Alright, you’ve written your Light Novel’s (LN) plot outline, you know how long it’s going to be, and you’re ready to start writing.
But hold on a second. You may know the beginning, middle, and end, but what about all those words in-between? Your 1K word outline needs to balloon into a whole lot more.
As you might’ve heard, a LN is composed of several scenes stitched together to make a complete story. On average, you could have 5 chapters composed of 3 scenes each for a total of 15 scenes.
Sounds easy enough. All I have to do is fill my LN full of random fluff, right? I know why they’re trying to collect the eight magic gems and how they’re going to do it. So, I’ll just send them on long fetch quests until I hit my word count.
You could. Please don’t. I contend that all fiction is just a series of random side quests until the Author decides to wrap up the story.
However. Each of those quests need to contain some form of progress. At no point should your readers ever wonder: “What’s the point of this scene?”
And what do I mean by progress? Three things. When your readers:
- See characters move closer toward accomplishing their ultimate goal. (Story)
- Learn more about your characters. (Characters)
- Learn more about your world. (World)
The above are what I call ‘The Three Pillars of Fiction’.
Every scene in your LN needs to contribute to at least one of the three pillars, preferably all three.
The easiest way to learn how to do this is by studying an unexpected format: questlines in role-playing video games (RPG).
What Does a Questline Look Like?
A RPG questline is no different than a scene in a novel. The presentation may be wildly different, but their structures are (or at least should be) the same.
Here’s a quick summary of a standard RPG questline:
- A character introduces a new problem that they want the player (you) to solve.
- If the player accepts, he goes to a unique location to learn more about the problem.
- A series of ‘fetch-quests’ occur in which the player must collect a specific item, engage in battle, speak to characters who will help them progress, etc.
- Once all the requirements necessary for completing the quest have been satisfied, the player can ‘turn-in’ the quest.
Sound similar? It should. Most scenes in a novel follow the same structure. For example:
- Your characters are looking for information on one of the eight magic gems.
- Their mentor tells them about an old woman in a far off village that might know something.
- They go, but soon realize it won’t be easy to get there due to a number of obstacles.
- Once they’ve dealt with all the complications, they talk to the old woman who sends them on to the next scene (quest).
Note that all the above are variable elements.
- The character who introduces the problem could be a new one or one the characters already know.
- The location could be new or one they visit often.
- There could be ten ‘fetch-quests’ or just one.
The primary point is that your characters should never have an easy time achieving their goals.
But again, each quest they undertake must contribute to the three pillars.
How? A number of ways. I’ll break down each pillar one by one.
Turn Your Story Into a Questline
Or plot. Or narrative. Whatever you want to call the focus of your LN.
To say your LN has a ‘proper’ story, it must have a beginning, middle, and end.
And to have those, you must have at least one character and a conflict for them to resolve. The resolving of this conflict is what will make up the majority of your text.
The story in any form of fiction is simply that of introducing and resolving a conflict.
However, if your LN has only one conflict, it’s not going to last very long without boring your readers. So, you need several that will stop your characters from quickly solving their original problem. You’ll find an in-depth guide to crafting conflicts here.
And, you guessed it, each new conflict will result in a new scene. Scenes that need to accomplish two primary things:
- Move the characters closer to resolving their original conflict (progress).
- Mimic your LN’s overall structure.
Both can be achieved by employing the RPG questline structure.
Progress Your Story
RPGs have it easy. While their many side-quests are interesting, they’re also pointless. None of them have to move the player closer to resolving the game’s primary conflict. The player can enjoy the main story without ever doing a side quest (in most games).
And yet, each side-quest does contain progress in the form of player progression. This means leveling up or getting a new weapon, for example. No matter what a player does, his actions will result in some form of progress.
Your LN doesn’t have this luxury.
To keep readers reading, each scene needs to move your characters closer to resolving the primary conflict. Whether they have to travel across the world or design a maid outfit, make each scene matter to the whole LN.
Always ask yourself: “Why do my characters need to do this?”
If the answer isn’t: “It’s necessary for them to achieve their ultimate goal.’, then rewrite it or throw it out.
But it’s interesting, you say, I can’t just dump it. It has great character development and worldbuilding.
Ok, fine you can keep it, but you’ll have to alter it to make it progress the story as well.
Let’s say your characters need to blend in at a pool while they spy on someone for information. Therefore, buying a swimsuit becomes instrumental to your story.
Now you can keep all those fun scenes where the protagonist sees his harem members trying on swimsuits and show how the super-high-tech mall they visit reflects your Science Fiction setting.
You can write a scene for the most contrived reason imaginable, but it doesn’t matter so long as it progresses your story.
Engage Your Readers
Go back and have a look at the RPG questline layout. What does it remind you of?
That’s right, a typical story format. Or, the Jo-Ha-Kyuu story format. Which I’ll be referencing here, so it’s important you take a look at this article that explains it.
- Hook – A new problem. Typically, an RPG quest is of the ‘we’re being attacked by monsters, can you come save us?’ variety. That may sound generic, but it is an effective hook. Players will want to investigate both for rewards in the form of leveling up and potential story content.
- Rising Action – The player investigates, learns more about the monsters, where they live, why they’re attacking, etc. Then, he goes to wherever to defeat them.
- Climax – A sudden new problem or story complication prevents the player from defeating the monsters. This could be:
- Him finding a boss monster that kills him in one hit.
- Learning that the monsters are actually the victims.
- Michiyuki – The player must retreat and either:
- Find a unique item that allows him to defeat the boss.
- Investigate further to determine who the true victim is.
- Second Climax – The player returns to either:
- Defeat the boss.
- Save the monsters from their oppressor(s).
- Conclusion – The player turns in the quest to whichever party he chose to side with and receives a reward.
And that’s just one quest. An entire novel (in terms of structure) is present in a short questline.
Just as the entirety of your LN follows the above format, so should each of your scenes. Make each a ‘mini-novel’ of sorts.
Each scene in your Light Novel must be able to stand up on its own.
To keep readers engaged, you need to hook them over and over throughout your LN. Following the above format is the easiest way to do so.
Alright, let’s move onto the next pillar.
Turn Your Characters Into Adventurers
I said earlier that every scene needs to progress the story and it’s true. But that doesn’t mean you can’t pack each scene full of character interaction and development.
Most RPGs have a party of characters, the common example being a fighter, rouge, wizard, and healer. Just like your main characters, each party member is instrumental to the story and needs to be developed for readers/players to care about them.
The questline scene structure gives you three different ways to employ characterization in your LN.
Each scene is a chance to make your main characters shine. Every encounter, conversation, battle, and whatever else can develop them in some way.
Let’s return to our quest to defeat those monsters.
The protagonist, Yuma, just wants to get the job done. He doesn’t care who’s responsible so long as they get some reward at the end.
His companions, Miko and Daisuke, have differing opinions. Miko wants to rescue the monsters once they claim they’re the victims, while Daisuke insists they’re trying to deceive the party.
Each unique viewpoint is reflective of their personalities and the situation they must face further develops each character. Depending on the story, we could learn:
- How each responds to external conflict. How will they defeat the monsters? Can Miko and Daisuke reach an agreement despite different viewpoints? If they decide to help the monsters, how will they do it? With diplomacy or violence?
- How they respond to certain environments/situations. Can Miko handle crawling through a dark cavern? If Yuma receives an injury, does he brush it off or immediately retreat? Would Daisuke run off on his own to defeat the boss if the others don’t agree with his viewpoint?
And a million other questions you might answer.
In short, use every element of your scenes to develop your main characters. The more readers know about them, the more they’ll care about them and keep reading to find out what happens to them.
Most RPG questlines begin with a character you’ve never met asking you to do something. Your LN scenes don’t have to do this, but they can and should on occasion.
You could have a minor, throwaway character introduce the next conflict, but it can be useful to have your next major or secondary character do so.
This is doubly useful as it allows you to introduce an important character while hooking readers with whatever conflict they’re involved in.
A common tactic in Harem LNs is dedicating each volume to one girl. By making the primary conflict focused around her, you’re both making it clear she’s important and that she’s instrumental to resolving the conflict (progress).
A common tactic in RPGs is mentioning the primary antagonist several times, but not having him appear until a climactic moment. His reveal is so much more satisfying to players because expectations are sky-high.
You can do this in any of your scenes if possible. There could be the protagonist’s missing brother or a mastermind working behind the scenes. And because you’re probably writing a series, you don’t even have to have them show up until volume 5.
Just be careful the character is as interesting as you’ve made them out to be. A character that didn’t live up to the hype is much worse than one who had no hype at all.
Explore Your World During Each Quest
No one likes a quest in which someone asks you to get something for them, you go get it, bring it back without issue, and hand it over only for them to say, “K, thanks, bye.”
That is what most critics are referring to when they say ‘fetch-quest’. Never is it a positive term. However, all quests are fetch-quests. The whole point of a quest is to go somewhere, do something, and report back. So, why is the above bad?
It depends. If it is just: Go here > Grab that > Come back, the quest-giver didn’t say why, the location you went to was an empty room with no monsters, and the quest-giver said nothing upon you turning-in the quest, then yes, that would be the textbook definition of ‘bad’.
If however, a questline employs ample amounts of worldbuilding, then it will likely be considered ‘good’.
Every questline (scene) is a chance to expand on your world. There are a million ways to do so, but I’ll just focus on two today.
One of video games’ greatest strengths are their visual design. Because the player can simply see the fictional world, she doesn’t have to imagine it.
And within that world, any number of stories can be told by visual information alone. Back to our monster example:
- The original quest-giver acts strange when he tells you monsters are attacking his people (shifty eyes, biting fingernails).
- The monsters’ cavern isn’t what you expect (animal carcasses, stolen goods), but a pleasant little town (stone huts, happy families, vibrant décor).
- The boss monster acts sincere (no nervous mannerisms) when telling you his people are the victims.
- You decide to investigate, break into the quest-giver’s house when he’s away, and find a jail with several monsters chained to the wall.
Without having to tell the player anything outright, the game has shown you an intricate story. In fiction, this is known as ‘show, don’t tell’. Something every fiction teacher will tell you to do at all costs.
And lucky for you, you can do the same in your LN. You may not have a pretty game engine to showcase your world, but you can describe it just as well. Note the parentheses in my examples. Each are details you can flesh out in your LN to do some environmental storytelling yourself.
Each scene is a chance to do so as it almost always involves going to a unique location. The better you describe your world and tell stories through those descriptions, the better your readers will imagine your world. And when they have a beautiful image of it in their heads, they tend to fall in love and want to return to your world over and over again.
A standard RPG has two opposing groups (factions): the Empire and the Rebels. Generic? Yes. Effective? Always. Because the two are incapable of getting along based on their opposing viewpoints, the story is never without conflict.
RPGs with more intricate stories than ‘good vs. bad’ tend to have three or more factions with opposing viewpoints. Each are often categorized by a moral alignment. You’ve probably seen this at least once.
Typically, each faction has a questline for the player to follow. And inevitably, each will ask the player to come and fight for their cause.
The same can be done in your LN. Each and every scene can be used to expound on your world’s various factions.
Let’s go back to our monster example yet again. We now realize the Monsters and Humans are opposing factions. But let’s see if our quest can teach us anything more about the world:
- You decide to confront the quest-giver. He attacks with magic you’ve never seen before despite fighting several mages.
- After defeating him, you decide to investigate his house some more.
- You discover a diary detailing how he was a member of the Mages Guild who didn’t agree with their policies and left. Then, he was picked up by a splinter group known as the Wriggling Sorrow—mages who specialize in insect-based necromancy.
And from a couple pages in some guy’s diary, you’ve learned about two new factions and that they probably don’t like each other.
Again, you can use this same tactic in your LN scenes. Never skip an opportunity to flesh out your world’s factions while your characters are doing whatever needs to be done. Small details can go a long way for your story as a whole.
You Can and Should Turn Every Scene Into a Quest
Why yes, you can use this article as an excuse to go play video games for ‘research’ purposes. Check out this article to learn how to do so effectively.
RPG questlines are great to study and figure out the best way to frame your LN scenes and what to put in them.
Just remember you have a bit more work to do on your end. A picture is worth a thousand words and that’s what you might need to capture a memorable moment in your LN.
And as a final note, you don’t have to mimic a questline’s structure for each of your scenes. Make readers want to keep reading, but don’t feel you have to adhere to one guideline or another.
Writing the LN you want to write is more important. You may not be as
rich successful as Authors who write by formula, but your fans will be genuine.
Now, before you go, I’d like to recommend a few games that have brilliant questlines that achieve what I’ve listed in this article and so much more.
- Fallout: New Vegas – An FPS-RPG from 2010, you can get it cheap on pretty much any platform.
- Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book – A JRPG from 2015, inexpensive during a sale on PS4 or PC.
- Any Immersive Sim has phenomenal environmental storytelling (Bioshock, Deus Ex, Dishonored, Prey). All available cheap on PC and most consoles.
play research so long that you forget to write!