Light-Novels are Poorly Written and Adapting Them Shows That

For those who don’t know, Light Novels are short books released in Japan, aimed at young adults, and would usually be considered to be novellas in the west. As a medium, they could technically have a variety of genres and tropes, and yet, just as anime has things we consider to be “genre-tropes”, the same is true for Light Novels. This article will try to pinpoint what some of them are, what people are referring to when they say “This is so LN-esque!”, and how they affect characterization of characters, and the effect it has when adapting them (and some western books as well).

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya - Kyon narrates

Kyon narrates, wryly.

First, to get us started, here is something I consider a quintessential example of light novels, which isn’t actually from any given LN, but had been written by myself:

“He stared intently at her shapely leg, while thinking wryly to himself that he understood her completely in that moment.”

And if you think that this isn’t typical of action LNs, then to reinforce this is about style, here is another quote I whipped up in half a minute:

“He smirked, holding his sword confidently in hand. He could see the course the fight would take, if you could even call it a fight, as he was sure he knew all the moves his opponent would take.”

Light Novels not only would fail according to the Hemingway App (which redlines your text based on Hemingway’s style), and Stephen King’s advice in “On Writing”, but are very intensely modern, in the sense that they put the individual at the center. Well, time to break that down.

First thing that leaps at you, which is completely a stylistic choice is how many adjectives and adverbs there are. No action can simply be carried out, but everything must be narrated, everything must be commentated. You see, these descriptions in LNs rarely happen from the point of view of a detached third-person describing events, but are almost always presented in the form of the protagonist narrating the events they see. All these adjectives and adverbs are there to ensure we don’t miss anything, and to tell us how the protagonist views the world.

They also show a certain uncertainty as to the quality of one’s writing, to its efficacy in transmitting information without resorting to this tool. If one trusts their writing, and if one trusts their characters and situations to pass muster on their own, then you can just present the scene and let people interpret the characters on their own. Yes, some people might interpret things differently, but that isn’t a bug, but a feature. Not so in light novels, we must at all times know what the characters actually think, what is their take on every little thing that occurs. The scenes aren’t allowed to breathe.

Oregairu Hikigaya Hachiman Narrates

Friends speak, rather than hold internal monologues, Hachiman.

This is more than just slightly over-wrought floral descriptions, however. It is more than just not trusting your audience to get what you are going for (in the style of flashbacks). Another issue is that since the author does his characterization that way, they aren’t doing it in other ways – such as through the characters’ words and their actions. Not just the other actions’, but the protagonist’s as well. There is no need to “let actions speak for themselves” when you can just narrate every thing you want to transmit to the audience.

There is something many light novels protagonists share, which is related to the issue of flashbacks I mentioned previously – they narrate. They are wry and cynical individuals who have lengthy internal monologues. Most of what we know of them is through these monologues. And here is where we reach the realm of adaptations. How do you adapt such narrators? Either you have a “narrator track”, and the character carries on monologues internally, such as Hachiman from OreGairu or Kyon from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, in which case you reinforce their cynical and somewhat withdrawn personality, or you simply cut it out.

And that’s where it gets messy. Since so much of the characterization, especially of the main character is carried out through internal monologues, if you cut them all out then the protagonist seems like an empty shell. Yes, it’s the author’s fault, but when you adapt such a character, whose actions and words don’t speak for themselves because they never had to, you’re left with a “Too cool”, “wry”, and “slightly withdrawn” character. The common complaints against shounen LN heroes. It’s all true, but so are the cries of the LN readers who tell the anime-critics that they’re missing on the true depth of the character, which had never been carried over.

The “narrator”, the “constantly-speaking protagonist” almost seems to be a Freudian creation. This fits the Modernist idea which had put the person at the forefront, and is especially fitting for the Psychological turn of the 20th century, which puts our perspective as self-reflecting individuals as all-important. Everything written here is also very true for fan-fiction, in my experience, and can be seen in many books, such as in Naomi Novek’s Temeraire series, where I wasn’t at all surprised to find out she had begun her career as a fan-fiction author.

A very stark difference from authors such as Roger Zelazny and even Glen Cook, where most of what we see are how the world operates, with very sparse descriptions. Actions and words carry the day, and thoughts are true monologues and plans, rather than commentary on actions and words that had just been spoken. The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan seems to encompass everything written in this piece, as it has an endless array of florid descriptions coupled with characters who wrly remark about every single interaction, which gets a bit droll after the first 6,000 pages (not an exaggeration).

Hikigaya Hachiman from OreGairu has a bleak outlook.

Light novels have killed my family, and then peed in my cheerios. Well, they didn’t, but don’t expect too much :P

In a sense, it feels as if LN adaptations are like movie adaptations of books, or of complete series – they sort of assume you’ve already consumed the original material and will fill in the gaps, and often fail otherwise. This is definitely a risk of adaptation, and is more noticeable due to the original material being badly written, both in the sentence-style, and in how characters and situations are constructed. But, there’s a silver-lining! I’ve never really liked reading The Lord of the Rings, too much dross, too many descriptions, and it was just not my style. The movie cut out all the descriptions and kept the actual plot, words, and interactions.
Likewise for LN adaptations, it’s true that you lose on the protagonist’s character, but it’s not like there’s much there in the first place, and you get to avoid gems such as (from the fan-translation of Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei, to be adapted in the upcoming Spring season):

“With a sound, the normally straight pleat dress made from ultra thin fabric was massively raised, revealing a pair of tights that outlined delicious curves along with the leather holder along one thigh.”

Mahouka pls >.> I do plan to write about some specific LN series in the past, and I actually like some of them fine, but I get something different out of them than good writing/characterization, and I’ll address that. And of course, as LNs are a medium, you can find good LNs as well :P

So, how do you feel about Light-Novels, as books? Do you notice the so-called “Light-novel style?” What do you think of the issue I’ve raised when it comes to adaptations?

93 comments on “Light-Novels are Poorly Written and Adapting Them Shows That

  1. I’ve noticed the “light novel style” myself and, in reading some fan translations, have seen a few other weird quirks which I can’t tell if they are also a light novel creation or if Japanese syntax just gets weirder than it did in my textbooks (and that’s not even talking about the actual tropes, I read a lot of YA fantasy and most of the LNs I try out are also fantasy and there are some tropes/story ideas/structure to the plots that I just never find in YA).
    Outside of fan translations, the three I’m most familiar with are Spice and Wolf, Kieli, and the Book Girl series, the last one really suffers from “light novel protagonist syndrome” where I can’t tell if he’s just an overdramatic teenager, has actual anxiety issues, has problems which are exasperated by being a teen or what. Kieli is a bit of an odd story so it’s hard to talk about it’s style but Spice and Wolf also does have a lot of inner monologues and characters attempting to out-snark each other but there I don’t mind it as much, probably because without it I wouldn’t understand all the economics and that is the point of the entire series, the characters trying to one-up each other and the world in terms of profit. XD

    • Guy says:

      The Spice and Wolf stuff you mentioned, and I’m surprised it didn’t make it to the piece because it was in my mind is something related to a similar issue. We see ourselves as “Self-reflecting and self-narrating narrators,” we like to think of ourselves as witty and clever and capable of witty discussions with both sides.

      We’ve been watching too much Dawson’s Creek, The West Wing, and Gilmore Girls, in other words.

      After a discussion with someone the other day after writing this piece, I thought that the internal monologue is very central thing in noir. But there it’s a trope, and it doesn’t mean we don’t notice it, because we do. Just like in noir, the protagonists in light novels are often overly precocious, cynical and sarcastic. It fits the “cynical and hard men” trope of the private detectives from noir films, it fits a bit more of a stretch to truly consider Kyon from Haruhi Suzumiya a “hardboiled person”, and in the case of say OreGairu it does make some sense, since his consideration of himself as such is one of the things the series mocks.

      But all the other series take themselves and their wry protagonists seriously, so one could say that OreGairu mocks other LNs, not just their protagonists, and perhaps for good measure.

      I’ll be honest, after some comments here I’ve pulled out some of my Harry Dresden novels, which suffer from some of these. The lack of all the adjectives and adverbs certainly makes it easier to read, less floral. Yes, the fan-translations of LNs from Japan don’t help, but considering they’re written like fan-fiction it’s not the only thing.

      But why do I like Harry Dresden? First, it fits the character, in a way it doesn’t fit most of these teenagers. Second, I actually enjoy quite a few of these LNs. If I don’t think they’re well-written, it doesn’t actually stop me from enjoying them, necessarily. I read a lot of books, and I read different books for different reasons, and can even enjoy them for different reasons.

      Saying something isn’t “great” or perhaps it’s not even good isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it.

  2. Sataniel says:

    So I decided to test some english transated LNs against Hemingway app.

    A Simple Survey by Kamachi Kazuma: Grade 6 Good
    Paragraphs: 3011
    Sentences: 5594
    Words: 62270
    Characters: 282424
    271 of 5594 sentences are hard to read.
    102 of 5594 sentences are very hard to read.
    737 adverbs. Aim for 1004 or fewer.
    210 words or phrases can be simpler.
    407 uses of passive voice. Aim for 1119 or fewer.

    Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria vol 5 by Eiji Mikage: Grade 5 Good
    Paragraphs: 2551
    Sentences: 4718
    Words: 45323
    Characters: 210397
    131 of 4718 sentences are hard to read.
    52 of 4718 sentences are very hard to read.
    612 adverbs. Aim for 850 or fewer.
    176 words or phrases can be simpler.
    182 uses of passive voice. Aim for 944 or fewer.

    Zaregoto vol 2 by NisiOisiN:Grade 3 Good
    Paragraphs: 1
    Sentences: 17551
    Words: 99430
    Characters: 446243
    0 of 17551 sentences are hard to read.
    0 of 17551 sentences are very hard to read.
    1421 adverbs. Aim for 0 or fewer.
    215 words or phrases can be simpler.
    295 uses of passive voice. Aim for 3510 or fewer.

    And then I decided to check something bad:

    Sword Art Online vol 7 by Kawahara Reki: Grade 8 Good
    Paragraphs: 2273
    Sentences: 4612
    Words: 62719
    Characters: 297957
    519 of 4612 sentences are hard to read.
    204 of 4612 sentences are very hard to read.
    1047 adverbs. Aim for 758 or fewer.
    313 words or phrases can be simpler.
    451 uses of passive voice. Aim for 922 or fewer.

    Inifinite Stratos vol 7 by Yumizuru Izuru: Grade 6 Good
    Paragraphs: 4272
    Sentences: 5694
    Words: 41923
    Characters: 209399
    156 of 5694 sentences are hard to read.
    45 of 5694 sentences are very hard to read.
    712 adverbs. Aim for 1424 or fewer.
    102 words or phrases can be simpler.
    Off On
    280 uses of passive voice. Aim for 1139 or fewer.

    Highschool DxD vol 14 by Ichiei Ishibumi: Grade 6 Good
    Paragraphs: 2987
    Sentences: 5766
    Words: 62766
    Characters: 288880
    272 of 5766 sentences are hard to read.
    116 of 5766 sentences are very hard to read.
    475 adverbs. Aim for 996 or fewer.
    257 words or phrases can be simpler.
    360 uses of passive voice. Aim for 1153 or fewer.

    Light Novels not only would fail according to the Hemingway App (which redlines your text based on Hemingway’s style)

    I have no idea what would fail this test.

    • langsend says:

      “Happy Happy man went smiling along, not a care in the world, also, he was wearing a thong. He passed by the store, he let out a roar, so the store owner’s wife (who was also a whore) came out the door and broke his face on the floor. Right and real quick, without any delay, Happy Happy man ran to the hospital, because not all was okay.”

      Readability Grade 9 Good
      Paragraphs: 1
      Sentences: 3
      Words: 68
      Characters: 270
      0 of 3 sentences are hard to read.
      0 of 3 sentences are very hard to read.
      0 adverbs. Aim for 0 or fewer.
      0 words or phrases can be simpler.
      0 uses of passive voice. Aim for 0 or fewer.

      I believe that makes the answer to your question, nothing. Nothing could fail this test.

    • Guy says:

      Actually, several pieces on this blog fail it.

      Long and complex sentences are weighted considerably more heavily than adverbs. I was also sure it was adverbs + adjectives, which was the point I was going for in that regard (in that slightly humorous aside). There are a lot of adjectives. It adds up to how everything is narrated.

      But yeah, short sentences carry the day! While this blog’s sentences run on and on :< I mean, IS 7 has 1.3 sentences per paragraph, that’s… not a lot. Highschool DxD 14 has 1.9 sentences per paragraph, and considerably more “hard” or “very hard” to read sentences.

      Also, SAO is one of the LN series that rattled in my head as I wrote this, he has a lot of adverbs. Not surprising since it’s more of an action-based series, while the more setting/people (pr0n) heavy series probably have more adjectives, rather than adverbs.

      Zaregoto seems to have run into the problem I did when copying, where it’s all 1 paragraph, which messes up the results somewhat.

    • Hontaro says:

      In this long, convoluted sentence, we will now proceed to talk about long, convoluted sentences, and as they are quite difficult to read, you may need to read them over and over again to understand their whole meaning, they are not suitable for younger audiences since their attention span is not as long as more mature people, so they will forget what they read earlier in this sentence and will not be able to put everything into context.

      Readability: Grade 20 Bad
      Paragraphs: 1
      Sentences: 2
      Words: 79
      Characters: 367
      0 of 2 sentences are hard to read.
      1 of 2 sentences are very hard to read.
      0 adverbs. Aim for 0 or fewer.
      0 words or phrases can be simpler.
      0 uses of passive voice. Aim for 0 or fewer.

      This fails the test. The “End.” is just needed because otherwise it says that there is not enough text. But yeah, the sentence has to be pretty unreadable to be classified as bad.

  3. kregano says:

    Anime adaptations of manga, light novels, and games being designed to appeal to people who already know the source material is something people outside of Japan have known for a few years now. In fact, most anime adaptations are literally infomercials for the source material, which is something mentioned/explained in a few ANNCasts and articles on English websites. I definitely agree with most of your points, in terms of the problems with adapting these works, but there’s a few bigger issues behind the general quality of light novels.

    First of all, a lot of LN writers are or seem to be first-time writers who are aping earlier works that influenced them in terms of story content, which probably explains why so many LNs and manga feel generic.

    Second, the editorial process for LNs and manga seems to be insanely arbitrary and powerful (for example, the author of Moretsu/Miniskirt Space Pirates came up with the name as a placeholder title, only to discover that editorial greenlit it without telling him until the final draft was sent in).

    Third, the editors don’t seem to provide decent feedback and set insane deadlines for new material, so it’s hard for most of the new writers to grow as writers, especially when the editors are pushing for them to alter content to ride trends to boost sales.

    Fourth, if the executives running the anime and Japanese gaming industries are anything to go by, the editors probably don’t know their target audiences as well as they think they do. I wouldn’t be surprised if LN and manga editors simply target otaku and assume the rest of the audience doesn’t care about the quality of the work.

    • Guy says:

      Yeah, it often feels as if LNs are the modern pulp, written to be submitted and released in a weekly/monthly paper, a couple of pages at a time.

      Fan-service versus infomercials.

      Not only do I feel you’ve missed my point here, the two goals, while they might exist concurrently are actually contradictory. To be honest though, it might be that authors/editors and people in charge of adaptations might not realize this either.

      Informercials: You’ve watched the show, got curious about the source material, and then went there. Awesome, more monies! It’s Anime>Source material.

      Fan-service: You not only watch the show because of the source material, you can’t appreciate it without having consumed the original material first, because all the nuances, all the actual character-building only happen there. That’s my indictment against many LNs, due to the style they are written – they have to either cut out on a lot of the characterization/world-building/etc., or they have to give you an internal monologue narrator-track, which is often quite awkward.
      This is a Source material>Anime route, and might result in less anime>source material transference, just because the anime doesn’t grab you, even when you’re assured it’s better in the source material.

      Then again, we’ll see with Mahouka. I think it’s “bad”, but I know there’s plenty of audience for it. I enjoy my popcorn shows quite a bit as well.

      • rooroomeb says:

        I think it’s because LN are almost entirely dialog, and telling, they can be written extremely fast so their companies can make money. There is very little description and while the plots seem to be interesting, the writing in them is easy to do. So it can be cranked out, its pulp. Fun to read but not going to change the mind. Also even Hemingway fails the Hemingway app… but if you take it in context that these books were written for kids, even alot of our middle grade books suffer from to much dialogue and telling. Problem is that while they were written for kids, a lot of adults like the genre, and wish people would make the writing a little more sophisticated. Or at the very least quit telling us fifty times a chapter how awesome the mc is and put some description in instead. :)

        • Guy says:

          There is a lot of description and not a lot of dialogue in most LNs. Quite the opposite of what you claim.

    • Simsoy says:

      Basically what you’re saying is that the writing process and process of creating books (probably the highest form of art) is so industrialized and commercialized the art has been stripped from the creation? That’s what light novels seem to be like. They’re novels with all the “heavy” cut out, all the literary elements, foreshadowing, development. It’s someone who took a good idea for a story (example, I’ll make up something right now: a team of humans are sent to Europa to discover a complex civilization, but another civilization from another Moon is threatening them, our heroes might work with their new friends and defeat new enemies) and they just crap it out with none of the complexities of proper writers.

      • kregano says:

        Yeah, pretty much. There are exceptions, like Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere, which is part of a series of super long LNs that have tons of details and lore, but those are fairly rare.

        The problem is that all this stuff also applies to manga, which get some other lovely forms of executive meddling, like editors pressuring authors to focus on popular characters to plot progression’s detriment.

        It’s a shame the editors don’t really seem do much besides pass on executive dictates and maybe fix basic writing issues (grammar, spelling, etc…). Amazon has tons of authors self-published stuff that’s barely any better than most LNs and manga, and even THEY have a contest where they find a good idea and hook an author with a good editor to make a good product.

  4. froggykun says:

    A lot of it has to do with translation, I think. That Mahouka passage? I can pretty much imagine how the Japanese sentence would have gone, and not only would it not have come across as less tedious to read in Japanese, it actually would have conveyed more information too. This is just how Japanese sentences are structured (dense and not very fluid in terms of syntax).

    I’m not saying this stuff is well-written in terms of Japanese prose. If anything, it comes off as very teen lit-y. I think many of the problems you point out in terms of LN writing also apply to English teen lit. Perhaps this is what you get in any brand of literature that is practically “factory produced” and rides on popularity waves. Things like style and writing voice just don’t get the opportunity to breathe.

    • Guy says:

      A lot of it has to do with translation, I think

      First, I have a friend who’s a professional Japanese to English translator/editor, and he likes LNs/4koma, and he agreed with my sentiment. I just wanted to get it out of the way, because I know you and Artemis below also read Japanese, so at this stage it’s the version war between you guys ;-)

      But, that’s not really material here, because, well, I hadn’t really mentioned stilted writing, or the quality of the technical writing of the prose at all in my piece.

      Now, while different cultures evaluate certain things differently, the reliance on adjectives and adverbs to carry characterization, that’s something I and many others in the western culture at least find to be poor. Especially for what are supposed to be fast-paced action novels.

      I know much of the “Groan, that reads so badly” is from fan-translation, but what drew my eye in the above segment are phrases that just don’t belong: Emphasis mine:

      “With a sound, the normally straight pleat dress made from ultra thin fabric was massively raised, revealing a pair of tights that outlined delicious curves along with the leather holder along one thigh.”

      It seriously reads like porn fan-fiction. And that’s exactly the thing, it’s all written like fan-fiction, not just the specific sentence-structure, but what it focuses on, the plot-structure, etc.

      And yes, it’s very common in modern teen-literature, though some of the YA fiction from 20-60 years ago had been massively different. Check out Lloyd Alexander.

      Some of these books really remind me of R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt novels, in how they’re about “Too cool for school” loner warrior types and such, right? But the characters there actually feel like characters, and while we hear all the thoughts of one character, the other characters get to breathe and feel somewhat organic, and there are actual relationships, but here we delve into more than style, but to writing style in the form of what you focus on, and whether you know how to tell a story.

      By the by, there is one very famous English series of LNs, including having a billion books released every year – Goosebumps.

    • crispeba says:

      Eh sorry to reply 5 years later but i think is unfair to say that manga has the same problems as light novels because manga is much more diverse than light novels are and it’s note even funny you can good written mangas like monster or berserk aimed at adults in manga there are many of them is just htat people don’t know about it because they aren’t adapted to anime meanwhile light novel especially isekai are more homogenous

  5. Artemis says:

    I agree with the above comment that a lot (although certainly not all) of the writing issues in LN tend to stem from translation. It’s not even that LN are ncessarily poorly translated; it’s just that in just about any translation, there’s a huge potential for sentences to come across as bulky and stilted – something I’ve definitely noticed in the few LN I’ve read. (It’s mainly for that reason that I don’t read a lot of LN. In fact, I can probably count on both hands the number of LN I’ve read in my life. I don’t read manga as such either though. I love reading, but I prefer regular novels.)

    As for anime that are adaptations of LN, I probably haven’t seen enough of them to make any generalisations. But for those that I have seen, I’ve liked some and disliked others – just like every other type of anime. I liked Durarara, Sword Art Online, Read or Die, Katanagatari, and Kino’s Journey. I didn’t much care for Haruhi Suzumiya, Golden Time, Sunday Without God, Shakugan no Shana, or Sasami-san@Ganbaranai. In short, whether or not an anime is based on LN plays little to no part in my enjoyment of the series.

    • Guy says:

      The translation of the Mahouka LNs is really shoddy, and the SAO LNs often left a lot to be desired as well, and it certainly affects my enjoyment, and it’d be silly to think it doesn’t carry over to how I feel about the LNs’ writing quality.

      And yet, what I focused on in my article aren’t the sentences themselves, but writing styles – usage of adjectives and adverbs, combined with endless internal monologues as a way to tell rather than show us what characters think and feel.

      I think Durarara!!’s situation is exactly the sort where LN adaptations work out the best, with multiple characters. I’ll touch upon it in my upcoming short piece on Durarara!!

      In short, whether or not an anime is based on LN plays little to no part in my enjoyment of the series.

      I perfectly agree. Once I watch a show, I judge it on its own merits. This entry is more about taking a step back and making some generalizations, also fueled by reading more LNs lately.

      • Vaynonym says:

        Would you mind giving an example of the “tell rather than show“? I understand that a lot of light novels do this, but I can’t think of any alternative.

        For example something simple like a character blushes. The MC notices that, tells us in his narrative that she blushes, but nothing more. Is that already “tell”?

      • Guy says:

        Check this piece by Chuck Palahniuk which came up in a discussion elsewhere of this piece.

        Telling us someone blushed is sort of fine, though a bit heavy-handed. Thing is LNs would often go “He saw her blushed, and could tell she was pining for [Name]”, that’s telling us. Adding up over pages how she always averted her eyes when he looked in her direction, how she always made sure to arrive before him so he could see her “better side”, etc? That’s showing. “She had a crush on him” is a thought that needs to arise in your head, rather than a character flat-out telling it to you. “She blushed” is sort of in the middle.

  6. bokusen says:

    Well it depends. I really liked Spice and Wolf, Kino no Tabi/Kino’s Journey, Fate /Zero and 12 Kingdoms. The more fan service-y stuff I couldn’t care less for though.

    • Guy says:

      Yes, it depends, but would you say “These [LNs/Anime-adaptations of theirs] are so Light-Novelish!”? I think they’re the exception to the rule. Juuni Kokki and Kino no Tabi are probably also old enough to predate much of this type of narration exactly. In anime, it feels as if Index and Haruhi had done a lot to popularize it, and their LNs began in 2003 and 2004. I wonder if some anime>LN influence also exists, in terms of influencing authors.

      Just idle thoughts.

      Nah, it’s probably something that had existed much longer. It’s something I’m also familiar with from fanfiction, as I noted.

      But yeah, the shows these are based on don’t feel like that. Kin no Tabi is a show very reliant on a single character and the space inside their head, so it could’ve fallen there.

  7. langsend says:

    I’ve never actually read a light novel, though I have been meaning too, just to get an idea of what they’re like. That said, I recognize the tropes and writing you’re talking about in a lot of anime based off LNs, but I don’t see them in others. Haruhi, FMP are filled with them, while Spice and Wolf, and Baccano are adapted well as to stand up on their own, without the source material. Also, FMP: Fumoffu seems to be a poor adaptation, while The Second Raid, while full of action LN tropes, carries itself well for the most part. And then there’s Welcome to the NHK (and I’ve read the book), which has the tropes, but uses them appropriately to reflect the eccentric tone.

  8. zekefreek says:

    As a former fanfic writer who just last year started writing an original web series, I feel a lot of this style of writing can apply to me too. This may just be me trying to cover my own ass, but I don’t think there’s anything especially wrong with the writing style. Yes, it isn’t the traditional stuffy literature prim and proper style that any English teacher might cram down your throat. But as long as it is consistent, entertaining, and conveys itself in a way a reader can understand, what is the harm?

    btw, I put what I’ve written for my series so far into the Hemmingway App. This was my result (although I didn’t do any re-formatting so some things may be skewed)

    Grade 6 Good
    Paragraphs: 1322
    Sentences: 8001
    Words: 102334
    Characters: 456191
    516 of 8001 sentences are hard to read.
    147 of 8001 sentences are very hard to read.
    1723 adverbs. Aim for 441 or fewer.
    260 words or phrases can be simpler.
    Off On
    334 uses of passive voice. Aim for 1600 or fewer.

    • Guy says:

      First, there is no “harm”, certainly not to the readers. If they get what you’re writing, it’s fine, right?

      Well, that’s true for text whose goal is merely to convey information. If your goal is to also have pretty prose, or effective storytelling, is “being understood” enough? Furthermore, even if it’s “fine”, then one should always strive to do better, no? Of course, this assumes that this is indeed better.

      While you’re allowed to do whatever as a stylistic choice, it also pays to think of the costs, and what it does. Hemingway App is an amusing tool to help you find things to focus on, but it’s not much more than that, let’s be frank.

      You have an inordinate number of adverbs, and while Hemingway App doesn’t track them, I wouldn’t be surprised if you also have a lot of adjectives. What do these add? I’ve used to read quite a bit of fan-fic over on LiveJournal, as well as play freeform roleplay in chatrooms. In chats where you only control yourself, it made a tad more sense for adverbs (and to a lesser degree adjectives) to rule the day, but when you’re the author of a complete story, you get to make sure that things are carried over due to the storytelling, rather than due to telling the audience every little thing.

      Where’s the harm to the reader with awkward and repetitive phrasings such as “He smiles softly”, “He looked at her wryly”, etc.? There’s no real harm, unless it gets annoying, if there’s harm anywhere, it’s to your story, and to you as an author.

      Here’s a little experiment. Try to remove each and every adjective and adverb from your writing that isn’t absolutely necessary. Also do so with descriptions that stand in for these, “He opened the door, surprise could be seen in his frame”. Go over the text now and hand it to readers, and ask them what they got out of it. If they got exactly the message you had intended, then what did you gain from all those extra words, why not cut them out?

      If they missed things, then there are two options: First, who’s to say having everything spelled out to you is a good thing? Different interpretations are good. Second, perhaps you need to shore up the characterization and actions to carry out your desired missives, but this time doing so as “show” rather than “tell”.

      My write-up is actually more focused on the narrating and constantly self-reflecting narrator, to which all the adjectives and adverbs are a sub-clause, as they are the narrator giving us the information, the narrator being the protagonist. It’s unsurprising that fan-fiction has so much of it. Much of the desire of fan-fiction is to fill up the character’s personality, to show how they would view the world, how you who are in them would view the world, and because media in the last couple of decades had taken the “constantly self-narrating narrator” to the extreme, after Dawson’s Creek, The West Wing, and The Gilmore Girls. Freud would be ecstatic, while Wittgenstein would be appalled.

      You are of course free to write as you wish, and indeed, this style is becoming more commonplace in western YA and otherwise books as well, but it’s often quite tiring, and fails as a story or a character-driven piece even as it succeeds as entertainment.

      • zekefreek says:

        I should mention I’m writing in first person perspective, so there is that.

        I fail to see how this style at all limits characterization. I’ve been told that one of my biggest strengths is my well thought-out and intricate characters and their relations to one another. I use a lot of adverbs because people tend to use a lot of adverbs when describing things in real life. A lot of speech is unnecessary, a lot of words don’t always need to be said, and while my prose might not hold up to literary standards, it reads very naturally.

        And that’s what I aim for, especially when writing in first person, is to make it sound as natural as possible. Like someone is actually telling you a story, like they would in conversation. Yes, I am telling you how this person views the world, what is wrong with that? I know you keep telling me that I can write as I please, but considering the title of this article is “light novels are poorly written” and we are referring the same general style of writing, I’m not convinced you actually feel that way.

        Extra words can only provide extra details. Can it get annoying? Sure, if used the wrong way. But I like being clear, I like being concise. I don’t want you to have to interpret every little thing. Someone moved their hand QUICKLY, and I felt it was important to let you know that. Big whoop.

  9. Bonk says:

    Yeah, always thought they were hard to read while not giving that much info. Some issues are definitely translation-related, but my general impression is that the texts are… I don’t know… clumsy? I constantly get the feeling they spend ten words on what can be perfectly done in five.

    • Guy says:

      I constantly get the feeling they spend ten words on what can be perfectly done in five.

      The same comment is often levied against my writing, and I often agree. I guess because I’m so used to this problem that I notice it so readily.

      But, they do give information. They give you small nuances, tiny things. Except, they belabour the points, and they tell you instead of showing you. Walking you through every small nuance isn’t something to be proud of.

      • Bonk says:

        The same comment is often levied against my writing, and I often agree.

        So do I. But I try to restrain myself.

        Walking you through every small nuance isn’t something to be proud of.

        Agreed. I don’t mind nuances, but the sentences really need to be split in two. Or five, in some cases.

  10. Mageman says:

    So I think its rather rushed to say that ALL LN’s have bad writing. After all, the Bakemonogatari series by NisiOisiN is extremely well written, and that translates extremely well with Akiyuki Shinbo directing the adaptations. It creates a show filled with wonderful, clever dialogue, and the LN’s are one of my favorite works of literature. Also, the LN “Kamisama no Memochou”, or Heaven’s Memo Pad, is also well written, and I felt that the adaptation was done extremely well too.

    • Guy says:

      1) The original title of this post had been “Light-Novels, Writing Style, Characterization, and How it Affects Anime Adaptations.” You’ll agree with me that’s a bit too much of a mouthful.

      2) Had I been a bit snarky, I’d say that you are coming off as someone who only read the title of the piece, and is replying to it, rather than the piece itself. I mean, it opens with a disclaimer saying “This is a whole medium. I am only going to discuss /one aspect of it/, specifically what people mean when they say something “feels like an LN.”” and I even end with the following sentence, “And of course, as LNs are a medium, you can find good LNs as well :P”

      As such, I find the notion that I’m saying all LNs to be bad to be… well, misguided and misrepresenting an article that both begins and ends with a disclaimer saying otherwise.

      3) Let’s say you find exceptions to the rule, does this mean that the rule isn’t so, or the mere fact that they’re exceptions actually reinforces the rule? I think in general that shows with a wide cast of characters such as Kamisama no Memochou do better when adapted, in part because there are more character interactions, and the characterization can be both less broad for each character, and there’s more interaction to actually have it happen, than when there are but a few.

      I’m going to avoid talking about either the Monogatari series or LNs, for a variety of reasons, at this point :) I’d just point out, in general, that we often mistake favourite for well-done and vice versa.

      • Mageman says:

        Yeah, while I did read the whole article, I do agree that many LN’s are what you say they are, poorly written, and not the best adaptations. However, because there are exceptions, I cannot call something a “rule” according to my definition of rule. That’s why I got into a lot of fights with my English teachers. I hate grammar, and the English language has far too much to memorize. I am not of the opinion that the exception proves the rule. I do apologize for missing that disclaimer at the beginning though.
        I also agree with your statement about mistaking favorite for well-done and vice versa, and I personally always try to avoid that issue. There are plenty of shows out there that I enjoy, but am perfectly willing to acknowledge that they have absolutely no positive points from a critiquing perspective. Infinite Stratos and Rosario x Vampire, for example, are both shows that I enjoyed tremendously, but when I look back and review them, I can’t for the life of me figure out why.
        But there I go talking about examples again.

  11. Sejin says:

    Regarding the thought that translations contribute to LNs coming off as poorly written, I wonder if more heavily adaptive translating would help. For example, I know that anime that are translated can’t be verbatim translations because not only would the dialogue sound incredibly awkward, but it wouldn’t fit the flaps. Given that, more often than not, adaptive scripts that may change the sentences themselves but stay true to the original meaning and feel of the dialogue as a whole seem to fare better than more literal translations.

    In the context of LN translation, I would assume that this is probably already done by translators to at least some extent (and probably more than some). But, what about essentially editing a LN that was poorly written in its original language to be better written in the language its being translated to (this is what I meant when I said “heavily adaptive translating” above)? Would that be seen as a copyright violation? Would the original author be thankful or upset? I wonder if people would think something like that would be a service or disservice to the work in its original language.

    And then, on top of all of this, you’d have to consider whether or not it’s even a practical idea in terms of whether the extra time and effort put in (which I would assume to be considerable) would be worthwhile economically. I can see the answer easily being “no”.

    • Guy says:

      I think it’s depends on a case by case basis, but imagine editing Cormac McCarthy’s books and adding in punctuation and making the sentence structure “normal”, or translating Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell without attempting to carry over a distinctly British and/or somewhat archaic atmosphere through the use of language?

      The original translator of The Wheel of Time series to Hebrew acted as an editor on his own, cutting about a paragraph’s worth of descriptions he didn’t feel were important out of every two pages. It took about 5 books till people noticed, but he’d been fired, AFAIK.

      Also, look at the example I’ve provided above:

      “With a sound, the normally straight pleat dress made from ultra thin fabric was massively raised, revealing a pair of tights that outlined delicious curves along with the leather holder along one thigh.”

      The real issue here isn’t one of stilted sentences as much as editing it to not be terrible/purple-prose would require actually changing what the author wanted to say. I mean, the author clearly wanted to tell you how her thigh was delicious and draw your mind’s eye to the skirt fluttering, and then the revealed flesh.

  12. Blueblade11 says:

    Personally, I actually kind of like the feel that LNs tend to have. Of course, there’s also the fact that you have to consider that it’s a translation, but usually the kind of language they tend to use works well as a long sequence of constant words and sentences, which is similiar to the style of writing that I wrote before I started reading LNs.

    I do agree though that the description can get a bit excessive at times, but I guess I’ve just gotten used to it.

    • Guy says:

      Personally, I actually kind of like the feel that LNs tend to have.

      Great :) We like what we like, and that’s a good thing.

      Also, I often enjoy them quite a bit as well. I like shounens, I like YA books. I can enjoy the books even if I don’t always like the prose, and I can like the prose even if I recognize it as being less than perfect.

      Being adapted to anime though a lot of it is lost, or feels awfully stilted.

  13. I’ve encountered the same things re: translation before — people seem to universally blame a light novel’s prose on the translator, when it’s a better bet that the book originally did read that way. Plus, the quality of the prose runs the gamut — only two of the “Moribito” books are in English, but they’re excellently written, and the show that adapted them continues in the same tradition. “Guin Saga” is a little pulpier as befitting its origins, but it still works well. But the “Blade of the Immortal” light novel is a real letdown on all levels — hacky, stop-and-start prose, and a story that amounts to a Greatest Hits compilation version of the original’s ideas and characters.

    • Guy says:

      I didn’t even know Blade of the Immortal had a light novel, I’ve read some of the manga though.

      And well, reading fan-translated LNs, a lot of the sentences could read better. Sometimes though when it’s unclear even who’s speaking to whom or what they’re talking about, I pause and try to think about what the author was trying to say, and if they even made sense themselves.

      Some books I’ve read translated from Russian to English (Night’s Watch series, official translation) every several pages/chapters I’d have a sentence that just made zero sense, was frustrating. I’m used to reading translated books, and the translators’ skills still matter, and they still need editing, but at some point you veer into editing the original book, something that you should be careful with.

  14. decadyn says:

    Gods help whoever attempts to read Mahouka’s english translation. The sentence structure, the word choice, the endless amounts of descriptions; its completely unreadable. And this isn’t taking into account how god awful the characters and plot are. If Mahouka gets SAO levels of popularity, I might have an aneurysm.

    • Guy says:

      I’m halfway through book 12 of Mahouka now, then I plan to do a blog-post about it this week, before it begins airing.

  15. […] Light-Novels are Poorly Written and Adapting Them Shows That. […]

  16. tantail says:

    I’m guilty of florally adjective-y descriptions when I write. Perhaps it’s why I prefer poems to writing stories, It’s an interesting read and has given me some food for thought between now and next time I try to write. :)

  17. NanoDesu says:

    (I was directed to this post from our IRC channel, so I thought I would throw in my two cents.)

    I haven’t read all the comments, but there seems to be a recurring theme that you’re relying too much on translations to make these judgments. While I would agree that there are a lot of descriptors in LNs, its not the sheer number of them but rather the literal style you often see in translation that makes these descriptors as offensively floral and heavy as they are. Take the sentence you cited:

    “With a sound, the normally straight pleat dress made from ultra thin fabric was massively raised, revealing a pair of tights that outlined delicious curves along with the leather holder along one thigh.”

    Sure, that’s not good. But a lot of the awkwardness comes right from how this was translated almost word-for-word from the original (also the horrible use of passive voice). Let’s try again (I have not read this series at all so I’m just going to randomly assume the character’s name is Mary):

    Swish. With exaggerated motions, Mary lifted her plain, pleated dress. The ultra-thin fabric gave way to reveal a pair of tights which accentuated her delicious curves, as well as the leather holder she wore along one thigh.”

    Still could be improved (for example, some of the adjectives and nouns could probably be replaced by more natural-sounding English words, but without the raw I can’t make a final judgment on that), but I think it goes to show that English is fully capable of sounding natural while incorporating all the information in that sentence.

    The one thing you need to be very conscious of before trying to conclude anything about the source material based on a translation is that Japanese is vastly different in how it presents information, given that (1) it usually does so in the opposite order as in English (noun phrases come before the nouns they modify, and verbs come after their respective objects), that (2) sentences tend to run longer and feel more stream-of-consciousness; i.e. Japanese is much more grammatically loose, and (3) Japanese is considered one of the least informationally dense languages in the world, which means when you take a Japanese sentence and turn it into English, it will often become much more condensed. If you ask me, these factors make Japanese–>English translations one of the most difficult translations to do in any stylistically acceptable way. This is not a way to try and justify subpar translations, but a reason that we translators must work that much harder to make these works as literarily acceptable in English as they are in Japanese.

    So ultimately, before you make any concrete statements, you have to either read the raws for yourself or present a more thorough analysis in which you spend a lot of effort carefully disregarding what may just be artifacts of the translation process. Claiming that anything is a “rule” here is an untenable position otherwise.

  18. 名無し says:

    Since the Mahouka sentence is the focus of quite a bit of the debate in these comments, let me try and give you folks a sense of what it reads like in Japanese.

    Here’s the Japanese sentences:

    Here’s my literal, deliberately clumsy, and as word-to-word as possible translation (note that I’m no expert at Japanese myself, so feel free to nitpick):
    “Piza”, the sound was made as the normally hidden, ultra-thin cloth that functioned to preserve the shape of the skirt was revealed, the triangular pleats upon its sides spread wide by the fierce upturning of the skirt.
    The dark brown leggings that wrapped around her nice legs were exposed nearly up to their bases, revealing the holster attached to her thigh.

    Now, these sentences are definitely not well written in my opinion (let alone my translation of them, which I emphatically did not try to make read well in English at all, but kept as close to the Japanese sentence structure and word meanings as I could.) I actually had quite some trouble with the structure of the first sentence and am not sure I understood it correctly. But a few things are obvious nonetheless.

    1) The original was two lengthy sentences. The LN translation combined them into one even longer one.
    2) Either the LN translator seriously misinterpreted the first sentence, both of us did, or only I did. I’m betting against the last option.
    3) Not directly related to the sentences, but the LN translator was translating from a Japanese-to-Chinese translation already done by someone else. “Double translation”, as this is known, is infamous for producing terrible results.

    Just for kicks, here’s how I might translate it if I were working on the LN (slightly informed by NanoDesu’s suggested rewrite):
    There was a swishing sound as Mari swiftly flipped up her skirt, causing the pleats at the sides to flatten out. The motion revealed the ultra-thin fabric of the underskirt beneath, the brown tights hugging her shapely legs, and the holster buckled around her thigh.

  19. […] had led me to believe I’d be, and the series shares and exemplifies the woes I write of in my piece about LNs’ writing style, but I actually think the adaptation might be better than the book-series, and more fun, so […]

  20. […] Guy’s post on light novel writing goes into some of the more mechanical issues that result in what I was talking about regarding […]

  21. […] 1-2 had been covered in episode 4, and the rest are likely to get covered in episodes 5-6. You can check here for some of my thoughts on LN-writing in general and why it is problematic when adapted to anime, and here for my overview of the first 11 books […]

  22. Midori says:

    I consider myself an otaku, watch anime series, read mangas, and collect merchandises – yet I love to read novels – children’s novels because of their light-hearted nature. It was only yesterday when I decided to have my very first take on light novels – the Toradora! To my distaste, I haven’t even gone through the first page.

    The first paragraph goes like this:
    “Damn it!”
    Seven-thirty in the morning. It was a fine day, and dim inside the house. The house was a double-room plus kitchen apartment facing south in a two-story townhouse, about a ten minute walk from the railway station. Rent was around 80,000 yen.

    I felt like being spoon-fed in a rush. I’d prefer if they distributed these infos throughout as the story progresses or omit such details for a while for I’ll soon figure that out by the way the character reacts to his environment otherwise it’d sound more like a real estate ad than a novel.

    Or as my sister (a Jap major) would say, Japanese literary style may appear strange to us because we don’t share the same rhetorical concepts as tackled on this site:

    As for me, I think I’d rather go back reading mangas if not children’s novels. :)

    • Guy says:

      Yeah, the manner in which LNs are written and the translation doesn’t help either. There had been some articles recently about YA fiction and the problems with it, but mostly from a story/thematic level, not prose. But you usually can’t expect much of either from LNs. But only usually, since it’s a genre.

  23. […] I wrote a post about how Light Novels aren’t the best-written literature out there, and especially how that is relevant when one adapts the light novels to anime. Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei, which I wrote a post about the first 11 novels of, is the perfect example of endless internal monologues which replace characterization and action, a lot of non-action, and purple prose that is so overbearing and ubiquitous as to drown everything out. As one could see, a focus on non-action and internal monologues doesn’t translate well to the visual medium – either you kill the pacing by delivering these things, or you’re left with an indecipherable world due to the lack of explanations, or actions that support said things. […]

  24. Stargorger says:

    I wanted to make a comment and maybe start some sort of discussion: if you’re interested in talking more feel free to email me :)

    I’m working on a Light Novel-style series at the moment that I’d like to publish (submit to the Dengeki Bunko competition). I’ve finished the first book of 6 and am going back and editing/revising/etc…before translating it into Japanese. I should mention before further comment that I believe in two concepts in writing: that there is no scale of judgment in quality higher than ‘purpose’ (which could include ‘target audience’), and that in any case, in any sort of creation, the creator’s goal ought to be to take the good and worthwhile aspects of the form they are trying to take part in and ‘redeem’ them from the other, negative aspects associated with that form through their work. Hope that makes sense.

    Most of this is based on my own experiences: many of the aspects of Light Novels that have already been discussed are indeed either typical flaws or accidents typical of the style. Some are related to translation and language conventions and some are related to cultural expectations. I’d like to point out to everyone that Japanese literature—true, deep, complex ‘adult’-language literature like Hemingway or Cook—is fairly rare and quite the exception. Japan in general simply doesn’t read stuff like that as much as the west does. Part of the culture is a huge focus on visual representation, to the extent that companies rely a lot on mascot ‘image’ characters (little anime characters to promote their brand) and the sheer volume and breadth-of-style available in manga. This is a rather large contrast to the west (although it’s shifting in recent years with TV and such), which has traditionally focused much more on the written word and prose-over-image, at least in America, likely stemming from the Catholic-Protestant split and the huge backlash against Iconoclasm.

    So, that history out of the way. My point is, Light Novels are uniquely successful in Japan specifically for some of the ‘flaws’ mentioned above. If someone wants to write a ‘Light Novel’ they are going to have to consider whether they’re willing to write in that style (even if they find it flawed) or whether they want to simply write a short YA-fiction story. Nothing is wrong with either but a single author (or even a group of authors) is not going to change the general imagery-heavy fabric of Japanese media and ‘story’ intake. All of which is reflected in Light Novels and their style/structure. I, as stated above, believe strongly in ‘redemptive’ creation. That is, if someone enjoys something as a ‘guilty pleasure’, they are admitting that they WANT the thing to be good, indeed, may find good aspects in it…and yet can’t get past some perceived ‘lowness’ or flaws in the work. Rather than simply accepting this, and rather than dismissing the work altogether (cough Twilight cough), I believe the best thing to do is MAKE it better. Take the things you like about Twilight and figure out how to re-present the story in a way you DO consider ‘good literature’, instead of just sitting and complaining.

    In terms of Light Novels, (and I’ll direct this question to everyone), this means you ought to ask yourself ‘how can I write a good, well-written Light Novel?’. Or, if writing them isn’t your thing, ‘what WOULD a well-written LN look like?’. I’m attempting to do the former. Hopefully, I’ll be able to incorporate the things I like about LN’s—and that editors like as well—into a well-written, concise prose narrative. If I can publish like that (fingers crossed), then I’ll have proven that Light Novels can be perfectly well-written from both a western AND Japanese perspective. As I believe they can.

    Just a few thoughts to share with everyone. In translating my own writing I’m planning to keep my original English text and self-publish it online as an illustrated e-book like an English-written Light Novel. That ought to help not only with translation issues (I’m in language school so admittedly my vocabulary is not amazing…but that’s what dictionaries are for, right?!), but also with localization.

    • Guy says:

      First, you might benefit from taking a look at Froggy-kun’s writing over at Fantastic Memes, where he has a whole bunch of posts about Light Novels, their writing, translation, etc.

      YA novels are a genre. Light Novels are a sub-set of it. First of all, there are perfectly fine LNs. Here I focused on a specific aspect, often belonging to specific subsets of LNs that I think is problematic. You don’t need to prove one can write “Good LNs” – you just need to see all the good YA novels out there. There’s nothing that really makes LNs stand out over YA fiction in general.

      I also think your ideas on “Redemptive Writing” to be interesting, and I hope you’ll see why I’m amused, but it feels as if you are an LN-character, with the grand talk of redeeming the sub-medium :) There is no “redemption” of a medium. I think the mere notion is misguided. You write what you write, and hopefully it’s good. Whether you write something great or terrible, it doesn’t further damn or redeem the rest of the genre. That’s why I also shake my head when people act as if a certain [anime, book, video game] existing is either proof that their chosen vocation is worthwhile, or that it must be attacked because it damages the validity of their chosen profession.

      You do what you do, for yourself, and the audience, and so does everyone else. I wouldn’t really think in terms of “Redeeming the medium”, and I don’t think any work, no matter how good, can actually do that. You’re taking to yourself a role that not only wasn’t asked of you, but further comments on how lowly you seem to think of the genre in general, that it’s in need of redemption.

      And if genre-conventions are awful, you don’t “redeem” them, you just don’t use them. If a certain model doesn’t work, your work isn’t redeeming it, but it’s in another model – such as being a novel instead of a light novel.

    • froggykun says:

      You know, like you, Stargorger, I believed that by translating light novels well I could somehow “redeem” light novel translations and elevate LNs the reputations in general. I’ve learned that this is a supremely arrogant position to take and is outright disrespectful to the authors. If you’re going to produce art, whether it’s a translation or an original story of your own, do this on your terms. Succeed as best you can. You’re not out there to diminish someone else’s work or an entire genre in order to elevate the status of your own work.

      I also find your ideas about what Japanese literature is like to be grossly stereotyped. There is no “set” style when you write in Japanese. Japanese might have certain syntactic structures which are different from English, but it can express the same ideas as the English language. If you can’t read Japanese fluently, just try reading various literary authors in translation: Murakami, Souseki, Abe, Mishima, Yoshimoto – they all have completely different styles.

      The LN “style” isn’t uniform either. While there are general observable trends, yes, there is plenty of variation. Compare Nisio Isin to Romeo Tanaka to Reki Kawahara, and these are just the popular, mainstream authors. They all approach language and storytelling differently. Don’t even get me started on the cult hits like Kieli and Gekkou.

      While I hesitate to write about industry trends since I’m an outsider, the reason LNs are “uniquely” successful in Japan cannot be entirely attributed to some inherent Japanese-ness of the storytelling. This would fail to explain the popularity of LNs in Korea, China, Taiwan and (increasingly) English-speaking countries.

      This all being said, I do agree with you that LNs can be well-written regardless of language and I don’t discourage you at all from trying your hand at the craft. So good luck with your light novel!

  25. […] the narrator from the way he or she chooses to put words together. I agree with Guy Shalev that this is symptomatic of LNs in general – at least the ones popular with the male otaku crowd. They’re full of exposition dumps […]

  26. Fionel says:

    I am not native english speakers, and I went my way to read this post and then again.

    Feeling and understanding I got from this was,
    Guy Shalev dislakes certain styles which are heavily used in Light Novels and unskilled adaptations.

    About Tolkiens LotR I somewhat agree books for me were to slow, but movie was even worse.
    I am still waiting them to finish Hobbit before I go my way to watch them, and I sincerily hope that they havent demolished only one thing where Tolkien really succeeded.

  27. Kulgurae says:

    Not to necromance this thread, but since this kind of post seems rare, everyone might welcome another voice. I’ve found translated light novels to be an exciting for of media; however, I’m often upset by their simplicity.

    I really enjoy the author’s ideas and plot (even with a little deus ex machina), and I’m sure there’s another layer of creativity abundant once read in the intended language. That said, I believe there is a third answer toward fixing the monologues nature our a dear protagonist: Expand The Story.

    This would mean adapting the original light novel series into a volume of novels (e.g., Harry Potter) with the plot adapted to give it more rigidity, seriousness, room for interpretation. One could then leave the majority of monologue in whilst decreasing it’s density. Of course, this would require obtaining an exclusive copyright permission from the publisher/author.

    I believe a LN like High School DxD could be adapted into a PHENOMENAL mature first person novel series with copious amounts of rewriting (i.e., rewriting from scratch again and again). What do you guys think? Has a LN have been adapted into a full novel before (my research says no)?

  28. […] are characterized by an exaggerated third party omniscient narrative style. (see Geekorner’s post on the light novel writing style and how that translates poorly into […]

  29. tiago says:

    Sorry but your thought regards to Light Novel are poorly written is from someone who hasn’t read ever one light novel.
    If you take animes as consideration for light novel you are just a moron.
    Even scans are incorrectly translated into English or any other language.
    You don’t understand the magic behind light novels. You go inside another world. A fiction one where you would like to be and identity some character as you.
    I have MANY light novels and this view is such a disgrace.
    Learn Japanese and then you can express your opinion.

  30. […] – You can learn more about the problem of LN writing here and here. […]

  31. komatachia says:

    You make some good points and I fully agree that the writing style in LNs are not ‘correct’ in style when comparing it to proper literature, but that is only a technicality of opinion. As froggykun mentioned, LNs are not meant to be written perfectly, properly and in my opinion shouldn’t be compared to Hemingway – ever.

    LNs are written in first person and usually have protagonists which appeal to teens because it’s much easier to relate. Even the snarky and conceited teen-angsty inner thoughts can be attributed to that.

    As for the short sentences, paragraphs, and odd descriptions there are 2 or 3 reasons. The first is the way the Japanese is written in the novels (which are in Bunkobon format, or A6). With that size, sentences are usually written top to bottom as sentences which really affects the flow. That coupled with the way Japanese is usually read (not only translation issues, but the core of language itself) really messes with the traditional English ‘perfection’ of novels.

    There is also the keitai culture/web culture to think about, which drives the way situations are described. Contrary to what you say, the length in LN descriptions is not because the author needs to describe every little thing that the main character is doing/thinking. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They typically leave out a lot of information and try to be a lot more concise. The length comes from descriptions of subtle information in scenery, mood setting lines, and ‘literary fanservice’ which, again, is not something that a proper Hemingway novel would condone.

    Or maybe I’m just talking out of my ass, so please correct me ;P

    • Guy says:

      Bad storytelling is bad storytelling. There are multiple things going on here, side by side, at the same time, and all of which hinder the enjoyment, and the adaptations point it out even more. A story having shoddy sentence structure is never to be excused. Prose you have to plow through? You enjoying the book isn’t because of them, but in spite of them.

      Some of the explanations of “This is what most of the books are like” don’t hold water, if most books are crap, it doesn’t make them any less crap. The way of “narration from within” is definitely related to the audience, but I’ve seen it done in other ways, and even when done like that, it could be done better. I mean, having one character narrate everything works, when they miss things, and when you see their side of stuff, but then stuff actually happens. In LNs, everything, including how people react, and would react is narrated through the narrator. It’s an extremely heavy handed way of storytelling that usually shows the author can’t pass the information any other way.

      This isn’t simply technical stuff, it’s the core of storytelling and fluidity. I have a number of friends who are professional Japanese to English translators, and they agree, these books are poorly written. Even in Japanese. Just like a lot of “Penny Dreadful” type books in English are badly written.

      This “group defense” of these novels is missing the point, and is conflating “I like the stories” with “I like the novels, thus they can’t be scrutinized and criticized.” You can like the story, while agreeing the way they’re told is crap. Which it is.

  32. Classic example of lost in translation.
    A lot of here is lost in the fact that Japanese literature has different standards in quality ans expression.
    I´m Brazilian, in my country we learn in school that purple prose, passive narrative and detailed descriptions of feelings over action is good writing and clear and direct approach is bad writing.
    In Japanese literature the light Novel style is correct, many things people complain here are discussed in universities as the best way to tell a history.

  33. […] “But Froggy!” you say. “Light novels are poorly written and adapting them shows that!” […]

  34. […] “Light novels aren’t real literature.” […]

  35. czach says:

    Firstly, Dostoyevsky narrates and has lengthy lengthy ass monologues, and yet he’s still considered probably the greatest Russian novelist out there or Tolstoy. Actually its non-narration that’s a modern thing and a Freudian thing, thanks to the invention of ‘unconscious motivations’ and subtext and Freudian symbolism. But you are correct that for Japanese it started in modern times because that was when the “I-Novel” style started in Japan. It’s a completely different literary history from the West and Hemingway is not the best writer out there anyway; I’d go for a monologue-heavy complex Dostoyevsky or a self-conscious Osamu Dazai novel over Hemingway or Stephen King any day.

    Secondly, your caption of Yahari is exactly what he’s commenting about, how people flow into one another without any care or self-analysis; they speak, but they don’t understand.

    Thirdly, well you’re reviewing translations, which is obviously going to be bad because the people that translated it are random people online.

    Fourthly, and I think this is the biggest one, the LNs that are most lauded by the English community are pretty low or average by Japanese standards, mainly because the ones that are good are untranslatable for their sheer complexity. Its like trying to translate Shakespeare with all his language nuances and rhythm into another language, bloody impossible. You cannot ever judge Light Novels until you’ve read Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, A Lollipop and a Bullet, Murasaki-iro no Qualia etc…

    By the way, if you’re going to invoke Zelazny from the SF New Wave, I’m going to invoke Gene Wolfe, who is known as the Shakespeare of the SF new wave, loves to write in first-person narration with a lot of psychological tricks and unreliable narration. Actually if I wanted to go against your ‘rule’ I would just invoke the bard himself. If you ever think monologues are unaesthetic just face Shakespeare’s entire soliloquy pack, face Faulkner’s endless stream of spiel, face James Joyce and David Foster Wallace.

    Here’s the thing, bad writing is in no way related to structure, plot or characterization. It is only related to the words themselves. Look at Flaubert, who is considered the highest writer in France, who wrote a novel on the most banal concept as a dare and dissects the whole life of a bored housewife. Look at Beckett who wrote about an armless legless man in a bathtub and explicates entirely what goes on in his mind. Look at Henry James. Touting “show not tell” and the ice-berg principle are the two main weapons of creative writing class professors who don’t know what it takes to be a good writer.

    Here is an excerpt from The Lady and The Dog, which was Hemingway’s favorite Chekhov story

    “It seemed to him that he had been taught enough by bitter experience to call them anything he liked, and yet he could not have lived without the “inferior race” even for two days. In the company of men he was bored, ill at ease, with them he was taciturn and cold, but when he was among women, he felt himself free and knew what to talk about with them and how to behave; and he was at ease even being silent with them. In his appearance, in his character, in his whole nature there was something attractive and elusive that disposed women towards him and enticed them; he knew that, and he himself was attracted to them by some force.”

    Completely just throws the information in your face, yet Chekhov just excels at psychological analysis and psychological realism. Likewise if Hachiman was like Kyon then Yahari would completely break down as a show even though both have the same style of narration, and yet it doesn’t, because whatever comes out of Hachiman’s brain rings psychic cherries for whoever reads or watches it, and that’s all you need in writing, to be able to extricate all those psychological explosions in people’s heads, to get them to feel that the world is beautiful, empathetic, interesting and meaningful no matter with what style or what way.

  36. […] “objective qualities” means “agreed upon by most people,” which is why LNs are objectively bad, because most people, when reading an LN and reading actual fiction and asked which is better, will […]

  37. DMR says:

    This was a very interesting article… and I feel that some of the issues with LNs also come from different culture and how translations aren’t perfect….. but in the end, isn’t “good” and “bad” something based on the individual?

    The greatness of a story is based upon how well its enjoyed. Style and other stuff are also based upon taste. As someone who has read a wide variety of literature, I don’t find a problem with the LN writing really and I found many of the adapted anime quite good (not as great as the LN, but isn’t that how most adaptions are?).

    That said, what you have written was a very enjoyable/informative read, so thanks XD

  38. Paul Teevan says:

    What was wrong with Kyon? i though the whole point was to have someone relatively normal, yet wry and clever observing this craziness, and I figured he was “picked” by Haruhi because he had a mind that could handle it. And is it odd that I found the Hack G.U Light Novels extremlly well written?

  39. I’ve never read a light novel, but this sounds like “Fifty Shades” and “Hunger Games,” both books where the main character endlessly comments on everything happening around them. Seems to be a modern and popular trend of writing. The phrase “show don’t tell” has never been utilized less.

    • Dororo says:

      People have different way of writing and culture makes it more diverse, I don’t see Japan complaining, why do English readers feel like its wrong or trash because of their own cultural or social perspectives, I believe if u hate something ignore it not go about badmouthing it

  40. Lazarinth says:

    Hey, very informative post. I’m premiering the first chapter of a Light Novel on my blog tomorrow. Pretty generic virtual world premise but I would love it you could provide some feedback.

  41. Laura says:

    I’ve never read a light Novel but have seen a few anime that were rather complex in characters and story and later found they were based on a Manga. I just stumbled on the Irregular at Magic High anime and then your article when I was curious about the rest of the story.
    I laughed for five minutes on that translation of the skirt with the thin material pulled up with a sound to reveal tights…
    I also found your points on fanfict interesting. When comparing talented fanfict with published novels there was a style difference I noticed at times, but I couldn’t always place my finger on what it was. I figured it was emotional character maturity and less dramatic outburst in the published novels but it could also have be the descriptive style. I will observe more closely now I know what to look for.
    I know excellent writing when I read it but I can’t always say what components created it or create it myself. I just appreciate it when the words become something and a world takes their place.
    In the end I am a sucker for a good story. I am not picky on writing if it is moderately decent and the story good.

  42. R34 GT-R Rider says:

    well fuck that I admit most (if not all) protagonists in these LN’s are like that but Haruhi was actually hella’ good, at least in my opinion though, the disappearance arc and alpha/beta arc was kind of engaging, and the disappearance of Haruhi was epic as fuck, especially if y’all watching it in English dub(one of the best dubs imo, suck it subbed fan brats)

  43. […] this line of argumentation comes from the comments on Guy’s blog, especially his post about light novels. Here’s one gem of a […]

  44. librarian25 says:

    I wouldn’t say LN are books, they’re exactly what they sound like….light. Before I started reading them I have always heard so much hype, and how they are fantastic pieces of art from fans all over. So, like any curious person I decided to buy the first “A Certain Magical Index,” because a.) it was a light novel, and b.) it was the most famous light novel that gets all the praises. I’ll admit that I was excited, but damn after reading it I was seriously let down. It did not read like a book, it read like a HS students notes. My two biggest problems with LN are when people talk and they don’t specify who is actually talking (had to reread dialogue so many times the first time I read a LN) and the fact that they over-utilize the …..I mean seriously, I there once was a paragraph of ellipses and it pissed me off so much.

    One of the reasons I think this happens is that the people who write LN are usually not from a formal writing background. I think the creator of SAO started it out as a web book, but was then so popular a publisher wanted to print it. This type of thing, plus up and coming writers have a different mindset when forming these LN and I think they take them for fun, and treat them like a hobby. Am I saying all of them do this? No, but I think a good portion do.

    Even though I’ve said all of this, there are some LN that I really enjoy. For instance, Log Horizon is better written than the average LN (from my experience) but it was still a little hard to get through. SAO was enjoyable, but only because his writing style is so much different from everyone else’s. Like I could feel he had potential to get better. And lastly, Kizumonogatari which came out recently. One of the best written LN I have ever read. Props to the translator. And although I liked reading these, they still all had story problems. Kizumonogatari’s ending pissed me off so much that I was fuming for the next few days. SAO’s stories and ways it goes about telling them is infuriating, because I know it’s just missing those slight changes that would fix so many problems.

    The last thing I just want to add, is that LN are supposed to be much more character driven I guess, but I feel like that’s rarely the case. A lot of the time I still feel like I’m reading two dimensional characters. Thus, I give major props to any studio who tries to tackle LN as anime.

    • Elijah Villarmia says:

      Yeah they are exactly that, light novels. “Light” books or “light” stories. They are easier to read (in japanese since it doesn’t contain complicated kanji) and it has less words and pages. You can consider them longer short stories.

  45. Elijah Villarmia says:

    Ok so when you say that LNs are poorly written, you are talking about how it has a lot of narration, syntax and heavy use of adverbs and adjectives? Correct me if I’m wrong, just want to clarify this.

    • Guy says:

      Of these, mostly the narration. The point is more about both the reasons for these symptoms, and their effect, which is stories that are told (or shouted), and not at all shown. It’s the use of all these crutches which showcases poor authorial control, and which in turn lead to a more stilted reading experience. And all of which also causes issues in adaptations, but said adaptations also reflect back on the flaws in the original medium, even through the lens of that medium on its own.

  46. Jon k. says:

    I can’t help but notice that your sources are “fan translated” works and the anime is a pirated copy :)

    • Guy says:

      I’ve tried the official translations of Spice and Wolf, one of the works lauded as “good”. They’re not that much better. I’ve also spoken to some Japanese to English translators who read LNs in their original language.

      Also, I can’t help but notice such comments magically appear only when one is negative about something someone else likes. Curious how that works :)

  47. As an author who’s biggest inspiration comes from anime, manga, and LNs, I think that I can agree with a lot of what you said. At the same time, I don’t think LNs are bad or even poorly written. True, they might not pass the Hemmingway test and Stephen King’s “On Writing,” but those aren’t the only two ways to write.

    I do think a lot of series could’ve done without the unnecessary adverbs. At the same time, I’ve read Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, and he can get pretty wordy when the mood strikes him. Now, I honestly don’t like Stephen King’s works. Dark Tower was okay, but I’ve never been a big fan. I enjoyed the Dresden Files more, which might be why I prefer LNs. They feel similar–only DF has less adverbs.

    The only thing I do think is that LNs suffer from not being developed enough. I think this can be blamed on their dense publishing schedule. I’m not sure how often light novel volumes are published, but I think it’s something like one volume every 3 to 4 months for a popular light novel author. This leaves little time for a story or character to become fully developed. Prose often suffer because authors don’t have enough time to polish their writing before their next volume is put into print.

    Even so, there are a few light novels that have surprised me. Log Horizon, recently published by Yen Press, is fairly well-written. Grammatically, at least, it is one of the best written light novels I’ve read… though it gets really wordy and the world building is dense. I saw in an earlier comment that you felt Spice and Wolf wasn’t written much better than most other LNs (You can correct me if I am misinterpreting your words), and while Spice and Wolf does have some of the same pitfalls that you mentioned, I think it’s still a decently written series.

    You mentioned before that there are several light novel series that you enjoy reading. Out of curiosity, what are those series? And why do you enjoy them?

  48. Life Glass says:

    It may be because I’m not an excellent writer (and therefore I don’t mind about spelling mistakes or ways of writing), but I still enjoy reading LN’s, mainly due to one reason: they’re like US books, but with different, more daring plots. Admittedly, they do have occasional punctuation and structural errors here and there, but despite that, they never fail to seize my interest.

  49. […] novels have been criticized for their low literary quality and how that poor quality is reflected in their anime adaptations. I have a lot of objections when […]

  50. […] novels have been criticized for their low literary quality and how that poor quality is reflected in their anime adaptations. I have a lot of objections when […]

  51. schillingklaus says:

    I detest the “show, don’t tell” doctrine unconditionally; therefore, any novel violating it is one important step into the right directions, regardless of what your propaganda tries to make me believe. But I still vastly prefer the intrusive narration of European tradition over any Japanese stuff.

    Decent adaptations would use Greek chori, written captions, or voicover narration to represent narratorial intrusion.

  52. John Terrell says:

    Yeah man, you’re totally right! Light novels in-general are full of crap, and it’s even worse, when said crap gets turned into an anime, when there are other series out there that truly deserve an anime series. I mean, it’s not fair, like, seriously! I really hate it, when I hear news about yet another crappy light novel getting adapted into an anime, it pisses me off! It’s gotten to a point, where I R-E-F-U-S-E to watch any anime, where it’s source is a novel. Novels, light novels, visual novels, I don’t care, it’s all the same crap! Screw that!

    It’s not like we can do anything about it, though (I’m perfectly aware that all I’m doing is just moaning, but seriously), since the Japanese view us all as filthy gaijin that don’t know anything anyway. I suppose I’ll never understand the Japanese virtues of light novels and giving them anime adaptations, not that I care to know, anyhow.

    Perhaps Hayao Miyazaki was right, when he said that anime was a mistake. Adapting light novels was where anime in-general began to go downhill. Whatever happened to the good old days? Seriously, this really sucks!

    • Hayao Miyazaki never said anime was a mistake. That’s a troll quote that was miss-attributed to Hayao Miyazaki. It stems from the transcript of Miyazaki’s interview with the Japanese news site Golden Times, published on January 27th, 2014. During the interview, Miyazaki expressed skepticism regarding the current state of anime as an art form and a cultural industry, particularly how little the new generation of animators are seeking inspiration from actually observing human behaviors and interactions in real life. On January 30th, a translation of the original interview was provided by English-language Japanese news site RocketNews24.

      Here is the quote: “You see, whether you can draw like this or not, being able to think up this kind of design, it depends on whether or not you can say to yourself, ‘Oh, yeah, girls like this exist in real life. If you don’t spend time watching real people, you can’t do this, because you’ve never seen it. Some people spend their lives interested only in themselves. Almost all Japanese animation is produced with hardly any basis taken from observing real people, you know. It’s produced by humans who can’t stand looking at other humans. And that’s why the industry is full of otaku!.”

      Then on January 25th 2015, Tumblr blog old-japanese-men posted two animated GIFs containing images of Miyazaki from 2013 documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. They are captioned with made-up quotes expressing extreme dissatisfaction with the state of anime and otaku culture. As of March 11th 2016 the post has 271,725 notes. Please note, “made-up quotes”, as in, these are not real quotes.

      Now, I’m not going to say anything about your opinion on light novel anime. I personally think you are wrong and have enjoyed many light novel anime from the earlier stuff like Slayers and Vampire Hunter D to the newer stuff like Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- and Chivalry of a Failed Knight. However, this is my opinion. I’m not going to wage a battle by pitting my opinion against yours.

      What I do want to do is to inform you that if you are going to use a quote from a well-known animation professional, please make sure you check your sources, otherwise you end up misrepresenting the person you’re quoting, which is disrespectful.

      Consequently, Slayers and Vampire Hunter D, two anime that were based on light novels, came out in 1995 (Slayers) and 1985 (Vampire Hunter D) respectively. You might be surprised, but light novels have been adapted into anime as far back as the mid 1980s. The good old days that you talk about never actually existed.

  53. whartanto2 says:

    I’m trying to be the devil’s advocate here. I think it is liberating to see a style that has not been ‘tainted’ by the Hemmingway’s iceberg theory or “Show, Don’t Tell” doctrine of western literature. Imagine if you are a Game master in a Dungeon and Dragon game and you said to your players “I won’t TELL you the rules, you have to deduce the rules from what I SHOW you. Plus I will only show 1/8 of what I know. You won’t be able to see the other 7/8, but they will provide “weight” to your characters”

    I would leave that D&D Game so quickly and find a better GM.

    • Guy says:

      That example is so far out there. That’s not what “Show, don’t tell” is about, and it assumes you understand other humans and the social context of interactions and works. I’d say that what LNs are currently doing is a GM who gets so lost in his opening dialogue that all the players end up leaving after 3 hours before the GM finished narrating the opening tavern’s walls, and its serving wenches, of course.

  54. Cat says:

    I think this is just the standard. How many novel adaptations are there in the western? Or how many good animes are good, to begin with. Just a handful and let’s not mix popular with being good. As much as people want to say that Naruto, DBZ are good animes, they are not, they are actually pretty bad ones, yet they make a lot of money. It’s just bad. Even normal novels, many of them are terrible, be it western or oriental, only a handful are good, there are some guilty pleasure ones that I even I have, but they are still bad.

    To put it simple, no one watches a Nicolas Cage movie because the outstanding acting.

    The biggest question, when was the last time you saw a good adaptation? Can you count 10 good adaptations in the past year? I’m even having trouble right now thinking about one.

  55. John Doe says:

    Light novels are a guilty and cheap pleasure to read. Indulging yourself in a story with turning off your brain, the writing does it all for you. You are forced to interpret the story and meaning through the main character and their internal monologues, far more monologues than any person whether they use them or not in real life does.

    How often does a person say “Oh crap, I must dodge this swing of the sword coming right at me, it’s getting close, but to save my princess, I need to parry then aim for this bad guy’s necks. Okay here it comes, ready!” inside their head during a sword battle in real life? Does time slow down for a person to concoct a grammatically correct sentence they subvocalize in perfect grammar? Who even thinks like this? It takes out immersion, at best you can pretend this is a plot device, a form of narration, but there is no way this literally happens that much.

    I believe some of it is to add extra words to the total count. How many people recite three paragraphs in their head before getting a cup of coffee rather than dragging themselves out of bed and instinctively making a cup of coffee for the 10000th time in their life without any inner voice, being tired as hell and so used to the routine? Probably with their thoughts elsewhere. Plus not everyone has an internal monologue, people with dyslexia and ADHD tend to lack one, thinking in abstract, patterns, senses, or conceptual flashes. People with severe depression may even lack one too since their head is “dead inside”.

    The flashbacks too are also guilty of this ridiculous sort of story pausing. It would be more forgivable if it was also framed merely as a plot device, as in a fourth wall or meta narration, but it is portrayed as literal. Have fun being hit by a car main character as you recall something for 10 minutes in the middle of crossing the road!

    Okay after this pedantic critique, I’ll get to the biggest point. You are forced by these modernistic parodies of narration and dialogue to only perceive the story from the point of view of the character which probably makes it easier to not elaborate on what is going on outside or to make anyone besides the protagonist have depth and backstory. I recall an old experiment where they showed a black and white film of a russian village, the narrator simply changed his choice of words in two versions, one portraying it as a hellish nightmare, the other as a nice place to live, and people believed whicher they were shown.

    Light novels are a cheap indulgence, churned out with preset narratives and lack originality longer novels have. But that is why there are so many, and you can plow through them quickly without analysing or taking breaks. If they were a food, they’d be a big tempura buffet with beer to gorge on for an hour limit, while a regular novel would be meal with courses and a glass of wine with each one, smaller portions too, eaten over several hours.

  56. Kasparov says:

    Like Czach said, I tend to find writers that simply “tell well” to be much better than writers who try to “show not tell”.

    Just compare a great movie like The Thin Red Line (1998) to a mediocre one like Nausicaa.

    I can vividly remember a huge amount of the narration, dialogue, and characterization in The Thin Red Line but I cannot recall any good characterization in Nausicaa (or any other Miyazaki film for that matter).

  57. […] course, people have a lot to say about Light Novels (sometimes not good things) But the truth is, light novels are one of the main sources of creativity and profit for the whole […]

  58. Neu says:

    I do agree that light novels are craptastic, but the Hemingway app is not really a good application for determining good writing since a lot of Victorian-era writers will fail.

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