answered:
- What is happening?
- Why is it happening?
- Which characters are involved?
- Why are they involved? (Motivation)
- What conflict is present? (Tension)
- How will it be resolved? (Progress)
Answer those questions for each chapter/scene over and over until you reach the end of your story and you’ll have completed your outline.
No, sorry—you’re right. It’s not that easy. I myself only outline a few scenes in advance. And that’s all you need. Whether you’re working with a 100 or 1,000 word outline, it doesn’t matter so long as you can start writing your LN.
All the knowledge you gained during the prewriting phase is within you and ready to bubble to the surface when needed.
You Can Start Writing Your Light Novel Today
Once you’ve completed the above steps, just start writing. The longer you agonize over whether your character prefers slip-ons or lace-ups or whether your made-up planet has 3 or 4 moons, the longer you’ll lament that you’ve yet to write a LN.
Start from the beginning, the end, a scene in the middle, one sentence, heck, just one word. It doesn’t matter so long as you put pen to paper.
Because the second you do, all the prewriting you did today will be begging you to let it join your story.
Not that it has to. Again, your prewriting is not a rulebook and your first draft isn’t set in stone. You can trash everything and start over or cherry pick what you can still use.
And, well, that’s about all that needs be said.
You are now without a single excuse.
You can start writing your LN today.