You’ve decided to write a Light Novel (LN). So, you come up with an idea for your story, create some loveable characters, and give them a unique world to occupy.
Then it comes time to actually sit down and write. But you don’t know how to get started. You have no road map, no checklist to get your characters from one end of your story to the other. You have no outline.
So, you probably asked yourself (and then the internet):
How do I outline my Light Novel?
It may seem a daunting task. You might not have outlined anything since your last academic essay…which were never any fun to outline. Outlining your LN has to be just as miserable, right?
What if I told you that all you need to write your Light Novel is 1000 words?
You’d probably laugh and call me mean names and threaten to beat me…well, maybe you’d just laugh. Either way, you wouldn’t believe me.
LNs are supposed to be 50K words long, right? And last time you checked, 1K doesn’t come anywhere near 50K.
No, it doesn’t…probably. I’m an Author, not a mathematician. But the number doesn’t matter. All I need to write my LNs are 1K words each, but you might need a bit more or perhaps less.
What? You want me to get to the point already?
You only need a 1000 word outline to write a 50,000 word LN.
The entirety of your LN can be extracted from just 2% of what it will end up being.
Admittedly, this is not the first step you should take on the path to writing a LN. Before you get to this outlining phase, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, you’ll need to have done some preliminary work.
I first develop a rough concept of what I want my LN to be about (genre, theme, story), do some worldbuilding, and then decide on/create the major characters. Once I have all that, I can write my 1K word plot outline.
The key to completing these steps without giving yourself a headache is to avoid detailing them too much. I won’t discourage you from crafting a robust world and well-developed characters before you start writing, but I wouldn’t get too hung up on it if you can’t/don’t.
The main reason you only need 1K words is that it allows your LN to progress naturally. If you spend a thousand pages setting up your story, you might have some great material, but still no LN.
Furthermore, you risk falling into the trap of treating your outline like a rulebook. You’ve spent all this time getting your world and characters just right.
So, you won’t want to stray from their original forms while writing your LN even if it would be beneficial to your story to do so. As far as I’m concerned, 90% of your LN should unfold naturally.
While writing the first volumes of both my series, I only had a vague idea of what would happen. I knew where my characters would be and how I wanted them to act, but what they actually did was mostly unknown to me until I had finished writing it.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t outline your story as much as possible. It’d be foolish (but not impossible) to think you can write an entire LN with just vague ideas about your world, characters, and story. But, again, I wouldn’t make your story outline too detailed. Hence the 1K words.
All you really need to do to get your LN rolling is give the characters a place to be and a goal to accomplish. How they get there, what they do, how they achieve their goal, and whatever else in-between should flow naturally.
I know that sounds about as productive as driving through the snow at night with your lights off, but somehow, it works. What I consider my best scenes and dialogue are those that I didn’t have in my outline. They just popped up out of nowhere while writing.
Again, if you simply follow what you have in your outline to the letter, you might have a well-realized LN, but it will likely be a bit wooden. Life never proceeds as planned and neither should your LN if you want it to feel more realistic. The trick to immersing your readers is to make them forget they’re reading fiction.
Now, I’ve made a lot of noise about things that probably don’t make any sense. You’re likely thinking I’m crazy for effectively telling you to just start writing and hope for the best.
And crazy I may be, but I’ll at least tell how to write a 1K outline that makes writing blind possible.
Your Light Novel’s 1,000 Word Outline
There are a million ways to outline your story. But I’ll just share my method (the in-depth version of which you’ll find here). Here’s how I get to a point where I can start writing the outline:
- Develop a rough concept for my LN. This involves determining your genre, theme, and overall feel of the series. All that might change down the line, but any starting point is a good one.
- Do enough worldbuilding to feel comfortable setting a story in it. Knowing what locations you have to work with makes it easier to know where your story and characters will go.
- Create the major and secondary characters relevant to the first volume. I detail their primary role/function, personality, and appearance. It’s fine to rely on tropes for this stage, they’ll break out of them as the story unfolds.
- Have a firm idea of the beginning and the end. This will vary between Authors. Some like to write the end first and work backwards, while others start from a random scene in the middle. I don’t really have a clear cut ending, but rather an image that I work towards. I view the rest of my LN as a means to reach that one strong image that will leave an impression on my readers.
How and in what order you do the above is up to you. Once you’ve done each, you should have enough material to create your 1K outline. But before you start pounding those keys, there is one more exercise you’ll benefit from.
It is known as the ‘But, Therefore’ method (BTM). You’ll find a detailed explanation of it here. In brief, it involves writing a plot point suffixed by the word ‘but’ and the resulting plot point suffixed by ‘therefore’. Here’s an example:
- Yusuke wants become a champion street racer, BUT
- He doesn’t have enough money for racing tires, THEREFORE
- He tries to get a job, BUT
- No one is willing to hire him due to his lack of experience, THEREFORE
- He takes on a risky job of delivering illegal drugs for some yakuza, BUT
And so on and so forth. You get the idea. Motivation begets a problem, which begets progress in the solving of it. And to engage your readers, you must have constant progress.
Before writing a standard prose outline in several paragraphs, I first write it out using the BTM. Doing so makes it much easier to know why my characters are doing what they’re doing, what problems they’ll face, and how they’ll solve them.
With all that out of the way, you can finally write your 1K outline.
I can’t tell you how to do so step-by-step. That will depend on your story’s structure and genre among a thousand other elements. An epic fantasy LN’s outline will look nothing like a Romantic Comedy’s. But I will say that all you need to include in your outline are the following elements:
- Motivation (Why the story exists/what your characters want)
- A Conflict (Something/someone that prevents them from achieving their goal)
- A Solution (How they resolve the conflict)
Repeat the above in that order over and over until you reach the end of your story and you’ll have completed your outline.
Yes, it’s that easy. Why? Because of the following caveats.
- Your outline is not set in stone. Everything in your BT outline can be altered when you create your 1K outline. And everything in it can be altered or outright trashed/replaced as you write your LN. Rather, if you try to adhere to it, you’ll probably develop agonizing writer’s block like I did when I thought I had to follow my outline to the letter.
- You don’t have to write your outline all at once. That’s right. You can just write enough to get the ball rolling, write a scene based on it, and then come back to outline for the next one. That’s how I write my LNs. Never have I had a complete outline when I start writing my LNs’ first few chapters. Just outline as much as you can and go from there.
- You don’t need to know everything about your world, characters, and story. If you’re writing a series, there’s no sense in outlining every single volume at the same time. For one of my series, the story for volume 2 popped in my head halfway through writing volume 1. While it’s good to maintain a consistent theme and it would be really cool to have something mentioned in volume 3 show up in volume 10, trying to keep all that in mind and balance it out while writing will only drive you insane.
All that ties into this idea:
Don’t treat writing your LN as a formula to be strictly followed, but allow it to develop naturally as a result of cause and effect during the writing process.
Let your characters stray from your outlined path if it suits them. If they start discussing something you hadn’t planned for, let them. No amount of outlining will ever create a story with genuine flow. It’s better to write something genuine and repair the technical mishaps during the editing process.
Your Light Novel Begins as a Lump of Dough
Just as a small lump of dough swells to twice its size and transforms into an even larger loaf of bread after baking, so can your LN go from the 1K outline to 50K words.
Don’t panic if you don’t have the entire plot detailed from beginning to end. A couple paragraphs is all you need to write chapter one.
The outline is just one of many tools in your writing shed. It is useful when used correctly, but can become a detriment if you make it do all the work.
Slice it to ribbons, throw in the trash, or make a new one if you have to. Your goal isn’t to follow a made-up rulebook, but to write an engaging story that readers will want more of in the next volume.
So, go on. All you need is 1,000 words to write your Light Novel.