Your Light Novel Doesn’t Have to be Unique. Here’s Why.

One of the greatest hindrances to writing my first Light Novel (LN) was thinking that everything I wrote had to be unique.

I thought I had to have a story that would shock readers with its originality, characters unable to be categorized under any trope, and a world unlike any seen in fiction before.

And why wouldn’t I? I’d read such stories plenty of times. Or so it seemed.

Something is only unique the first time you see it.

Every Otaku remembers their first encounter with a Tsundere. At first blush, she’s totally different from any western character trope. But after the thousandth Tsundere, most start calling them generic or claim using them is lazy writing.

Every ‘original’ story I’ve read was only original to me. Tokyo is fascinating to a man raised on a farm, but boring to the man who’s lived there his whole life.

The same can be said of fiction of any medium. No matter what you write, it will never be truly unique. Even if 99% of readers may believe it to be unique, I assure you that somebody somewhere did it before you.

They may not have had the same level of exposure, but there have been plenty of instances where a popular work loses steam because its borrowing of other ideas comes to light. Although there have been just as many instances of a copycat work becoming more popular than whatever had the idea first.

In any case—to wrap this idea up in a sentence:

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 1:9 KJV

Since the dawn of time, there has been nothing new, nothing original, nothing wholly unique. It’s all been done before and that’s OK.

What caused me to realize this and finally move forward (as I was so consumed with being unique that I couldn’t write) was a conversation that went like this:

Me: “But I want everything to be unique, I don’t want to be compared to other novels and called generic. I want to write something original, but coming up with original ideas is so hard. What am I supposed to do?

Friend: “It’s impossible. Where do you think all the works you find unique came from? The authors didn’t just come up with their ideas on their own. They took concepts from things they read and built on or reshaped them into their own ideas. You might perceive them as unique, but they’re just old ideas made new again.”

My friend made me realize I was going about writing the wrong way.

Writing isn’t about inventing new ideas, it’s about building on old ideas.

Image by Motta Sanchez from Pixabay

Your job as an Author isn’t to break your brain trying to think of something no one has ever thought of or to reinvent the wheel, but to take every ounce of knowledge you’ve ever gained and mold it into something of your own.

An architect doesn’t try to design a house that disregards all the common knowledge of houses. If he did, no one would recognize it as a house and probably wouldn’t want anything to do with it. Instead, he builds a house based on old designs and adds his own unique flair to it.

A roof made of unique materials, a floor-plan with giant bedrooms and tiny gathering spaces, or Art Deco style bathrooms. He still employs a roof, rooms, and bathrooms, but they might not necessarily be what one expects from a standard house.

Your LNs can do the same. Readers can be comfortable knowing they’re about to read a LN and be pleasantly surprised by the way you build on existing story ideas, character tropes, and settings.

And I can keep telling you all that until I die of oxygen deprivation, but I’ll save myself the trouble and show you instead.

Following are the three pillars of fiction (story, characters, world) and how just adhering to using tropes and keeping everything simple is far more effective than trying (and inevitably failing) to be unique.

A Simple Story Is Best

The story, plot, whatever you want to call the main action of your Light Novel (LN) is important. And depending on who you ask, it’s the most important. It’s what people remember, isn’t it?

“Oh, that book had such a great story, didn’t it?”

Such persons are lying.

Not intentionally, but what they’re really referring to are the characters, setting, and every other aspect that makes up a novel.

Rarely does anyone find the actual story compelling (unless it’s a Mystery in which how a murder etc. is committed / unique twists are the primary focus).

But I’ve read plenty of novels with great stories! You protest, but don’t yet comprehend.

What do you suppose would happen if you broke down said stories into individual story beats? You’d find them simple, boring even.

A trip to the grocery store and back home can be fascinating if your protagonist meets interesting characters along the way.

Don’t believe me? Then let’s take a look at Shakespeare. Many of his plays are lauded as brilliant works of art that readers enjoy and scholars study to this day.

However, when you take away the pretty words and well-developed characters, all you have left is are drab plots in which little of anything unique or interesting happens. To illustrate, here’s a stripped down Romeo and Juliet:

  1. Two warring families hate each other and constantly fight
  2. A man from one family crashes the masquerade ball of the other in order to meet a woman
  3. Meets a different girl instead and they fall in love
  4. Discovers she’s from opposing family, they’re unable to be together
  5. Man kills someone from opposing family, goes into hiding
  6. The two lovers get married in secret
  7. Man leaves town until he can be pardoned for his crime
  8. Girl fakes her death to avoid being married off to another man
  9. Man returns to find her dead, kills himself in despair
  10. She wakes up, finds him, kills herself in despair

That’s about it. Pretty simple, isn’t it? Of course, several other scenes occur in-between, but each only serves to connect the above points. One of the greatest plays of all time can be summarized in ten story beats. Beats you’ve probably seen in other media.

I encourage you to try this exercise on any piece of fiction. You’ll find that their stories aren’t necessarily unique or even interesting.

The above example was certainly unique for its time and is still interesting today, but it’s story beats have been reused or repurposed a million times over.

Romeo and Juliet in particular is reimagined in Otaku media frequently. Its simple story structure allows for easy reshaping to fit another time period or setting. Anime: Akuma no Riddle, Image Copyright: Mainichi Broadcasting System

It’s hard to find a Romance that doesn’t feature characters who can’t be together due to some reason outside of their control.

And yet, they still work.

Star Wars’ story has been rewritten by Authors in every medium, but no one ever gets tired of it. Off the top of my head, I could probably name twenty LNs/video games/anime that feature rebels fighting an evil empire. It’s not unique or complex, but it’s still interesting.

But you still don’t understand, so let’s take this even further.

See, every story can be broken down to a single point. That being the ‘battle between good and evil’. The concept that’s been around since God VS. Satan, AKA, the dawn of time.

Whether the conflict is physical, emotional, philosophical, or whatever, it can be reduced to ‘good’ on one side and ‘evil’ on the other. Romeo and Juliet’s primary conflict is true love (good) VS the forces keeping them apart (evil).

Even if you somehow manage to write the most complex, unique, engaging story in the history of literature, it still won’t be unique at its core. It will simply be the boring, overused concept of good vs. evil.

Why? Because fiction demands conflict which results in progress. If there’s no progress, you have no story. So, you must have conflict and that conflict will never be unique. And that’s fine.

On some subconscious level, readers know every conflict is the same at its core, so instead they focus on every other element. Your ‘good’ and ‘evil’ may be boring when stripped down, but you can make them unique and interesting by dressing them well.

All this to say: your story beats are nowhere near as important as what happens in-between and around them. If readers were satisfied with a few bullet points, no one would read hundreds of pages of book in the first place.

Your job as an Author is to take each beat and make them interesting. This can be done through lovable characters, a well-realized setting, plot twists, and so on.

You don’t need an intricate, detailed story filled with innumerable events and twists to write a LN. There’s no harm in having one like that, but a few major events is all you really need to get started.

Plus, the only time you’d really benefit from having a million story beats is if you were writing a 100+ episode soap opera. Such mediums might have the time to work out an intricate story, but you don’t. Assuming your LN is 50K words, you’ll only have so much space to make each beat truly interesting.

Besides, do those intricate stories make said soap operas any better? No, fans only stick around because of the characters they like. Story beats are a dime a dozen, but lovable characters are hard to find.

So, stop worrying about your story. Keeping it simple is both easy on your end and best for your LN as a whole.

Don’t Fear the Character Trope

No matter how many twintailed Tsunderes there are in the world, I shall never tire of them. Hidan no Aria’s Aria may be generic, but only at first blush. Once you get to know her, she breaks out of the Tsundere trope. Your characters can do the same. Image Copyright: Media Factory

Notice above how I never used the term ‘unique character’ but ‘lovable character’. Just as with any story, no character is truly unique or interesting when stripped down to their core elements.

Instead, you should make them lovable. How? Well, that’s another article…instead I want to prove to you that you have no reason to fear character tropes.

A high school girl who works as an idol while fighting the forces of darkness at night as a magical girl who uses magic based on computer code who was also raised in a strange orphanage to be a child soldier but doesn’t let her past bother her by forcing herself to have a cheery personality but is really depressed when all alone and is also interested in the most popular guy in her class may seem interesting due to the sheer amount of elements packed into her character.

But. In truth, she’s just a bunch of generic tropes mixed together.

  • High-school Girl
  • Idol
  • Magical Girl
  • Magic based on computer code (I’ve seen this in several anime)
  • Orphan raised to be a soldier (I’ve seen this ‘raised to be an assassin’ trope many times)
  • Genki personality, but actually emo (Gap-Moe, pretty standard nowadays)
  • Shoujo Manga protagonist

Every character you adore and swear is the most unique and interesting character ever isn’t. They may be so to you, but not to someone who’s familiar with the tropes of which that character is composed.

Yes, every character ever is just a bundle of boring character tropes and that’s OK.

Fans and critics alike love to chastise authors for using too many tropes. As a result, many authors come to fear using character tropes and do everything they can to avoid them.

But doing so is impossible. Again, no matter what character you come up with, they can be stripped down into a pile of tropes.

But there’s no need to fret. Those who criticize tropey characters are not actually upset that the author used tropes, but that they did not use them well.

Let’s say you write a Tsundere character. She likes the protagonist, but is too ashamed to admit it. She insults and ignores him in public (tsun), but cuddles up to him when they’re alone (dere). This is the bare minimum of personality a Tsundere must have to be classified as such.

And if her character doesn’t go beyond that, that’s fine, maybe she doesn’t need to (if she’s a secondary character). However, if she’s one of your major characters, don’t be confused when you’re mocked for using character tropes.

Using a Tsundere in itself is not bad. Rather, it’s necessary. To create any character, you must first lay a foundation for their personality. In a Harem, for example, you might find:

  • Genki
  • Tsundere
  • Kuudere
One of my first harems was Is This a Zombie?. At the time, I found every character unique and fascinating as I’d never seen such off-the-wall characters before. Yet looking back, I realize each fits into an obvious archetype and is riddled with tropes. But that doesn’t detract from their lovableness in any way. It wasn’t the tropes that made them appealing, but the characters themselves. Image Copyright: Kadokawa Shoten

It’s when you don’t build anything on those foundations that using tropes becomes an issue. Readers who’ve never encountered such personalities might not care, but seasoned readers will chastise one-dimensional characters like the above.

Thus, you must build on your foundation by adding more tropes. Doing so will not make your characters totally unique, but it will both get them close and provide the materials necessary to make them lovable. For example:

  • Genki Childhood Friend who moonlights at a maid cafe and is an aspiring Light Novel illustrator
  • Tsundere Class President who works two jobs to support her ten siblings and sickly father
  • Airhead Non-Blood-Related Imouto who secretly livestreams games as a famous VTuber

Are such characters unique? Probably not, but I’ve never seen them before, so they are to me.

Are they tropey? Yes, they must be. There’s no helping it.

No matter how many elements I pile onto my characters, each and every one of them can and will be classified as a trope. They may appear unique, but are not in truth. Literally any aspect of your character could be classified as a trope because someone somewhere has seen it somewhere else before.

So instead, your goal is not to create unique characters, but lovable ones.

No matter what a chef does to an apple pie, he must use certain ingredients to create what everyone will recognize as apple pie. He might add cinnamon or use a unique variety of apple, but by the time it comes out of the oven, all it will ever be known as is—an apple pie.

It’s how he handles the ingredients, prepares them, and cooks them that actually matters. What separates a good pie from a bad one is not the ingredients, but the chef’s ability.

Replace ‘apple pie’ with characters, ‘ingredients’ with tropes, and ‘chef’ with author, and I hope you’ll understand my point.

You cannot escape using character tropes, but that’s no reason to fear them. Your characters may never be truly unique, but they can be made lovable and therefore interesting if you use those tropes well.

Find a solid foundation (personality trope), gather the necessary materials (character tropes), and build the best house (character) you can.

You’ve Been Here Before

I’ll be using the words ‘setting’ and ‘world’ interchangeably. They mean the same thing.

Remember this town? Yea, me neither. It’s apparently from How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord. But it could’ve been from any Isekai in the past eight years. Every city, landscape, and cave in the Fantasy genre looks about the same, yet no one complains. Image Copyright: Sotsu

What I’ve said about character tropes can also be said of setting tropes. No matter how unique your world is at first glance, it won’t be if stripped down to its core elements. And again, that’s OK.

Rather, employing tropes is actually beneficial. And there’s no better way to illustrate that than through setting.

Many critics and authors run away screaming at the idea of intentionally using tropes, but there are only benefits to doing so. Not only for you as an author, but also for your readers. For example, let’s say your LN’s setting looks like this:

  • A high school in modern day Tokyo.

That’s about as generic as it gets. And yet, that is the setting for the majority of works in the Slice of Life genre. The authors don’t add or take anything away from the setting and it still works just fine. Why?

Because readers already understand it. And that’s what they like.

I’m sorry to tell you, but the vast majority of readers are simply too lazy to care about your setting in depth.

You may have created the most intricate amazing world ever with unique countries, weather systems, landscapes, time scales, and whatever else, but most readers just don’t care.

The human brain is designed to take the path of least resistance and it often does.

You don’t create a Rube Goldberg machine to deposit your trash in the trash can, you just walk up to it and toss it inside. Most readers will treat your world the same way.

That’s why that generic setting works. It doesn’t require any extra thought. Readers can enjoy the story and characters without paying any extra attention to the setting. In most cases, the tropeyist (?) settings beat out the unique ones.

All that said, you can and should strive for a unique setting if that’s what you want to write. I for one adore unique settings and appreciate the amount of work that goes into making a world work. Just know that it isn’t an easy task.

To illustrate, let’s build on our generic setting:

  • A high school for mages in near-future Tokyo.

By adding two new tropes to our setting, we’ve given both ourselves and our readers a lot more work.

By including both, you’ll be expected to:

  • Have a magic system
  • Differentiate students based on magic ability
  • Explain how they integrate with society (is everyone a mage? Do non-mages know about mages?)
  • Any new technology they use (Do they still use cellphones?)
  • What’s happened between the past and now

And a million other potential aspects readers might expect you to address on some level.

However, by not including those tropes, you wouldn’t have had to say a thing. Readers already know what a high school in modern day Tokyo is like if they’ve seen even one anime.

Everything you need to know about Japanese high school, you probably learned from Toradora! or Haruhi. Japanese LN authors don’t even bother with the details of such a setting because their target audience (Japanese people) already know all there is to know. Image Copyright: Genco

Even if they haven’t, they likely know about high schools and big cities, so they can fill in any blanks with ease.

Every time you add a new element to your setting, you give yourself and your readers more work to do.

And while it might be fun on your end, it may not be for your readers.

If you fail to make your unique setting interesting, it will be a chore for readers to comb through world-building they simply don’t care about.

They may still like your story and characters enough to get through your LN, but they might not stick around for volume 2.

A unique world made interesting is always a plus, but it’s not easy to create. Depending on your story, there’s no harm to using a generic setting.

If you’re writing a space opera, you’ll need a complex setting to frame your outlandish story in, but if you’re writing a romance—why does it need to be in space?

If your setting has no bearing on your story or characters, why bother making it needlessly complex?

A high school in modern day Tokyo is fine. In fact, it’s comfortable. Readers love seeing a trope of a setting because they realize they won’t have to put in any extra work to enjoy your story and characters.

Just as you have no reason to fear a simple story or characters tropes, you’ll rarely have to worry about your setting being too generic.

If your space opera just relies on the most basic of setting tropes, you might have a problem, but one that can be resolved through the same logic as character tropes.

Otherwise, don’t worry, keep it simple.

No Special Snowflakes

Unlike actual snowflakes, this one was mass-produced in some factory alongside a million others just like it. But given a closer look, you’ll find that some of the glitter has been rubbed away or one of the edges was chewed on by the dog. Your LN is the same. Unoriginal at a casual glance, but unique in its own special way if given a chance. Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

You can’t escape it. No matter how hard you try, not a single aspect of your LN will be truly unique. And it doesn’t have to be. Here, I’ll say it for the millionth time:

Your Light Novel doesn’t have to be unique!

Don’t you feel much better? Hasn’t a great weight been lifted off your shoulders?

I never got so inspired to write as when I first came to the above realization. As much as I would like to be thought of as unique to my readers, I can never guarantee it.

Perhaps if my LN is their first, they might something unique within it, but if it’s their hundredth, they’ll only find a bunch of rearranged tropes.

But that’s exactly what I set out to write. If they enjoy it, great, if not, it just means I failed to build on those tropes.

I no longer strive for uniqueness, but an entertaining story, lovable characters, and a world readers can get lost in.

Pulling off such feats may be difficult, but not impossible. Being totally unique, however, is impossible. So don’t stress yourself out chasing it.

Take everything you know and build upon it to create the only LN you can write.

Despite everything I’ve said, your LN can be unique. Not by the components that make it up, but the LN itself.

And by that, I mean—because you, being a wholly unique individual, have written it—it will be unique.

No two Authors will ever write the same LN even if they use the same plot, characters, and setting. The scenes you come up with on the spot, your word choice, the ‘feel’ you give your story will all be unique because you’re the one writing them.

In short, you don’t have to fret over being original. You will be whether you want to or not.


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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