My post “In Defense of the Original English-Language Light Novel” has been getting a lot of attention, and as a result I’ve had a bunch of aspiring OELN authors coming out of the woodwork to ask me questions. This is fantastic–obviously–but often I just don’t have the time to sit down with them like I want to. So instead of trying to cram a bunch of information into a private message, I had some time this weekend and decided to make a guide to writing and publishing an Original English-Language Light Novel that I can point them at.
What I’ve discovered during these exchanges is that I’m often not the first OELN author they’ve contacted, but I’m sadly one of the few that have responded. I know from my own experience starting out that there are a few authors out there who can come off as aloof, but others just seem to want to keep the pool of OELN small, even actively discouraging interested writers. What I’ve learned from experience [and practice] is that the larger the pool gets, the more interest it garners—and interest is good! Established authors should mentor fledglings, give them tips, and help guide them toward success. Excluding people gets us nowhere as a community. I have made some amazing OELN author friends in the past year and found wonderful stories in the process. There is no downside to this unless you let ego get in the way.
So this is my contribution to expanding the number of original English-language light novels out there. You can find the guide under the new [aptly-labeled] “Guides” section of the site menu. If you’ve ever considered writing something of your own, [OELN or otherwise] take a look! It can seem a little daunting at first but with good information, hard work, and a lot of passion–you too can write and publish your own OELN!
When I was in high school, I took a semester of Theater as an elective. I forget why I did it originally–I suspect I may have been strong-armed into it by an acquaintance–but I’ve never regretted it.
All my English classes taught the bare minimum: spelling, basic mechanics, and the rules of the language. Only one teacher ever went into anything beyond that, and they went the way of personal interpretation. All of them ignored structure–which would have been helpful, since I remember more than a handful of occasions where we were required to write an original short story as an assignment. Instead, I learned about it in Theater, of all places.
We learned the Three-Act Structure, which consists of the following set up:
Introduction — The Main Character is introduced to the audience.
Exposition — We learn more about the MC and their relationships.
Catalyst — This is the event that motivates the MC and moves the story forward. The resolution of this event becomes the Goal.
Rising Action — The MC is taking actions that intend to move him/her closer to the Goal.
Turning Point — The MC finds a way to reach the Goal. This may be preceded by a backslide.
Climax — The outcome of this event determines if the MC reaches their Goal.
Falling Action — The Goal has [or has not] been met, and the MC is dealing with the aftermath.
Close — A last look at the MC and how the events of the story affected and/or changed them.
This is the classic structure of storytelling, and is the backbone of many tales. This was later replaced by the Five-Act Structure, which is illustrated here as Freytag’s Pyramid:
It’s much easier to understand when it is shown to you like this.
Exposition — Introduction to Main Character, setting, and backstory.
Rising Action — Events that propel the MC toward the climax.
Climax — The major event of the story that reverses the MC’s fortune. [Bad -> Good or Good -> Bad]
Falling Action — The conflict arising from the events of the climax is confronted and dealt with.
Denouement — The end. All previous conflicts have been resolved, and the MC has undergone a metamorphosis.
The elements of those five parts will also have their own shape. They will vary from writer to writer, but there are common ones that tend to crop up. Let’s go over a few of them!
For the most part, you don’t want this. They are boring, tedious areas where nothing happens to develop characters or advance the plot. Think about a book you’ve read where you find yourself skimming the page, hoping to get to the next scene break. That’s Flat. New writers tend to go flat in the beginning of the story, thinking they have to detail everything about the setting and main character all at once, which overwhelms the reader. If a story is flat for too long, readers will give up on it before you have a chance to get to the plot.
But… Flat doesn’t have to be negative. You can use it to your advantage–especially to heighten suspense, or the impact of an unexpected turn in the story. The key is to keep it brief, but just long enough to make the reader start to wonder where you are going. That’s when you can lead into a Sudden Spike, and turn tedium into a form of tension.
When you have tension followed by a major event, followed by downtime, that is the Sudden Spike. Think of a scene where two people who clearly don’t like each other are exchanging dialog. This is the build up of tension. One character will say the wrong [or right] thing, and a fight erupts! This is the spike. After the encounter is over, there is a period of downtime which can be anything from one character having been thoroughly defeated and fleeing the situation, to the two characters realizing that fighting is pointless and deciding to resolve their differences in another way. The event doesn’t have to be physical; it can be anything that causes stress to the Main Character.
These occur where the story takes a turn for the worse for the Main Character. You have a rise where things seem to be going well, or maybe the scene begins on a high note. This becomes something the reader expects to continue, which is the flat part at the top of the rise. Then suddenly, something catastrophic happens and the MC plummets from where they had been–losing a dream job, failing to prevent something precious from being taken from them, or being defeated by the villain–all events that become the straight drop of the mesa. At the bottom, you have a flat part where the MC has to come to terms with what has happened before they move forward.
This is one of my personal favorites, because when it is done right it packs a hefty emotional punch. It could also be called “Exchange” because during these one thing is lost in order to gain another. You start during an action scene, and as it comes to its climax the bottom drops out and something bad happens. In order to qualify as a true Rise-Fall-Rise, something good has to come from the bad thing. This could be anything from a precious memento being destroyed in order to save the world, to defeating the villain but having a character die in the process. These moments typically occur at the peak of rising action, or at the end of the climax. It does not count if the reader only thinks the Main Character will lose something, but in the end they don’t lose anything and still gain the benefit. That is a Threatened Rise-Fall-Rise, and while some writers feel it is easier on the reader it comes off as cheap–unless written extremely well.
A great example of a well-executed Threatened Rise-Fall-Rise is the “I Open at the Close” scene in the Harry Potter books; while a classic example of a true Rise-Fall-Rise is during the climax of the first season of the TV series Stranger Things, in the scene with Eleven and the Demogorgon.
While you traditionally see this during denouement–with the Main Character resolving conflict and tying up loose ends–it can also turn up during Rising Action. This may seem counter-intuitive, but there are stories where this is necessary. If you have a tale of redemption, you need a decline of events to show the Main Character hitting their low point before the catalyst makes them change their ways. If a character needs to lose everything before they heed the call-to-action–then you use a Decline–chaining bad events together until the character has nowhere to go but up.
A good way to see how your story moves is to map out the flow of each scene, then string them together to see the pulse of your story. Overall, you should see something similar to the Five-Act Structure, but you will also see all the little things in between. If your story has multiple storylines running at once, then map out each one individually. You will gain fascinating insights, such as discovering that even if two characters share a scene it may be charted differently between them. [Which you will see below.]
I refer to it as a pulse because it should look like the readout on an EKG–with peaks and valleys–proof that your story is alive. As an example, I mapped out two intersecting story pulses from volume #2 of my Atlantis: TVC series:
The whole book takes place over the span of a day, so the peaks and valleys are more exaggerated than what you’ll see in a story that plays out over a longer period of time. The two characters shown here–Achine [Main Character] and Gialasa–are together for the entire book, except when they are separated at the end. As you can see, each girl’s arc is different, despite them going through the same events at the same time.
Achine’s pulse has several Mesas, and the one right at the climax also doubles as a Rise-Fall-Rise. In sharp contrast, Gialasa’s begins from a higher point [part of carry over from volume #1] and continues as a Decline, marked by two small Sudden Spikes that only continue the downward trend. As you can see, this character is having a difficult time. The bottom of Achine’s Rise-Fall-Rise is Gia’s lowest point, and the two arcs begin to rise together just after the climax. During denouement, she ends up in a better position than Achine, and it shows in the ending height of their respective pulses.
What’s interesting to note is that as I stated earlier, the girls are both in the same bad situation throughout the book, but their pulses are vastly different. Achine’s determined personality makes her proactive, which creates sharper rises and steeper falls in her pulse as she tries to improve their situation. Gialasa has a anxious, meek nature, and this causes the steady decline of her arc’s pulse as fear renders her unable to function for the majority of the story. It only rises towards the end, when she is finally forced to act.
If you find your story is receiving negative feedback about pacing, or if you feel it is missing something that you can’t put your finger on, try taking its pulse. Seeing your story in a different way may highlight parts where you can improve.
For me, seeing my own characters’ pulses side-by-side shows the difference an active character and a passive character can have on the same story. If Gia were the main character she wouldn’t be able to advance the narrative in a meaningful way on her own, and it would make for a frustrating read! But because she is a supporting character–and she has precedence for behaving the way she does–she becomes an important foil for Achine during the course of the story. Gialasa’s weakness is part of what motivates her to act.
However, you can’t tell subtle things like that from pulse comparisons. So while they are great for seeing the rhythm of a story or arc, you can’t gauge whether it is good based on its pulse alone. But when used together with feedback from a trusted source [editors, beta readers, etc.], it becomes a valuable tool for fine-tuning your story.
Nope. I’m not going to trot out the same tired advice to trim word count by slashing plot and/or removing characters. I’m going to talk about literarily killing your characters. [Ha! Puns.]
Since my long-running series is fantasy-based, this will all be from the perspective of a fantasy setting. However, that shouldn’t stop you from applying what you learn here to a realistic world. [Provided it’s not a simple case of the magic-user used magic and the victim totally died, because that’s difficult to pull off when magic doesn’t exist in your world. You’re smart–you’ll know how to glean what you need from this.]
We could go on for hours about swords, instant-death spells, and arson; but those are pretty straightforward ways to kill or incapacitate someone. We’re going to go into the realm of cloak, dagger, and intrigue. That’s right–poison.
Poison is the perfect medium! Need a long, drawn out death? Poison. Need something that kills near-instantly? Also poison. Need something difficult to detect, or that mimics natural causes? Poison can do that. Need a reason to send your characters on a quest where they set aside their differences and come together in order to find an antidote? Poison’s got your number.
And as an added bonus, not only can it do all those things, but it’s discreetly administered. Aside from becoming liquid insurance for an assassin’s blade, it can take the form of an ingredient in a sumptuous meal or delicious tea. It could even be released into the air via deadly but wonderfully-perfumed incense. Poison can be everywhere. Not only that, but most poison is derived from natural sources.
That’s right! There is so much out there that can kill someone without you needing to make anything up. If you want to lean hard into the fantasy setting, you could devise any number of fantastic plants or venom that could be made into a plot point. But if you’re like me and want a touch of realism in your stories, you just need to look at things that are common in our world.
My favorite example is rhododendron ponticum. It’s a beautiful, ornamental shrub common to many parts of the globe. In fact, it’s called Common Rhododendron. Look at this thing. So innocuous.
It’s beautiful for something that will cause nausea, vomiting, breathing difficulty, and heart failure if you consume any part of it. But the best thing about it is that honey made from its pollen is so toxic, even the bees that make and consume it are poisoned. In fact, jars of this honey strategically placed in a village took down almost an entire army of Roman soldiers in 401 BC. Though, to be fair, they were left in 67 BC to take down a different invading army. As a plot device, readers and writers alike would call that deus ex machinaBS. [But it’s history!]
The lovely thing is that honey is so innocent. In fantasy it’s often used as a sweetener in place of sugar, and even in our world it is common to drizzle it on pancakes, over oatmeal, in yogurt, or spread it on toast. No one would suspect a thing.
And that’s only one of the things that you can use. There are agents out there that come straight from the ground itself that can kill. Want to venture into the land of slightly-absurd-but-still effective poisons? Look no further than diamond dust.
Yes, seriously. Though it’s not a poison on its own, when ingested the shards will embed themselves in the organs of the victim, causing infection–which leads to sepsis–and death. It’s a slow process, taking several months to work. It is an older method of assassination used most frequently during the Renaissance. It wouldn’t work in a modern setting due to the advanced medical technology we have nowadays.
The poison a character chooses can say a lot about them. What is more fantastic and decadent than a monarch using diamonds to take out the ruler of a kingdom they are at war with?
Another benefit of poisons: they don’t have to kill. In fact, sometimes there is more to be gained in incapacitating someone. Have a scheming advisor that wants power? Killing the king would make the throne go to the next in line. But what if the king becomes too ill to rule? The advisor might become regent until the king recovers… [Spoiler alert: Unless a protagonist steps in, the king will remain “ill” indefinitely.]
You can use poison to enhance tension as well. Finding an antidote can take time your heroes don’t have, and making or procuring it can be difficult on top of that. This is a good way to divide a large group, bring characters together, or send them off to another part of your world. Want a cure to be even harder to obtain? Combine your poisons. Not good enough? Mix real world toxins with ones you invent. The only limit is your imagination and how dead or incapacitated you want your characters to be.
Armed with this knowledge you can now go out there and not just poison your darlings, but do it catastrophically!
There is a particular innocence you start with when you begin writing. You read books, watch movies; you analyze plot lines with others, and speculate where the story is going. You reflect on your favorite things about them and think, “I want to make other people feel like I do right now!” This seems to be one of the major catalysts for people to start writing–the desire to evoke powerful feelings in others. I know it was for me.
At some point in some writer’s journey, they’ll look for resources to help them with something, be it punctuation, formatting, or character development; and during that time they will most likely join a forum or group for writers, entering the page smiling, wide-eyed, and thinking, “I’m among peers now! We can talk shop!”
No. No you cannot. Because you do not think like these people do.
Everything is deconstructed–hashed out, dissected and trampled to death. I’m not talking people’s work either, I’m talking technique, structure, literary devices–things of that nature. I’ve been a member of several forums for about a year now. I mostly lurk, but after watching people pull apart everything under the sun about writing, I found myself doing it too. I couldn’t enjoy a book or movie without feeling extremely jaded; picking it apart mentally, even when I liked it. Writing was worse. When I wrote, I second-guessed every. Single. Little. Thing. Am I being too ‘purple’? Am I using too many adverbs? Am I really pissing people off and making them throw my book [or the eReader it’s on] at the wall the second I mention what a character’s eye color is?! I don’t like feeling like this. I don’t think anyone would!
There are several rules that seem to have surfaced above the clamor that they all deem universal. According to them, you’re supposed to show not tell–but don’t use too many adverbs while doing it–and god forbid you use any word that might be considered above a sixth grader’s vocabulary level! If you do people will think you are using a thesaurus to sound smarter than you are; in fact, try not to use very many words at all. Too many words on a page turn people off.
Is this really what writing has come down to? Everyone needs to write the same, across all genres, or it’s all garbage? People are bemoaning the rise of carbon-copy literature but they are not seeing why this is happening. It’s starting with writers of all skill levels having access to the same places online, all of them having fear and uncertainty instilled into them from the outset by those who think they know better–those who praise one author’s voice over all others. All the things that stopped me from reading authors like King, Crichton, Koontz, and Collins were now the things my “peers” were saying I should do to my own work.
I found myself scared that people would hate my books because I didn’t sound like them–despite the fact that in the past I have been told by people that they like my style of writing. I submitted entries to short story contests, and received a fair amount of praise as well. [No wins.] But still, that pressure to change remained. I watched other people post perfectly good story snippets, asking for advice, seeing them told time and time again to alter it to match those unspoken rules.
Now I’m not making an excuse for bad writing. Not at all. But when writers tell other writers that they can’t use certain phrases, or insist that they shouldn’t describe a sunset–even if it’s only with two adjectives–there is an issue. So I pushed back in my own work; I like being descriptive. I enjoy painting with words. My audience doesn’t just consist of other authors, but of people from all walks of life who enjoy the kind of tales I love to spin. Some people will love my books; others will hate them. No amount of adverb-less sentences or extensive wordiness will make any difference. The forums were doing more harm to my writing and confidence than good, so I pulled away from them.
After I distanced myself from them the little voice in the back of my head that parroted their rhetoric faded. Recently my husband and daughter [inadvertently] got me into a show called Steven Universe, and it was one of the first things I enjoyed in a while because I did not have that squawking in my ear, desperately trying to pull it apart to see the tropes or spot where they were “telling and not showing”. I started feeling like myself again.
I am editing faster as well. I am a third of the way done on my second pass in a week already, after months of trying to edit through self-doubt. I have found a new forum, one that seems more inclusive than the others; I’ll see with time if that is true or not. If it’s not I may have to swear off them altogether.
It’s a shame that something I thought would help started to poison me over time. All I can do from this point forward is to keep writing; pushing forward, strengthening my voice and improving my prose. That’s all we should focus on as writers, really. We don’t have the spare energy to deride anyone for not writing like someone else. Same as readers, if we don’t like an author’s work, that’s okay–their work isn’t for us. Someone else out there likes them, and the world is much better when everyone is different, right?
So much work has gone into this–sleepless nights, long days banging my head against a wall during editing, and hours spent staring at blank pages. This is only the first step, as I am not done with Atlantis yet, but it’s a huge milestone for me.
Thank you all for sharing in this journey with me, and here’s to many more steps in this adventure!
[Also, I didn’t intend to release it on St. Patrick’s Day, it’s just that books release on Tuesdays, ha ha!]
So I went to submit the final edition of Atlantis: TVC #1 a few days ago, and uh, submitted an old test draft on accident.
I didn’t realize it until Sunday night when I went to check things over before today’s launch, and opened up the preview. I hurriedly re-submitted the final version on the spot, but I don’t know if every retailer updated or not.
Please keep this in mind if you end up getting the screwed up version. I swear I know the difference between my it’s and its. *dies*
[You should be able to update it if you get the messed up version by re-downloading it from whichever retailer you purchased the book from.]
Most are free but have paid options with more features, such as designers and technicians on call to assist you any time. These companies will distribute your book to all major retailers on your behalf as long as it passes their quality test.
If you are planning on adding images to your e-book, then this is the place to be. All of my books are illustrated, and it was a pain trying to figure out how to format images. I did all my images one way, because one site said so, but it turned out to be outdated. Now images should be TWICE the size that I created them at. Arg!
While the images inside your book can be whatever size you would like, the cover has very strict regulations–especially if you are going to distribute through Amazon or Apple.
According to the Smashwords Style Guide, cover images should be 1600 pixels wide by 2500 pixels tall to adjust for future size minimums. The current minimum is 1400 pixels wide. All distributors require your cover be rectangular, and not tilted in any way. [Like making them look 3D or something] Some retailers are very picky, and will reject a book if its cover is subpar. Things like plain old bad design and pixelation will get your book rejected. It’s best to start extra large and shrink it to the 1600 x 2500 size, which will result in a very nice cover with no pixelation.
A Note on Covers
Your cover is the face of your book. If you’re not really artistic it’s probably best to find someone to create a cover for you. There are no shortage of artists and graphic designers looking for work–check your local CraigsList or commission tons of talented artists in all price ranges at DeviantArt! If an author you like has an amazing cover, do some research on who does their covers, or send a polite email asking for that information. Most authors are happy to give contact info! Remember, your cover is the first impression people have of your book, so you want it to look brilliant!
Interior images are different. They can really be whatever size you want, but for your images to look nice on most devices, you’ll want them to be at least 600 pixels wide by 800 pixels tall.
If you have a vector image [meaning it was created in Flash, Illustrator, etc.] that is scalable without losing quality, you can insert it into your manuscript as a .svg file.
If you have an image in any other format, it’s recommended to save it as a .jpg or .png before inserting it.
.jpg is the gold standard when it comes to compression and small file sizes, but it sometimes compromises quality to use it. On the other hand, .png is a lossless format, but can result in some hefty files. If you don’t lose anything for doing it, make your images greyscale. It cuts down on file size immensely!
If you are inserting an image into your manuscript, you’ll want to do it one of two ways:
Full Page Images
These are images [such as your cover] that you want to be on their own page. You insert them as a picture from the Insert then Picture, then From File option in your menu bar. Once you select your image, right click it and select Anchor, then As Character. You must do this, otherwise your images will all be displayed at the front of your book, and not where you placed them originally. Insert a page break after this type of image, and you are done.
Inline images are done similarly, but you’ll need to place it between paragraphs. So it will look like this:
This is the stuff you type before your image. It might be relevant to your image, or the image may be non-sequitur. It doesn’t matter. This is just an example.
This is your next paragraph. It’s, uh, relevant to this cat picture. Yeah, that’s it. But it shows how you have to slip images in.
You see, e-books are innately reflowable. That means people are able to change the text size–and sometimes style–which shifts everything around to accommodate that. If you try to put a picture truly inline, you will break your formatting, and muck up everything else. It’s just bad. Don’t do it. [But don’t forget to Anchor As Character, otherwise it will jump out off of its page in your book and move to the front, because images are divas like that.]
It you are careful and follow the guidelines, you can add images to dress up a technical manual, or even create a short comic–it’s entirely up to you!
If you are coming here from Formatting a Document for Conversion [in OpenOffice], then you most likely have a clean, formatted document for processing. If you did not, then I hope you have a clean, formatted OpenOffice, Pages, or Word document ready for use. Otherwise, click the link above for help formatting your file in OpenOffice, or follow this guide here by Catherine, Caffeinated for formatting your story in Word.
Now that you have a formatted document, let’s begin!
Program Options There are a great many programs for converting a document to an epub, which is the standard for digital books. You could use an online option, like Online Convert, Epub Converter, or Ebook Convertor, but I am kind of old fashioned and like to use a program. After mucking about with several, I found one that I liked, called Calibre. This guide will now assume you are using Calibre for all intents and purposes, but it could apply to many converters.
A smartphone or tablet with the Kindle app and/or Google Play Books on it
A dedicated e-reader device, such as a Nook, Kindle, etc.
Converting Your Document
Obtain your program or load web converter of choice. [We’ll go with Calibre. Install and run the program.]
Load your formatted file in the program, and look for some place to input metadata. Metadata is a group of little info bits attached to your finalized e-book. It tells e-readers things like the author’s name, whether the book is part of a series, and what tags have been attached to it. Fill out as much of this data as possible! It helps people to more easily find your book, and that is never a bad thing!
Once that is done, go over your settings. You should have options like Font Size Key, [which should be something like 7.5, 9.0, 10.0, 12.0, 15.5, 20.0, 22.0, 24.0 if you want reflowable text] Output Profiles, and your general format area. [in this case, epub]
Or you could be brave and leave everything at default values and see what comes out! You can always do it over again, so experimenting does not hurt you!
Once you tell it to convert, you should have the option to save it to your hard drive. Save it.
Proofing Your Epub
Now, take your epub file, and load it up in Adobe Digital Editions. This is the front line for proofreading.
How does it look? If it doesn’t want to make you gouge your eyes out, and the text is uniform–not jumping around the page or overlapping, then congratulations–you’ve passed the first test!
We’re not done yet though! Now it’s time to run that puppy through EPUB Validator. Load up the file, and press submit, then wait for it to finish. Agonizing, no?
If you did everything right, you should get no errors! Yesss! If you are going through a distributor such as Smashwords or Amazon, then your book must pass this test 100%. If not, it will be rejected, and you will be sad.
If you really want to experience your masterpiece as the average reader, take your file and upload it to your smartphone’s reader app of choice, [I like Google Books] or dedicated e-reader. Poke it. Reflow it, skim it, skip chapters, click the hell out of your table of contents! Try to break it. If you can do all those things and it still looks fabulous, and doesn’t error out, then congratulations–you have a completed e-book!
Repeat this process from the top if you need to make it a Mobi file, or anything besides epub. Use your epub file as the input now instead of your doc to minimize errors.
You’re done! Pat yourself on the back and have a cookie!