Because Light Novels are a bit different from standard fiction, what readers want and expect are a bit different. And while a whole book could be written on why people read books, let’s just cover what readers desire from the Light Novel medium, by asking:
What exactly do readers want from your Light Novel?
Readers want loveable characters, impactful illustrations, a world they can immerse themselves in, and consistency. These are the four key elements to a bestselling Light Novel.
There are many more, but focusing on these four will result in you producing a great Light Novel.
But how did I determine these four elements to be the most important?
We’ll be covering each soon, but it’s important I first share what inspired this article.
The Best Light Novels Consider Their Audience
Occasionally, I’ll come across a Light Novel (LN) illustration that does nothing for me.
Such illustrations might do something for someone else, but LNs only have so many illustrations. Shouldn’t each one have a distinct purpose or be especially powerful?
In most cases, the illustrations I dislike feature one character in a battle/action pose with some special effects. Typically, they make these mistakes:
- They are indistinct. As in—it’s difficult to tell what’s happening without context.
- They don’t have any emotional impact. A character posed to battle cannot create the same tension that a character engaging in battle can (such as in a manga, which has a million times more illustrations).
- They add nothing to the LN as a whole. The average reader has no trouble imagining a fight scene. Or anything else for that matter. However. While readers can imagine their waifu in a swimsuit, most would rather have an illustration of her.
Such lame illustrations are similar to transition panels in Manga. Necessary to properly illustrate the action, but worthless in a LN.
That precious illustration spot should’ve been used to introduce a character or highlight an especially powerful moment in the story. It shouldn’t be wasted on something the reader could’ve imagined all on their own.
So, after dwelling on why I find such illustrations a waste, I began to wonder just what LN (and/or manga/visual novels/fiction in general) readers really want.
In my research, I discovered several different answers, but at the core of each was this central idea:
Ultimately, writing fiction (if you want to make money) should not be done for yourself, but your audience. So, you should ask what they would benefit from most.
For example, let’s say you want your LN to be about art museums. You really like art museums and want to share that love with your audience. That’s great and many Authors have succeeded in doing just that.
But before you spill your love all over your word processor, consider if your audience would even care.
Would such a story be interesting to anyone except you and a few other people? Would someone unfamiliar with art museums even consider reading the first page of your LN?
I wouldn’t. I couldn’t care less about art museums (unless they’re having a ‘cute anime girls’ exhibition). But that doesn’t mean such a story wouldn’t succeed.
I didn’t care about camping until I watched the Anime Yuru Camp. And a few days later, I went out and bought a tent.
But it wasn’t the camping that made me care, it was every other element of the story. The plot, characters, art, music, and so on kept me coming back for more. It making me take an interest in camping was just a bonus.
When it comes to really selling your story to an audience, you should focus not on what you want to write about, but what your audience would be happy to read. If they end up liking art museums as a result, great!
And I’ll show you how to do just that. Let’s go over each of the four key elements in detail so that you can actually put them into practice.
How to Create Loveable Characters for your Light Novel
Characters are the backbone of an LN. They’re on the front cover, shown in every illustration, and the story wouldn’t exist without them. Readers gravitate towards LNs for loveable characters above all else.
Furthermore, readers read for a sense of companionship. We want to treat the characters in an LN as our friends. But how can you make them memorable and loveable enough to turn them into your readers’ friends?
Note: No characters yet? No problem. You’ll find an in-depth guide on creating characters from scratch in this article.
A well-developed character possesses countless traits, but I’ll just cover those readers want to see the most.
Or at least respectable. If we’re going to be stuck with your characters for an entire volume and potentially an entire series, we need to like them on some level. This can be achieved by highlighting their personality, appearance, or motivations.
But what about anti-heroes or villains? Aren’t they designed to be unlikeable? Yes, but we can still respect whatever their goal might be even if we don’t agree with it.
Unfortunately, there is no surefire method to make your characters loved by everyone, but no one will unless you provide an emotional connection.
Provides an Emotional Connection
It’s much easier to like and relate to a character if we can empathize with them. Even if we’ve never experienced the desire to take revenge for our father’s murder, we can empathize with the feelings of despair and loss that character undergoes.
This is why LNs often feature a normal person being roped into an abnormal situation. We can’t relate to the situation, but we can relate to the protagonist’s confusion and fear of the unknown.
Make them relatable and they’ll be likeable.
Whatever your character’s goal is, make them want it. We want to see a character try and fail to achieve their goal over and over. Seeing them shrug off the despair and press onward toward their dream is always a pleasure. No one wants to spend time with a character who just lets things happen to them and never takes action.
Such a character can be engaging at first, but only for a short time. Many LNs feature a wimpy, passive protagonist who doesn’t want anything except a normal life. This usually changes once he’s thrust into a life-or-death situation or finds something worth fighting for.
But he must change. If he remains passive after having his world upended, no one will care to see what happens to him.
An Original Design
Otaku media is unique in that its characters are plastered all over keychains, cellphone straps, and thousands of other types of merchandise. If you want readers to feel compelled to buy merch featuring your characters, you need to make them stand out from the rest. How?
By giving them a design that is both loveable and memorable.
Unfortunately, characters drawn in the anime/manga style can all run together for those not used to it. Thankfully, you are not appealing to the uninitiated. While there is no surefire way to know if your design is truly original, there are a few ways to come close.
Match Their Personality
A memorable character’s appearance matches their major personality traits. Tsunderes wear their hair in twintails. Characters with a strong sense of justice wield a katana.
Research the common look for your characters’ personalities and start from there. Make them unique, but don’t ignore trends for the sake of it. It’s better for readers to develop an immediate idea of your characters based on their trope-riddled appearance and discover what makes them unique later.
A Consistent Theme
By this I mean that every character should have a somewhat similar appearance.
If one character has a medieval-style outfit and another is in a plugsuit, it can be a little jarring for readers. The easiest way to pull this off is by using uniforms whether the setting is in a school or workplace.
Put simply, match your genre and setting. In my series Garden of PSI, they attend a school, so each character gets the same uniform. However, each has slightly different modifications (tie vs. bowtie / dress shirt vs. blouse) to make them unique.
Doing this might seem silly, but the most common complaint I hear in regards to otaku media is that all the characters look alike—even to longtime fans of the genre.
This problem can be remedied by giving every character a distinct ‘color’. The most common method is through hair.
Fun, energetic characters are blonde. Mysterious characters with strange personalities have silver hair. Fiery, hot-headed characters have red hair. You get the idea.
Research color psychology and develop a theme for each character to make it simple for readers to know who they are from a quick glance.
The Best Illustrations for Your Light Novel
Note: You’ll find a master guide on what illustrations you should have in your light novel in this article.
I always ask what type of illustrations my audience will benefit from before making a decision. And unlike a block of text, there’s no undo button for an illustration you commissioned, so you need to be 100% sure.
Here’s what I ask to help make the decision clear:
- What’s the genre/theme of my LN?
- Who is my target audience?
Once you answer those, what illustrations you should have will be somewhat clearer.
In my case, because I write Action-Adventure / Harem with plenty of female characters, my illustrations feature them.
This reveals the target audience: men. And because it’s safe to assume men enjoy action and fanservice, that’s what I include. Depending on your genre, you might have illustrations completely different from mine.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what your illustrations are so long as they have an emotional impact or add to a reader’s experience in some way.
But to help you on your way, I’ve separated the most common types into these four categories:
An illustration can serve a variety of purposes like creating emotional impact, but they can also be purely functional. One of the most common illustrations in LNs is what I call the ‘character introduction’.
When a major character first appears in the text, it’s common practice to include an illustration of them alongside with their introduction. This reinforces the importance of a character and instantly cements who they are and what they look like in a reader’s mind.
Useful illustrations can also be of specific locations or objects. Such as a character holding a unique object or weapon that is integral to your story. Think a super-weapon capable of destroying Tokyo or a legendary sword.
If you’re writing Sci-Fi, you might want to include a unique piece of tech you’ve created to which words alone don’t do it justice.
That said, I don’t recommend including illustrations without your characters. As they are the focal point of LNs, they should receive the highest priority. Make sure they’re standing in front of that cool location or holding that piece of tech.
Whenever a major emotional event occurs in your story, you should include an illustration depicting it to really drive home whatever feeling you want to provoke in your readers.
These are most common in romances, such as a first kiss or a prince asking for a dance. But they can also be of grief (someone crying in the rain) or loss mixed with action (a character being shot through the heart).
Be careful to not include too many emotional illustrations. Due to the frequency effect, the more a reader is exposed to such emotional strain, the less impactful it will be the next time.
One heartbreaking image among ten normal ones can be quite powerful. Ten of them in the same LN will only result in readers rolling their eyes.
You know it when you see it. You’re happy when you see it. And for some reason, you keep flipping back to take another glance.
Fanservice illustrations are just that. They offer no deep emotion, but can certainly make an impact. You’ll find these mostly in harems or romantic comedies.
If your story is full of situations that warrant such illustrations, save them for where they’ll create the greatest effect. Swimsuit illustrations during beach trips are the most common.
But that’s just for the monochrome illustrations in-between the text. Most harems include a full-color two-page spread fanservice illustration before the novel even begins. This is a cheap, but effective way to get new readers to give your LN a shot, as it’s one of the first things they’ll see.
But again, nothing but fanservice illustrations will diminish their power. One or two per LN is the safest bet and common practice.
You’ll find these most often in battle-focused LNs featuring characters in mid-strike or posed to do battle.
I try to avoid these. They have their place, but rarely offer much in terms of creating emotion in the reader. As an Author, you should do your best to write well enough to allow your readers to imagine the action on their own.
If you have to rely on an action illustration, save yourself, your Illustrator, and your readers some time by going back and making your text stronger.
How to Immerse Readers in Your Light Novel’s World
One of fiction’s ultimate goals is to emotionally impact its consumers. The LNs readers remember and love most are those with which they forged an emotional connection.
What type of connection (intrigue, horror, joy) doesn’t matter so long as it was made. Thus, you need to figure out the emotions your LN specializes in provoking and focus on making them shine.
For example, let’s say your LN consists of people sitting around talking to each other. What would you have to offer? In most cases, it would be comedy (Seinfeld).
If instead your story is something like a spy thriller (James Bond), it might be action, adventure, or romance.
Normal fiction can offer a full range of emotional connections, but for some reason, Otaku are drawn to LNs instead.
This is because LNs (and Otaku media in general) offer what I call ‘a sense of wonder’ (SoW) far better than other media.
This SoW is what causes Otaku to be completely lost in a writer’s world. For the reading experience, they’re unable to put the LN down and can’t rest until they’ve caught up with the latest volume.
Outside of reading, they find themselves reading fanfiction of that world, writing their own original characters, and even cosplaying as their favorites.
A book could be written on what causes this SoW. And while it is achieved by perfecting all three aspects of writing (story, character, world), here are a few key factors needed to achieve it in regards to worldbuilding:
Otaku possess the special ability to suspend their disbelief to ridiculous levels. No matter how absurd your setting, Otaku won’t mind. So, go all out and create a unique world for your readers to enjoy.
Alien cat-girl vampires who kidnap the protagonist with the intention to marry him by using him as a prize in a friendly competition that evolves into an interplanetary war might be ridiculous to your mom, but Otaku won’t even bat an eye.
You can take it too far. This article will teach you how to avoid taking your worldbuilding too far. But don’t be afraid to ignore the regular rules of fiction when producing Otaku media.
Whether fighting demons in an underground tournament or being surrounded by a group of gorgeous girls throwing themselves at you because you said ‘hi’ to them once, LNs are great at providing escapism.
Give your readers a breather from real life by providing a story where they can vicariously experience their wildest dreams.
The typical advice is to make your protagonist a blank slate upon which readers can impose themselves, but don’t.
So long as your story is caringly crafted, readers will be able to escape into it. I mean, can the modern man really impose himself on James Bond? And his world is still a great one in which to escape.
A recent (and popular) Otaku media trend is a desire to educate the audience.
Recently, there have been anime about camping, fishing, and even weightlifting. But rather than provide just entertainment based around their chosen topic, they also educate the viewers about the topic. The same can be done with science, history, philosophy, and so on.
One of the joys of fiction is learning about new ideas or gaining perspective on aspects of the world we knew nothing about.
Don’t worry about boring your viewers with hard facts. You can make anything interesting with a compelling story and loveable characters.
A Great Light Novel is a Consistent One
Whether they realize it or not—readers want consistency. This just means that your story delivers what you initially promised your readers. Here are two major points to remember if you want to achieve good consistency:
Never forget what your LN set out to do in the first place.
If it’s a Romantic Comedy, you need to write scenes that reflect that genre. If two potential lovers are suddenly fighting for their lives against invading aliens during the school dance three volumes into your series—there’s a problem. Your readers didn’t show up for a fight and you tried to force one on them.
No one likes when their favorite series suddenly changes genres (or main characters). If you want to write something new, do so. Don’t use your series as a playground for random ideas unless that’s what it was supposed to be in the first place.
Nature of a Series
Almost always, your LN is going to be a series. You need to treat it as such.
With every volume, you establish new expectations from your readers. If you wrote the first volume in a specific style or had the story progress a certain way, readers will expect both from the next volume.
What makes LN series so addictive are their formulas. Part of readers’ fun is having an idea of how the story will unfold and how the characters will react. But you can still surprise them with what actually goes on in each volume.
What Your Light Novel Readers Really Want
Despite what I’ve said, you should write what you want. It’s your LN. Why should you have to kowtow to an imaginary audience?
However, just know that writing whatever you want without any regard to the centuries old art that is writing fiction won’t end well. You may enjoy yourself and that’s great. But you probably won’t earn any fans, much less make any money…
Write the LN you want to write, but never stop asking what your readers would benefit from. That might sound annoying, but don’t fret. In most cases, your interests will align.
After all, you wouldn’t be writing LNs if you didn’t care about Otaku media. What you want to write and the types of stories your audience loves are bound to be similar without you having to try too hard.