The Psychology, Geography, and Architecture of Horror: How Places Creep Us Out

I found a fascinating paper on why certain things creep people out, which is invaluable information for writers of horror, suspense, and anyone else who wants to play their reader’s nerves like a fiddle.

Abstract

Why do some types of settings and some combinations of sensory information induce a sense of dread in humans? This article brings empirical evidence from psychological research to bear on the experience of horror, and explains why the tried-and-true horror devices intuitively employed by writers and filmmakers work so well. Natural selection has favored individuals who gravitated toward environments containing the “right” physical and psychological features and avoided those which posed a threat. Places that contain a bad mix of these features induce unpleasant feelings of dread and fear, and therefore have become important ingredients of the settings for horror fiction and films. This article applies McAndrew and Koehnke’s (2016) theory of creepiness to the study of classic horror settings and explores the role played by architecture, isolation, association with death, and other environmental qualities in the experience of creepiness and dread.

Full article here: https://esiculture.com/the-psychology-geography-and-architecture-of-horror

How to Write Light Novels and Webnovels

Rob’s newest book is available online! After three years of research and writing, your guide to the secrets of writing successful webfiction has arrived!

You can write the Light Novel or Webnovel you want…

Right now, writers just like you are making stories that are setting the world on fire. Light Novels are getting turned into games, anime, and movies, while Webnovels are making authors into millionaires with legions of fans.

And, all of them started with just an idea, and a little creativity.

You’re creative and you have amazing ideas – you just need a little extra help in shaping those ideas into something that brings out their potential. Let a writing teacher with over twenty years of experience guide you through the writing process of making your story dreams into story reality.

In this book you’ll learn…

  • The 10 things popular Light Novels and Webnovels have in common
  • How to master the 8 major webfiction genres, including Isekai, litRPGs, Fantasy, Slice-of-Life and Romance
  • About all 3 styles of Asian light fiction – Japanese, Korean and Chinese, and what makes each of them special.
  • To use the 5 levels of story to build solid serials that get read to the end
  • 12 simple steps to turning your ideas into epic stories
  • And…so much more!

Rise to the challenge, and show the world what only you can do. This is your opportunity to show off your ideas and join the ranks of writers who are blazing trails across the world.

Get How to Write Light Novels and Webnovels today!

Starting making your own legend.

20 Tips for Writing Successful Webnovels

There are a number of survival strategies that Webnovel authors use to try to keep on top of their relentless workload while keeping their audience happy. These are strategies that any serial writer can learn from, although some of them are fairly specific to this meat grinder approach to writing.

Keep the story simple – Webnovels have extremely simple long term goal-driven plots. That goal might be “become a god” or “win the love of a good man,” but they’re always built around simple and direct Spine of Action which naturally give the author a lot of room to expand and play with.

Keep it primal – The motivations of Webnovel characters (like any good fictional characters) are primal ones that any audience member will understand because they’re things that all humans feel. A desire for revenge, to protect their family, to uphold a personal reputation, to save someone, to gain love, to regain something which was lost, to make money, to build something greater- these are all primal motivations which let the reader and lead character connect.

Be your lead – Your lead character is a power fantasy alternate world version of yourself- own it. They’re you, simplified, slightly generic, and given a few positive traits for the audience to connect with. Don’t spend time agonizing over the perfect lead, just get in there and write your fantasy- because others have the same fantasies and will relate to you. Not only that, it’s what will make your character feel unique and different from the other leads- you are the secret sauce!

Make sure your lead is active – Your lead character is the driving engine of your story- they need to want something, and want it bad. They can’t be passive or unsure- they WANT it, and everything they do is in service to achieving that goal. Your story is about how the lead character achieves their goal- everything else is secondary.

Hit the ground running – You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so the saying goes. Good advice for writers too, as audiences have little patience for a story to warm up, especially in Webfiction. The central plot, motivation, character, goal and other essentials must be delivered in the first few chapters or the audience is going to be looking to get their entertainment fix somewhere else.

Stay audience focused – The goal of a Webnovel writer, first and foremost, is to entertain their audience, and give them that hit of dopamine they crave. Plot, character, fine prose and witty dialog are all secondary and just there to keep the audience happy, and no trick, no matter how cliche or crude is off the table if it keeps the audience coming back for more. Chapters must always end on dramatic questions, and no plot twist is too wild if the audience enjoys it. This isn’t writing War and Peace, this is producing fast junk food entertainment.

Power fantasies sell – The audience is there to have their emotions stroked, and the simplest way to do this is to have the main characters act out the fantasies of the audience.

Keep it PG – The sad truth is that general audience stories make more money exactly because they’re targeted at the widest possible audience. The more people you turn-off/offend, the less people are going to be reading your story. Swearing, sex, torture, graphic violence and other dark content are just going to turn people away, especially teens who are the target audience of most of these stories. A little dash of these can add spice to a story, but too much will have readers heading for the doors.

Revenge plots sell – The strong bully the weak, the hero steps in and gets revenge on the bully, the audience eats it up and cheers. Rinse and repeat.

Sexual fantasies sell – Cater to the sexual and emotional desires of your audience if you want to keep them coming back. The love interests must always have some sexualized selling points (large breasts, gorgeous eyes, handsome features, beautiful shape, etc) and other traits which stimulate the audience on a personal level. Don’t be afraid to dip into sexual fetishes, but not too deeply. The temptation of sex sells much better than the act itself. (Unless you’re specifically writing for an audience that expects sex.)

Harems work – A main character who finds their love and commits is boring, but one who must choose between many different wonderful options keeps the reader interested in who they’ll end up with. Not only that, it lets the writer crowd the story with a whole array of walking sexual fantasies for the character and audience to lust after. Everywhere the main character goes, they should be encountering beautiful potential love interests.

Everybody loves a winner – The man character is a power fantasy stand-in for the reader, and the reader hates to lose. If your main character starts to lose, the audience won’t be into it and will wander off to read about some other winner. Characters can suffer setbacks in their goals and shouldn’t always get what they want, but in the long run their path should only go in one direction- up!

Luck over effort – In many Webfiction genres, the main character is on a long and hard road, one which is normally overcome by blood, sweat, and determination. The problem is doing that stuff involves a lot of boring time doing actual work, which is not really a lot of fun for the audience or that dramatic. So instead, while the main character should look like they’re working hard, they should actually be getting a non-stop stream of lucky breaks that let them skip ahead to the good stuff. Audiences love this, because it makes them feel like they’re one lucky break away from success in their own lives, and that hard work is overrated. However, you still need to pay lip service to doing work, so the main character should still do something to earn each of their lucky breaks- just things which are dramatic and interesting. (Like rescuing people, exploring ruins, winning duels, and other things which allow them to seem to earn their next power-up.)

There’s always someone bigger – The writer should establish right from the start that there’s a hierarchy, and the main character’s place in it. (Usually near the bottom.) This gives the character a distant goal to work towards, and helps the audience understand the challenge that the main character is facing, making it seem more difficult. (Which in turn makes the audience more interested in seeing how the main character manages to overcome that massive disadvantage.)

Start the main character with a handicap – The main character should never start average- they should start below average. Whether it’s because of a curse, poor health, being orphaned, born to the lowest caste, or whatever- they should always start in the worst possible place. This creates instant audience sympathy because we love underdogs and feel connected to them. It also makes the thrill of their success all the more sweet.

Style is overrated – The point is to keep cranking out interesting stories as fast as you can, not tell them in some great and flashy style. Find a tight, concise storytelling style that lets you write fast and use that for writing your Webnovel, don’t worry about wowing the audience with your prose. Just tell the damn story, and if that means telling and not showing, then so be it. As long as it’s interesting, the audience doesn’t care about your style. (But they do care about grammar and spelling, so make sure those are still solid.)

Know your genre tropes – Genre tropes are tropes because people love them, and they work. No matter how many lists of cliches are made, or TV Tropes debates happen, the truth is that those tropes are there for a reason, so don’t avoid them- embrace them. Know what they are, and be ready to use them to keep your audience happy, no matter how much the critics may moan.

Write ahead – You will always get sick, or have writers block, or a family issue, or whatever else life decides to throw at you. This isn’t a possibility- this is factual reality like death, taxes, and people bothering you when you’re trying to write the best parts of your story. There is only one solution for this- write several chapters ahead of what you release, with a minimum of three chapters in the bank. For serials, where you’re responding to reader feedback, too many chapters ahead can cause trouble in case something doesn’t work the way you planned, but not writing ahead at all is asking for skipped release dates. And, as any serial content producer can tell you, the road to hell is paved in missed deadlines.

Listen to your audience – For most fiction writing, the best advice is to mostly ignore your audience and just write what you want. For Webnovels, the point is to write what the audience wants to read, and the only way to do that is to pay attention to whatever feedback you’re getting from them. Learn what your audience likes and doesn’t like, and then give them more of the good stuff. However, do remember that sometimes not giving them what they want until the last possible second produces better results than just giving it to them right away. (Also, don’t lose sight of your central story goal.)

Do some loose planning – While you need to be nimble and ready to change the story to suit your audience tastes, it’s not a bad idea to plan the story out very loosely from start to rough finish. A two or three page synopsis is fine, and it can make the world of difference when writer’s block comes down the line. Also remember that long stories are like eating elephants- they’re done in stages, one bite at a time. Plan a series of steps, not a whole big block. That lets you slip in other steps or re-arrange things as you go.

My Favorite Manga of 2017

This has been an interesting year for me, not the least of because I spent half of it working on my first major nonfiction book, Write! Shonen Manga. Now, I normally read a lot of manga, and am always looking for new series to check out, but because of the research I was doing I really doubled down on trying new series that might not have appealed to me in the past.

As a result, I found quite a few interesting titles, and I thought I’d share some of these gems with you all. The main rule in selecting these titles was that they’re ones I started to read in 2017, although most of them also started in 2017 as well, so it works either way. Therefore, my favorite books like One Piece, One-Punch Man and Duopo Cangqiong aren’t listed because they’re books I’ve enjoyed for some time.

On that note, let’s begin… (in no particular order)

Yurucamp

Summary: Rin, a girl camping by herself at the base of Mt. Fuji. Nadeshiko, a girl who came to see Mt. Fuji on her bicycle. The scenery the two witness over a supper of cup ramen… marks the start of a new friendship and many adventures to come, camping in the great outdoors!

This comic about off-season camping in Japan fascinated me to no end. It breaks almost every western rule of storytelling, yet is charming and compelling and I can’t help smiling whenever a new chapter of this monthly series drops. It’s a perfect example of what I call an Activity Manga, which is designed to teach the audience about a subject in an interesting way. It actually makes me want to try camping for the first time in my life!

 

Saotome-Senshu, Hitakakusu

Summary: High-Schooler Tsukishima Satoru gets confessed to by local female High-School boxing-talent Saotome Yae. He rejects her initially because he does not want to impede her boxing career (and prevent getting beaten up by her fans). Her female coach, Shioya, hears about this and decides to install him as Saotome’s trainer so that they can secretly date each other. This situation is also aided by his extensive boxing knowledge.

This looks like a sports manga, but in reality it’s a romantic slice of life story about a nerdy high-schooler and the school’s female boxing champion. While it comes across initially as a gender-swapped high school romance, it actually becomes quite charming and touching as it goes on. The tone is optimistic and the characters are likeable enough to carry this very plot-light story.

 

Dr. STONE

Summary: Two friends find themselves in a post-apocalyptic world: most humans have been turned into stone.They will have to manage to survive and get a cure for this phenomenon!

This was one of my surprise favorites of the year, and thanks to a slow start I almost gave up on it, but boy am I glad I didn’t! Artist Boichi has been a longtime favorite of mine, and with this tale of rebuilding civilization he’s finally found a true venue to show off his talent. Super lively and interesting, once it hits it’s second major story arc, this book never fails to entertain. Senku is the coolest scientist hero I’ve seen in a very long time, and when I think about it, when was the last time you saw a real scientist as a hero in a post apocalyptic actioner? If you can’t think of one, read this book now!

 

Grashros

Summary: Set 30,000 years ago, a tribe of cro-magnon people face the challenges of life in the stone age.

This one squeaked in, as I only started to read it last week, but it immediately became a favorite. I’ve never been fond of caveman stories, but this one is so well told that even I can’t help but wish there were more chapters available right now! The Japanese never cease to amaze me with their ability to take stories that should be boring and give them an interesting twist. The gorgeous art doesn’t hurt either!

 

Summary: He met a girl. A young girl branded with the mark of a demon. That was the beginning of everything. “Crap, my girl’s so cute” This is the story of the two who became an overly protective guardian and an adopted child, changing relationships, and watching how that relationship evolves.

Despite the grand sounding title, this is actually a slice of life book about the warrior mage Dale and his adorable adopted daughter Latina. Latina is a member of the demon race, but Dale takes him into his home and she steals his heart and the hearts of everyone around her with her charm, including the readers. It’s based on a light novel series, and I enjoy it so much I’ve been tempted to start reading the novel as well.

 

Honorable Mentions:

 

Robot X Laserbeam

Summary: Roboto Hatohara (Roboto is the Japanese phonetic rendering of both Robert (his actual name) and the word robot in Japanese) is an autistic half-Japanese high schooler who discovers an incredible talent for golf that opens up a whole new world for the quiet youth.

This one makes the honorable mentions list because while it wasn’t one of my favorites, I do enjoy it, and it is largely responsible for kickstarting my writing of my book on Shonen Manga. To be honest, I thought golf was super boring, but once I started reading this book I couldn’t stop, and it was that strange dissonance between loving a comic about a subject that I didn’t like that triggered my exploration into the secrets of manga writing. The characters are okay, but it’s told with enough style and kinetic energy that you get swept along on Roboto’s journey whether you want to or not. The power of a well told tale indeed!

 

And, that’s it for 2017! There were a few others I almost put on the list, like Honzuki no Gekokujo, but in the end I decided to just stick with the ones which I enjoyed the most. They’re a varied bunch, and I heartily recommend checking out each of them. But be careful of doing it before bed, you might just see the sun rise before you stop reading!

Happy New Year! And here’s to the manga and adventures of 2018!

Thanks for reading!

Rob

Write! Shonen Manga!

It’s finally here! Six months ago, I started a “small” project to write a short book on writing Shonen Manga style stories. Now, 310 pages and 90,000 words later it’s finished and available on AmazonKobo, iBooks, and most other retailers. It’s even available in print!

If you’ve ever wanted to know how the Japanese put together their amazing comics like Naruto, One Piece, and others, this book unpacks it all for you, and gives you the techniques you need to write your own manga and manga-like stories. Whether you’re a beginner or master wordsmith, this book will help you understand the power of the IDEA story structure and use it to make your stories shine.

Normally the book is $7.99, but until December 7th, the ebook’s only 99 cents! Get it now, and discover how to unleash your inner manga creator!

Review- Manga in Theory and Practice: The Craft of Creating Manga

As a writer, writing teacher, and a lover of Japanese comics, I was excited when I stumbled upon Hirohiko Araki’s Manga in Theory and Practice: The Craft of Creating Manga on Amazon the other day. Published in English in June of 2017 (it was published in Japanese in 2015) by VIZ Media, it was of immediate interested because Araki is the writer/creator of the manga epic Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, which has been running in Shonen Jump and Ultra Jump for over 25 years. So, naturally, I snagged the eBook edition of the book for my tablet and started reading.

Having just finished the book, I wanted to share my thoughts, but if you want the short version of my review, here it is: If you want to write Shonen (boys) adventure stories like Naruto, One Piece, and Dragonball, this is a must read. If you’re a new writer looking for a basic book on writing in general, this is a pretty good read. If you’re an experienced writer who has read/written lots, it’s an interesting read, but mostly from a cultural perspective. It’d give it 4/5 stars.

Okay, with that out of the way, lets divide this up into the Pros and Cons of this book.

I’m going to start with the Cons, just to get them out of the way, and because they’re short.

  • Araki is a oldschool battle manga/pulp adventure writer. So that’s what he’s basically teaching you how to write in this book. If you want to write something else, it can still be useful, but this might not be the book for you. He’s also a bit of a maverick, with his own way of doing things that falls outside of the norm even by boys manga standards. (He didn’t apprentice under the previous generation, is largely self-taught, and his stories are often radically different than most other Shonen stories are.)
  • This isn’t a book for visual artists, except in the very general sense. He’s got a lot of suggestions and comments about manga art and comic composition, but it won’t teach you serious hardcore artistic theory like Scott McCloud’s Making Comics and Understanding Comics will. Heck, even those “How to Draw Manga” books will likely give you more actual how-to than this book does, if that’s your chosen style.
  • Piggybacking on that, the rest of this book is for writers, but again, it’s really just a collection of tips and basic theory that he’s picked up over 25 years in the business. If you want to get into how to write story in depth, John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story is the book you want. Also, the story structure he teaches (Ki-Sho-Ten-Ketsu) is really intended for short stories and chapters of longer serials, and he doesn’t really go into writing and structuring a full serial.
  • A lot of the advice here is specifically for the Japanese manga market, because this is just a translation of a Japanese book for a Japanese audience, not an edition for foreigners.
  • He gives a passage from a Hemmingway story and claims that it tells us information that it really doesn’t. I have to wonder if this is a mistranslation of what he was saying the passage was supposed to be giving us.
  • There are a few times when the translation is a bit unclear, but those are few and far between overall.

Okay, that aside, let’s look at what the book does well.

  • This is a really good primer on writing in general for new writers, whether you’re a visual artist or a pure writer, or both.
  • This is a great book for understanding the ways of thinking that lay behind writing boys manga (aka The Golden Road), and how Japanese view creating manga in general. His thoughts on how manga are more emotionally driven than western comics are were interesting to read, and he really takes you through the process of creating his manga and how the Japanese manga artist system works. (If this part interests you, you should also read the manga Bakuman, which covers this in more detail and in more dramatic form.)
  • Araki’s thoughts on the relationship between Setting, Story and Character and how they’re all tied together by Theme are worth remembering and a good primer for new writers. He also gives a lot of good tips and suggestions about those elements of story and how they work in a Shonen comic.
  • The Ki-Sho-Ten-Ketsu story structure he outlines is a good one for short story writers to keep in mind, and simple and flexible while still offering a straightforward way to structure your stories. (One of his two Implementation chapters acts as an example in great detail, which is also nice. Although after you read it, you can look at any Shonen comic and see it in action immediately.)
  • He goes into great detail about how he creates characters, and even shows you his character template that he uses to think through his characters before he sits down and designs them visually.
  • He goes into detail about his own experiences moving up through the manga industry. It’s not quite “On Writing” (Stephen King’s book), but it does give you a feeling for his highs and lows in the industry.
  • You get a behind the scenes look at his Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure series, and the thoughts, ideas and approaches that went into making it the series it is. (I have to say, as a Jojo’s fan, I really enjoyed all the tidbits about the series he scatters throughout the book.)
  • It’s a pretty quick and easy read. It took me about 3 hours to read, and I wasn’t trying to power through it.

Overall, I enjoyed reading it, and as I said above, I recommend it to new writers and Shonen manga fans. Araki himself says this book is really intended as a “passing of the torch” book where he shares his secrets with the next generation of manga producers, and that’s what it is. There isn’t likely to be too many mind-blowing ideas here, but there is a lot of things worth thinking about, and I’m very glad I was able to read it. Like I said above, if you enjoyed this, try Bakuman next, which is a dramatized version of this topic. (And an amazing one at that.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to track down his Rohan Kishibe stories, which look amazing.

Rob

The point where Anime and North American Animation Diverged

Earlier this week, I was having an email exchange with my DNA co-host Don and our frequent esteemed guest Jack Ward about anime and American animation. As part of that conversation, Don took it upon himself to write up a long blog post explaining to Jack how the two animation industries diverged from each other during the 1960’s with lots of examples thrown in. Since I thought that such effort was worth sharing, Don graciously edited it and sent it to me to share.

Enjoy!

Rob


So, we were having a discussion the other day and this came up:
>Aha! So Anime is akin to sixties animation in North America!
   And the truth is, sort of. N. American and Japanese animation parallel each other for a while, but split a few times along the path. The Japanese were always enamoured of Hollywood animation, notably Disney. Here we had Hanna Barbera develop the “limited animation” style, which made animation inexpensive enough for television. That style set the standard, and tv and for a long time was the ONLY way to do a show.  So…. back in the early days you get:



Stirring. And across the sea:



   You probably notice a lot of similarity in technique. TV animation was pretty new and there weren’t a lot of shortcuts and techniques available yet, so it tends to look cheap. Our stuff was all “staged;” that is, filmed like you’d film a stage play…. everything moving along a single plane. The Japanese used a lot more wide shots than us, as well as making attempts to induce depth to their tv animation. (That’s one of the reasons you see so many shots of things moving diagonally in Japanese shows, whereas ours usually have stuff move left to right, in profile.)
   I think this is in no small part due to the popularity of early theatrical animation in Japan; they were a lot less willing to sacrifice visuals than us. Even in the earliest shows the Japanese still use a lot of establishing shots and panoramic views. There’s also a tendency to write more detailed stories than us. We did a lot of one-off gags, whereas the Japanese were creating continuing stories right from the get go. Another holdover from the theatrical features maybe?
   These differences in conceptualization create one of the first big forks in the road between N. America and Japan.
Jump ahead a decade or so and you get:



  Drugs. You get drugs. Anyhoo, in Japan:



   I think more things should be called “Gowapper.” Anyhoo; you can already see a separation of sensibilities, although them AND us were still experimenting. The Japanese were WAY more willing to do straight up drama, whereas we ran screaming in terror from any serious story. Even our action stuff was really…. sterile. This gets to be important in a few years. The Japanese made a jump from “cartoons is just fer kids” to “animation is just another way of doing tv” that we never quite make. We come close, but there’s a lot of inertia to oppose. During the 70’s the Japanese were starting to do animated dramas, soap operas, comedies, SO MANY giant robots….
   By the 80’s in America you had a weird peak:
[Rob Note- while the designs and origins are American, the first four shows listed here were mostly Animated in Japan, and these are Japanese-made intros.]






   Mmmmm…. violence…. Fuck the Smurfs. Anyways; there’s a lot of high quality stuff there, mostly ‘cos the Japanese companies worked cheap, and where in the midst of a big animation boom. Even so, we were starting to sink some cash into the product. There’s a lot of technical quality. It didn’t last ‘cos animation is REAL expensive, and our studios turned to marketing tie-ins to cover the cost. So cartoons became half hour toy ads for the most part.
   Across the sea:



   Looks the same, doubtless ‘cos a lot of it was done by the same studios. The biggest difference was that the shows were leading the merch in japan; the cartoons would be made AS CARTOONS, and any tie-ins would come later.
   By the end of the 80’s; going into the 90’s animation was taking a dip, and moved towards the cheap. Especially here:




   Japan did something weird; since they had a more demanding audience they couldn’t lower quality too much (although they tried) so they just kept doing whatever worked, over and over and over…. So you get a lot of shows that LOOK nice, but are WAY boring:

Okay…. that’s a cheat….




   More recently you’ve been getting a mix of decent stuff and crap; although Japan is way more willing to sink a few bucks into their animation. Part of the solution/problem was South Park, which showed that you COULD do animation for an older audience, but set the standard that said animation must be as cheap and vulgar as possible.
   Still; in the years since we’ve done some good stuff:




   We tend to make up for funds with style…. a-la Batman:TAS. When it works, it works. When it doesn’t…. well….
   Japan still goes the technical route:




Holee Smokes, why can’t we have nice things like that? Japan isn’t afraid to get weird though:

   So to answer the question that started this; 60’s Japanese animation is akin to 60’s N. American animation, but thereafter things take some odd turns. As a result, animation in Japan gains general acceptance WAY earlier than it did here, and that allowed Japan to produce a greater variety of material and to achieve a level of technical skill we haven’t quite hit yet.
Don C.

The key elements of a bestselling novel

The Independent newspaper had an interesting piece today about a pair of researchers (Penguin UK editor Jodie Archer, and associate professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Matthew Jockers) who have spent the last 5 years using computer algorithms to analyze 20,000 books looking for patterns that make best sellers stand out. The result is a system they claim can predict bestselling books by an 86% margin, which is pretty good.

Naturally, they’re releasing what they learned in their upcoming book The Bestseller Code (and probably marketing their software to major publishers as we speak) however they did release a few interesting tidbits from their research:

“Novels with high or low emotions tend to have a stronger chance of hitting the [bestseller] lists and staying on them.

A couple of pointers from the findings: real people are more appealing to readers than fictional being, so stay away from Dwarves, unicorns, and elves as main protagonists. Those characters who appeal the most are also more likely to “grab”, “think” and “ask”.

The words “need”, “want” and “do” are twice as likely to appear in bestsellers, while the word “okay” appears three times as much. Words like “love” and “miss” appear more often in successful books, apparently appearing three times for every two in lesser selling books.

So, basically, people like reading about other people they can relate to, and stories where the main characters are active and pursuing goals (especially relationships) are what readers want. Now, the word “okay” is an interesting bit, and my interpretation on that is that readers like books written in colloquial and easy to understand language. It may also be a side effect of most bestsellers being modern thrillers and romance novels, so “okay” turns up in modern dialog a lot.

It will be interesting to see the results of this research, and how far it can go. Of course, the publishers would eventually like to have machines churning out their bestsellers like widgets, but I doubt that will happen anytime soon. Also, it will mean a bunch of books which don’t fit the formula will never get the chance to reach a wider audience, because 86% is not 100%, and many good books could fall between the cracks if publishers start using this to cut costs and be lazy.

Rob

Chinese Web Novel Genres

17Kcover

After posting a link to my recent post about  Chinese Xianxia webnovels, I became engaged in a discussion on the Wuxiaworld Forums about the different webnovel genres in China and their proper names. As a result, I discovered that technically I was wrong in referring to the genre I described previously as Xianxia Fiction- it should actually have been called Xuanhuan Fiction.

Xuanhuan (rhymes with Duan Juan) fiction could literally be translated as “Unreal Fiction”, and as you might guess, is an umbrella genre which includes subgenres like Xianxia (Immortal Fiction) within it. However, unlike Qihuan (“Magical Fiction”) which uses Western (Lord of the Rings, World of Warcraft, D&D) type magical settings, Xuanhuan stories take place in high magic versions of Chinese/Asian environments. What I did was roughly the equivalent of referring to “Science Fiction” as “Space Opera”, which is a subgenre of Science Fiction, but not all Sci-Fi is Space Opera.

Here are the actual categorizations from the massive Chinese webfiction site 17K, as translated by Epithetic:

Fantasy (玄幻奇幻 – Xuánhuàn Qíhuàn)

Eastern Fantasy (东方玄幻 – Dōngfāng Xuánhuàn): Fictional stories centered primarily on Oriental myths, legends and fairy tails or ones that use such elements as their basis.

Foreign Continent (异界大陆 – Yì Jiè Dàlù): Fictional stories set in a different world, in a different land, with clear supernatural elements.

Foreign World Power Struggle (异世争霸 – Yì Shì Zhēngbà): Fictional stories set in a different world, in a different land, with clear supernatural elements, and that are centered around a military power struggle.

Remarkable Power (异术超能 – Yì Shù Chāonéng): Fictional stories surrounding ordinary people where the protagonist has an extraordinary supernatural ability that is used to drive the plot.

Western Fantasy (西方奇幻 – Xīfāng Qíhuàn): Traditional Western fantasy stories.

Feudal Lord (领主贵族 – Lǐngzhǔ Guìzú): Fictional stories where the protagonist is a lord in a feudal society and the plot is centered around the development of power and influence.

Magic Campus (魔法校园 – Mófǎ Xiàoyuán): Fictional stories with a campus as the main backdrop.

Epic Hero (仙侠武侠 – Xiānxiá Wǔxiá)

Classic Immortal Hero (古典仙侠 – Gǔdiǎn Xiānxiá): Traditional stories about immortal heroes.

Modern-day Sage Cultivation (现代修真 – Xiàndài Xiūzhēn): Stories about immortal heroes set in a modern-day city.

Ancient Investiture of Gods (洪荒封神 – Hónghuāng Fēngshén): Stories about immortal heroes set in the early days of the universe where the storyline is based off of “Investiture of the Gods” or myths and fairy tales like it.

Fantasy Sage Cultivation (奇幻修真 – Qíhuàn Xiūzhēn): Stories regarding sage cultivation that involve somewhat combined eastern and western soul refinement methods.

Traditional Martial Hero (传统武侠 – Chuántǒng Wǔxiá): Stories containing traditional martial hero elements, the works by Liang-Jin-Gu (Liang Yusheng, Jin Yong and Gu Long) being representative of the genre.

Modern-day Remarkable Hero (现代异侠 – Xiàndài Yì Xiá): Fictional stories set in modern times where the main protagonist has the characteristics of a martial hero, replete with martial techniques and/or other, similar abilities.

Historical Martial Hero (历史武侠 – Lìshǐ Wǔxiá): Stories mainly about martial heroes that also incorporate history to a greater extent, or stories about history that are written straightforwardly in the martial hero style.

Chinese & Ancient Martial Arts (国术古武 – Guóshù Gǔwǔ): Stories set in a modern or future city where the world of martial practitioners is hidden within it and the refinement of martial artistry (Wushu, aka. Kungfu) has been developed into the common soul refinement methods known as “Chinese Martial Arts” (Guoshu) and “Ancient Martial Arts” (Guwu) respectively.

This is just a small part of the list of the different genres being written and read on 17K, and I’d highly recommend you go to Epithetic’s site and read the full list. The list itself is fascinating because it really gives a rare look into a whole other literary world and the stories they are telling each other. There are genres and subgenres there which don’t exist in English, and it shows how cultural values really shape what people consume in their entertainment.

I should note that I’m told most of what 17K is publishing is what we in English might refer to as Young Adult FictionLight Novels or Pulp Fiction. These are stories which are meant to be fun, light reads and which don’t focus so much on the details or intense character development that more literary fiction might. In a lot of ways, they seem to hold a position culturally similar to the old Pulp Fiction Magazines or Comic Books. (I would observe they seem to very much have the same place in China that Manga do in Japan, which isn’t surprising since China doesn’t have much of a comics market.)

An amusing note to finish on- according to this Reddit thread, the Chinese refer to this type of fiction as YY Fiction, with YY being the shorter form of the pinyin Yiyin. What does YiYin mean? It would literally translate to “Mental Masterbation”. :-)))

Perhaps that’s all you need to know.

Rob

Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast

Romance of the Three Kingdoms has captivated me ever since I tore through my copies of the Moss Roberts translation (so long, they split it into two volumes). Part history, part mythology and part fiction, Luo Guanzhong’s epic has been a staple of Chinese culture since the 14th century, and is one of the four must-read books of Chinese literature. This epic story covers the breakup and subsequent reunion of China during the Three Kingdoms period from 169 AD to 280 AD, and is a story of heroism, tragedy and political maneuvering that would make George R. R. Martin weep.

However, even though Moss Roberts translation is excellent, the story can be a little dense for non-Chinese and intimidating to get into, even though comics and video games based on it have been quite popular in English. This has been a problem for some English speakers who want to read the book, but aren’t sure they want to invest the time or will be able to keep up with the Chinese cultural aspects. This is a true shame, since it really is one of the great literary works of the last 2000 years.

Now, Podcaster John Zhu has set out to change that. His Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast is designed to make the story fun and accessible, and is a bit like being told an epic story by your favorite High School history teacher. He not only reads the story, but annotates it and does his best to provide context for the reader as he works his way through all 120 chapters of the book. Part audiobook, part history lesson, the ROT3K Podcast is your chance to sit back and experience this amazing story for yourself- so what are you waiting for!

Rob

P.S. There is also a Youtube Channel version here, for those who like their audio from YouTube for whatever reason.