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).
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.
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).
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?