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!
I know it took longer than expected due to health issues and my surprise baby, but man does it feel good to finally have it done! As of the first draft it has twenty-six chapters, and is roughly one-hundred and four-thousand words long. This will change as editing starts and beta feedback is received, but so far that makes it almost twenty-thousand words longer than volume 1–and I actually ended it early. That’s right, in the timeline it was slated to go on for at least five more chapters but the thing was getting massive. I scaled back, folded the remaining events into volume 4 [Yes, there is a volume 4 planned!] and ended it in what I felt was a good spot.
In the beginning there wasn’t really a plan for a number of volumes. I completely “pantsed” my first book, [This is a valid writing term, I swear.] deciding to just write and see where it went. I thought maybe it would be a standalone, but by the time I reached the end of volume 1 I realized there was a lot more story left and drew up a more concrete timeline of events. Together, the first three books deal with Achine’s rise to the throne and make a decent trilogy. I didn’t plan it that way, it was just a happy accident.
We are going to be moving soon, so this couldn’t have come at a better time. I have hopes that this year I might be able to participate in NaNoWriMo for the first time ever because I have plans for a new series–one radically different from the fantasy feel of the Atlantis books–and I’m hoping to put out volume 1 of it as a NaNo effort. From there I am hoping to alternate between the two series, possibly working on them in tandem at some points. Until then I am going to take a break from writing [except for edits] because there are plans to release physical versions of the first three Atlantis books, which I am really excited about! But it is going to take some time and work to get them revised and properly formatted for print.
As of this posting the digital version of Atlantis: TVC volume 3 should be released this Winter, while the print editions for all three books will be available closer to Spring 2018. [This is subject to change without notice.]
Oh man, so much has happened since I last posted! I’m not even sure where to begin. As I’m sure you’ve all probably figured out, I had my baby at the end of April. It was a boy! 7 pounds, 8 ounces of squishy baby goodness.
He’s seven weeks old now and starting to come out of his “potato” phase. But up until this point we were on a steep learning curve because it turns out the little guy is allergic to a protein in milk. So this means he was rashy, itchy, colicky, and due to all that didn’t sleep well. Of course, that meant we didn’t either. His first week or so of life he was a fairly content, easy baby. [I seem to have a trend of getting good sleepers that sleep six hours at a stretch right off the bat.] But soon he became this inconsolable mess that barely slept. Once we figured things out and got him on the right formula [Read: the most expensive one on the market!] he’s been a different baby. He sleeps through the night again! He is happy and content! He doesn’t scream like his existence is torture! The downside is that it took five weeks to diagnose and I was so sleep deprived that my body now thinks two hours is a fantastic amount of sleep to be getting. I need to retrain it to not think that because despite what it thinks, two hours is not nearly enough sleep to make rational decisions or be creative on.
As for me, the end of my pregnancy was miserable, but his birth was uneventful–quick, even! However, I ended up back in the hospital for three days–I got postpartum pre-eclampsia again. So this means we are done having babies because almost dying a second time was really not on my list of things to do. Ugh. Then within my first week of being discharged we all got sick. I ended up with the flu [despite getting a flu shot!] and pneumonia. Somehow I was able to keep from passing it to the baby, who just had a cold. If you’ve never dealt with a sick newborn, count your blessings. It’s miserable.
Now that my health and the baby’s well-being have been sorted out I’m able to finally get back to working on volume 3 of Atlantis: TVC. [Which I stupidly thought I would have done before I delivered. Very naive of me…] My issue with not getting it done is that so much more is going on than I had originally thought: scenes that I thought would be a few pages at most are ending up being entire chapters; scenes that I was excited for and looking forward to writing turned into plotting nightmares… so the word count is going much higher than I had initially planned. In fact, I’ve had to restructure the original end of the book [by moving some scenes and plot elements to volume 4] to help control the length. I’m already over my 55,000 word minimum and I’m only two-thirds of the way done! Since returning to writing, I’ve completed two chapters. It may not seem like much, but you have no idea how stuck I was on a certain scene. A critical exchange needed to happen between two characters and I didn’t want to screw it up. I like it the way it is now, but that’s not to say it won’t change during edits. [So much stuff changes during edits…]
On a final note, if you follow me on social media, then you already know that while I was on hiatus someone did a video review of volume 1! I always get nervous when there is a review done of my work; however she had nothing but good things to say–so that was a relief! Writing is such a personal thing, and despite the fact that when people review your work they’re reviewing your work and not you as a person, you still feel like you’ve failed somewhere when someone doesn’t like what you’ve done.
P.S: I love hearing from readers! If you’ve done a review of one my books, or have made a piece of fanart or anything like that, please drop me a line and I will check it out. [I might even showcase it on this blog!]
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!
I was tempted to call this post “Tropey Tropey Trope Tropes”, because this is the state of mind I am in right now.
In one of the writing forums I frequent, tropes in fantasy novels came up for discussion. The main post asked what we writers [as readers] thought the genre was lacking, and what we would like to see in the future. Most writers used the opportunity to list what tropes they felt were tired and worn out, but some of them listed things they would like to see. The interesting part for me was that before this post, I didn’t realize how many tropes my Atlantis: TVC series subverts or deconstructs. Of course, there are many that it plays true to; after all, tropes are tropes because they’re common, and they’re common because they work. [See, this is why I aimed for that title, because the word “trope” is going to come up. A lot. It’s going to look strange on the screen after a while, and by the end of this article it will become a mass of letters that not only will seem spelled wrong, but lack meaning. Also, that’s known as semantic satiation. Or you can be fancy and call it jamais vu.]
Okay, now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let me start by saying this–and reinforcing an earlier point–tropes are not inherently bad. Tropes are tools. [See what I did there?] Like I said, I was surprised by how many tropes I unconsciously subverted. I didn’t intend to do this; the story just happened to take me in this direction. I wrote a post a while back and in it I stated how after I began taking my writing seriously, I became disenchanted with all media because I spent so much time dissecting it, trying to predict where the story would go. It became so bad that I stopped enjoying it. I had to take a giant step back and learn to turn my inner writer off.
[Note: At this point in the article, I went to look something up and wasted three hours on TV Tropes without realizing it. Let that be an additional warning for you, in case you were not taking my previous one seriously.]
I ended up having to take a long break from everything to do with writing–writing forums, writing guides, TV Tropes, actual television… and yes, writing. I was taking a trip to visit my parents for a few weeks, so I deliberately left my laptop at home. The only thing I’d have access to would be the tactics, and rhythm games I had on my 3DS, and the games I had on my phone. [Mostly puzzle games, like Sailor Moon Drops.] And of course, Reality TV, because that’s what my parents enjoy. I can easily tune that out though, so that last one wasn’t a big deal.
It worked. I came back fully reset and not only able to enjoy the things I used to love, but having a better idea of how not to fall into that cynical mindset again. Surprisingly, it helped me to see my own book in a new light, and I ended up tearing down a lot of the future events I had planned and reconstructing them from the ground up. I am really pleased with the direction I’m moving in now, and I feel my writing is stronger for it.
Oddly enough, this is what is allowing me to self-analyze my own work and see what I have done. Here are some of the tropes I have identified in Atlantis: TVC:
Note: I tried to not spoil anything crucial to the plot.
Mythopoeia – True to trope. Atlantian gods, goddesses, and mythos are all figments of my own imagination and not based on anything in reality. [Excepting Atlantis itself, which was a myth in its own right, but nothing about my version and the common version match.]
Urban Fantasy – Slightly subverted, and partially deconstructed. Though in the story Atlantis exists in its own bubble in our times, Davidian’s explorations into “modern” society have inspired advancements in Atlantian science and technology–the most notable of those being the mana potion, which was already mentioned as being something he drove development of in volume #2. [Later in the series his exact inspiration will be revealed, but you can probably guess what it was if you think about it.]
There were more I wanted to mention, but I would be spoiling major plot points from the current and future volumes.
When I originally created the Atlantis: TVC series eighteen years ago, I had no idea what a trope was. When I was re-tooling it two years ago [By the way, today marks the two-year anniversary of when I started writing volume #1! Time sure flies, huh?] I knew of tropes, but didn’t really know what they were in detail. I can’t imagine what it would have been like trying to write with a negative view of tropes stuck in my head! If I listened to everything I read, I may have never gotten past my notes…
At some point you’re going to have someone criticize your work. You’re going to read somewhere that writers who don’t go out of their way to subvert tropes shouldn’t be writing at all because everything has been done already. When you do come across this, put it out of your mind. Just because a formula is the same doesn’t mean it’s going to be written the exact same way. Every story is different, despite sharing tropes. That’s why people have favorite types of stories–because usually they share tropes! So when you encounter that, remember: only you can write your story.
Have you heard about YInMn pigment in the news recently? It was discovered back in 2009, but a company is going to start producing a paint based on it so it’s recently become a hot story. Look at it–it’s beautiful, isn’t it?
Well, the Atlantians think so too, because it’s the royal color there. It’s on tapestries, banners, tabards–even the shingles on the roof of Castle Atlantis are painted in this color! [Which is funny because the pigment can be used to help with energy efficiency, especially when used on roofing.]
Based on the science behind it, it’s feasible that Atlantian alchemists could have come up with the same pigment. I wasn’t thinking of that when I was worldbuilding though. It just happens to be a nice coincidence. It also happens to be topical to volume 3, as that is where we get a closer look at alchemy in Atlantis. Prior to this volume, any references to alchemy have been rooted in medicine–potions, elixirs, topical remedies–that kind of thing. Soon, we get to see alchemy used in a functional sense, and as a weapon. This is especially fun [for me] because I get to write about an item I’ve thought about for years, and now it’s finally being used in the story!
Despite being at a point in my story I’m excited for, I’m finding it a bit difficult to write due to my illness, so I’m not writing as much as I would like. I keep hoping this particular flare will pass, and I won’t feel like a dirty sock lying in a gutter because it’s difficult to write when all you want to do is drag yourself toward the nearest soft object and lay there quietly. This unfortunately never happens because: three year-old. If I take my eye off her for a second, I am fishing a whole roll of toilet paper slurry out of the sink, or removing toys from the garbage disposal because she sits there and throws them at that side of the sink like she’s shooting hoops. I didn’t get a child that sits quietly and colors, or plays with toys–that’s for sure! [She gets that from her dad; I was the sit quietly child and he was… not, ha ha!] So most of my free energy is spent watching/interacting with her. By the time my husband gets home and I’ve cooked dinner, then washed the dishes, I feel like this clock:
Don’t get me wrong–I adore her. I just wish this disease didn’t rob me of so much energy. Sometimes my husband brings home take out, which is expensive but worth the sanity it provides me. Because I didn’t have to cook/do dishes tonight, I was able to catch up on laundry and write this post. How awful is that? I never imagined I’d be at a point in my life where I’d have to choose between cooking and doing laundry because I’d be too exhausted physically and mentally to do both in the same day.
I compromise by trying to be active on social media when I don’t feel up to writing. This way I at least feel like I’m doing something productive while waiting to feel better. So if this blog is quiet for too long, you can catch up with me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. I don’t bite–I swear!
I am absolutely floored that I got it done on time. I didn’t hit my original end of summer deadline, but I did make my fall one, and it feels good. I hope you all enjoy volume #2!
As for me, I’m taking the rest of the holiday season off to rest and spend extra time with my family, then start on volume #3 in the new year. I’ll still post here, so don’t worry about that!
I’m wondering if there is enough time left this month for me to kind of half-assedly participate in NaNoWriMo. [I keep swearing I’ll do it, but I never have time.] Maybe I can do it for real next year…
*coughs* Anyway, I wanted to say thank you all again for your support and patience. An author is nothing without readers, and I truly appreciate all of you.