So, You Want to Write Your Own Light Novel?

Start Here!

That’s great! It’s always nice to see new English-language authors enter the pool. However, don’t be fooled by the name; “Light” doesn’t mean “easy” in this sense. In fact, because Original English Light Novels [OELN for short] are an extremely niche genre you’re going to have more difficulty finding your audience than authors writing in other genres. If that doesn’t deter you, then this guide should help you to find your footing as you undertake the quest to write your first OELN!

Ready? Let’s begin!

History Lesson: The classic anime Slayers originally started life as one of the light novels that revolutionized the Japanese pulp fiction industry.

What Exactly Constitutes a Light Novel Anyway?

If you’re concerned about word length, don’t be. LNs run from novella-length [20,000 words on average] to full novels. [40,000 words and up.] They are aimed at what we call the Young Adult and New Adult demographics [Teens to Late Twenties], known for being dialogue-heavy and for focusing on inter-character relationships. Sometimes the focus on characters and their interactions forces the overall plot to take a backseat, which can frustrate English-language readers because our books tend to do the reverse–characters take second place to the plot. The exception to this is the Main Character, who is sometimes written intentionally as a blank slate the reader can project themselves on to. This is hit or miss with an English-speaking audience: on one hand, young adult books do this quite often, but they are criticized for it.

Light novels have illustrations–and while they are usually black and white manga-style images, I have seen some full-color pieces that look like mini-paintings. You don’t need to pack them in, but a good number to shoot for is three per volume, not including any images in the front matter. Finally, LNs are usually series and span multiple volumes. There have been one-shot LNs, but they are pretty rare and often take place in the same universe as another established LN series by the same author.

OELN? Why the Distinction from Japanese Light Novels?

There are light novel purists that fully believe in the light novel as a Japanese-only work. Only a Japanese-born person–speaking and writing in Japanese–could ever truly produce a “Light Novel”. I find myself wondering if they think translating a Japanese LN to English ruins it and changes it to something else, but I haven’t had a single one answer me when I ask them. [Don’t tell them the story behind the author of “No Game No Life“, or their heads will explode.]

There are more of us that know the light novel is at heart a genre, but the purists are the loudest. Somewhere in the cacophony of argument the term “Original English-Language Light Novel” surfaced to separate “pure” LNs from… well, I the rest of us, I guess.

It stuck. It stuck so hard that authors who natively speak/write in other languages choose English for their LN endeavors. In the long run I feel the distinction is a good thing–you don’t want purists to leave you bad reviews or tarnish your reputation simply because of their purist beliefs, or because they feel “tricked” into reading your work.

Now, if this hasn’t made you want to abandon hope and run screaming into the distance, then let’s head to the next section!

[Next: Writing ->]