In this episode, Don and Rob head East with Justus R. Stone, YouTube Light Novel Reviewer, to discuss the ins and outs of the Japanese and American Light Novel markets. Along the way, Justus takes the pair on a tour of the origins of Light Novels, why they’re growing in popularity in English, and how Light Novels have become linked with web-fiction. All this, and the answer to the question Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, is waiting for you in this episode of The Department of Nerdly Affairs.
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.
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 Fiction, Light 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.
It’s very easy to forget that about a third of the planet reads only in Chinese, and that doesn’t mean they’re reading translated works from English sources. (As might be egocentrically assumed by a Western audience!) In China, (and Asia in general) Web Novels (serialized web fiction) are extremely popular, and their authors can not only have tens of millions of readers, but also become extremely rich due to profit-sharing with the web-novel hosting sites. (Something that Wattpad has yet to do in English, but probably should.)
The rankings were chosen through 15 days, 200 top internet authors, 19 media and novel sites, and 33 editors with a long history of experience. The “King of Web Novels” is a ranking produced by China Mobile Reading, with the help of Zhejiang Writer Association, Youth Times, Dragon-sky and many other media websites.
It should be noted that this is a list of writers who are writing primarily in the Xianxia genres, which are high fantasy novels that combine pseudo-old-China Wuxia settings with high magic and MMORPG elements. (I plan to write a post about them sometime in the future, but if you’re curious you can find English translated examples of them on Wuxiaworld.com, including works mentioned in the article linked above.) I can’t imagine that Romance, Mystery and other standard genres aren’t also selling like hotcakes, so I’ll assume this list is only of the top “action/fantasy” writers, although I have no way to confirm this with my limited Chinese.
In any case, check the list out, as a number of the author’s works have free English (semi-official fan) translations online and while I’ve just stared to dip my toe into this new realm, it’s turned out to be a fascinating subject to explore.
Although he was not entirely serious at the time, Cyril Northcote Parkinson once declared one of life’s truisms- “The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource.”
What does this mean?
Well, let me give two examples:
1) If you only have $10 for food that week, you will find a way to make do with $10 worth of food, but if you have $100 you will spend $100 on food that week even if you could have made do with $10.
2) If you say you have one day to get a project done, it will get done in one day. If you say the same project will take a week, it will take you a week to get it done.
Because of many factors, be it laziness, practicality, or procrastination, it’s just human nature to make maximum use of resources like money or time for our own convenience, even if using them more wisely might bring us long-term benefits. Maybe it’s a side-effect of short-term thinking, or our selfish natures, but this is a problem that keeps popping up again and again, and often we let this side of ourselves keep us from doing what we want to do. This is what’s known as Parkinson’s Law.
I’ll give you an example (the one which got me thinking about this topic)- National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) is a month where would-be writers are encouraged to pump out a 50,000 word novel (or 50,000 words of a novel) in an effort to force themselves to write. It creates a time limit, sets a clear goal, and forces writers (who are horrible procrastinators) to actually commit to using that month to produce the book they’ve always wanted to write. The idea is that 1,667 words a day (50,000 roughly divided by 31) is an easily achievable goal for almost any writer, even one with a day job, and if they just reach that goal consistently for 31 days they’ve got their book finished!
It’s a great idea, and for many people it works. It gets butts in seats and words on the screen, and overcomes many of the hurdles that writers tend to find themselves facing in an effort to make their dreams into reality. But, what really made me think was what writer Matt Ahlschlager did- he finished NaNoWriMo in 1 day! In fact, he did it in less than a day, while bogging about it as he went, and this November he did it 3 times!
So why does it take other writers 31 days? Yes, Matt is a fast typer, but couldn’t most people carve out a weekend (2 whole days) and produce a book, especially if they wrote “Chinese Style”?
Isn’t this just an example of Parkinson’s Law in effect? Writers give themselves 31 days, so it takes 31 days, but it doesn’t HAVE to. Writer Michael Moorcock wrote an essay called “How to Write a Book in 3 Days“, and it outlines exactly how to write a book in one weekend. Even most professional writers (the prolific ones) often talk about writing a novel in 2-3 weeks at most, and author Rachel Aaron discusses how to do it in one week by writing 10,000 words a day. It can be done.
Think about it- if you had 2 days to write a 50,000 word novel or pay a $100,000 penalty, could you do it? I bet you could. I bet most people with at least some writing talent could, especially if given a bit of preparation.
So why don’t you?
Every book you write is a potential “lottery ticket” which could actually make you $100,000 (in the long run, if it sells well) and the more stories you write, the better your chances are of writing that winning book. So why are you capable of that kind of productivity only if it’s penalty? Why can’t you do it as a reward? (Yes, I know, one is certain, and one is a gamble, but if you don’t write anything you’re guaranteed to make nothing from it.)
It’s this thinking that got me wondering about how writers could find ways to use Parkinson’s Law to their advantage. If this is a part of human nature, how can we “hack” it to benefit ourselves as writers and make ourselves more productive and profitable in the process?
So let’s explore this “law” and see what it can do for our creativity. When I have time, I’m going to write a series of posts on this topic, and my thoughts on how we can benefit from it.
First up- TIME!
I think it’s good for writers to challenge themselves, it helps them grow.
Back in January of this year, I picked up an amazing book for (script)writers called Save the Cat! by scriptwriting guru Blake Snyder. I’d heard about it online, tracked down a copy at the local bookstore, and poured through it to discover it wasn’t as good as advertised it was better. So much better. (So if you haven’t read it and you’re a writer of fiction, go buy a copy- NOW!)
Among Snyder’s revelations was his theory that all movies can be broken down into ten different types, and that when writing a story, a writer should have one of these types in mind to know what exactly it is they’re writing. This makes a lot of sense when you consider that most movies are only about 110 minutes long, at a minute of film per page of script. 110 pages of script isn’t a lot of time to work with when you actually get into it, so stories of movies must be concise and focussed or you get an unfocussed mess.
When I started to think through his list, I both agreed with it, and found it quite liberating. What he’d done was not just condense standard types of movie stories, but also stories in general, and each of them caused ideas for stories to pop into my head. While they might be a little simplistic for novel plots (or maybe not), these seemed to work especially well for short stories.
So, having just finished The Inuyama Rebellion fiction serial over on my Kung Fu Action Theatre site, and looking for more content to keep the site active, I decided to set myself a little creative challenge. Of course, there had to be rules, which were:
1) I would write 10 short stories, one for each of Snyder’s ten story types.
2) I would make all the stories Flash Fiction: 1000 words or less in length, since I was at the start of what looked to be a very busy semester. This was an added challenge to me because I had very rarely written such short fiction (most of my stories tend to be around 7,000-10,000 words long) and didn’t think I was very good at it.
3) Each story had to be complete and stand-alone.
I also decided that I needed a unified theme, so I dusted off a character idea I’d had about a young First Nations girl in New France adopted and raised by a former Musketeer and decided to use that as the focus. Of course, this meant I was adding both historical research and language issues (Je ne parle pas francais!) to the challenge, but I decided since it was flash fiction it would be light on the details anyways so I could fudge it as needed. (HA!)
And then, on top of that, a few weeks after I started the project, I got into the DAZ Studio 3D art program, and decided that I should incorporate 3D art into the challenge as well as a way to teach myself DAZ. This required slowly buying up the elements I needed for different scenes, and then composing them into something that worked with the characters and stories. A whole huge challenge unto itself!
So, I got to add:
4) Write in a new, unfamiliar historical setting about completely new characters.
5) Generate 3D art to go with each story using a new art program I barely knew how to work.
As you can tell, I like my challenges easy.
I decided to call it The Fox Cycle (as in, a cycle of stories, not a fox on a motorcycle) and posted the first one at the end of January with the intent of posting a new one every Monday for ten weeks.
So, how’d it go?
Well, I didn’t quite pull off the one-a-week schedule for many reasons I won’t bother to go into, but this week I posted the tenth and final story in the cycle
You can judge for yourself how it all turned out. From my side, I think some of the stories came out really well, while others are just so-so. I consistently impressed myself with my own ability to both condense the stories down to 1000 words, and to keep each one interesting and different from the others. I was also surprised how much humor leaked into the stories.
I learned a lot about the characters, which grew organically as I wrote each story, and the setting grew as well. I’d hoped to use this project to explore and develop this story and setting for other larger future projects, and it worked beyond my expectations. I now have a very firm idea of my characters and the world they live in, one which I couldn’t possibly fit into the small space of the cycle, but which I hope to explore in the near future with other, longer works.
My own writing skills have also improved as a result of being forced to write such short, tight prose. It was a challenge at first, but now that I’m used to it I wonder why my other stories tended to be so long! I’d say this challenge has really helped me in thinking through my own personal writing style by forcing me to keep words to a minimum, and it’s also made me rethink how I frame the stories I write.
On the art side, I’ve learned how to master the basics of both DAZ Studio 4.0 and GiMP because of this project, and I’m quite happy with how some of the art turned out. I’ve never considered myself a visual artist, and still don’t, but I have started to gain a deeper understanding of how a picture is composed, the importance of lighting, and how much work it takes to make a good picture.
Would I do it again?
I’m not sure.
It’s one of those artistic challenges that’s good to go through as a rite of passage, but I’m not sure I’m going to be interested in doing it again anytime soon. It was a great way to develop this new setting to write in, and force myself to learn, so I might give it another go at some point in the future. It’s definitely a challenge that I’d recommend to someone else to try, although you might want to drop the visual art element and just focus on the writing and characters.
For those familiar with Blake Snyder’s Ten Types and who wonder how my stories correspond to them, here’s the breakdown:
1) The Musketeer (Dude With a Problem)
2) The Eyes of a Warrior (Buddy Love)
3) The Elders of Ville Marie (The Fool Triumphant)
4) The Bodyguard (Out of the Bottle)
5) The Beating (Whydunit)
6) Identity (Institutionalized)
7) Home (Golden Fleece)
8) Rennie’s Wedding (Rite of Passage)
9) The Troll (Monster in the House)
10) Hero (Superhero)
I leave it you, my readers, to decide the degree to which I failed or succeeded in living up to each of the different types. I think I hit a few dead-on, and came close with a few others. My favorites of the set are Eyes of a Warrior, The Bodyguard, Rennie’s Wedding, and Hero. The ones I’m not quite as happy with are The Musketeer, Identity and Home.
My journey with DAZ Studio Continues. I spent the week working on images to go along with my currently running Flash Fiction series- The Fox Cycle over on my KFAT page. The stories themselves cover a large span of time, but focus on the former King’s Musketeer Gerard la Russo and his Indian adopted daughter Renard. Using my meagre talent with DAZ Studio, I decided to render a few images to go along with some of the stories.
And a bonus picture, since I had some people suggest Tysen didn’t look brooding enough in the one posted last week.
Last week over on the KFAT site, my first weekly webfiction story The Inuyama Rebellion posted its final chapter. It’s been a fun run, and I have to say I’ve enjoyed the experiment of writing a weekly piece of fiction in addition to my other writing projects. Of course, I also got a huge kick out of it, since my friend Brushmen was doing great fan art to go with each weekly chapter. (If you haven’t checked them out, then definitely do so.)
Having enjoyed the process, I’ve decided to continue my little experiment, but to get even more…experimental.
For the next nine Mondays (the first one went up already) I will be posting a single flash fiction (1000 words or less) story each week on the KFAT site. These are a little series I call “The Fox Cycle”, and are me doing a little challenge with myself. Each story will be different, and self-contained, but each story will also connect up with all the others to tell a larger story. All of them are historical fiction, take place around the year 1700, and are what you could call an exercise in both character and world building.
What characters and world? Ah, Mes Amis! That would be telling!
I’ve rarely written flash fiction before, so this will be a real challenge in keep my writing tight and using different styles and techniques to bring across a story in the best possible ways. There’s also an additional level to the experiment, but I’ll explain that once the whole story cycle is finished.
Here’s an interesting site. It attempts to capture the better aspects of a serialized webfiction site (offering chapters at 10 cents each) and a traditional publisher by also letting readers buy the whole book if it’s available and they wish.
It’s been up around a year and a half and doesn’t look like it’s had a huge amount of traffic based on the number of views each of the books they have up has had, but it’s an interesting idea as a startup. I hope they don’t lose steam and can get out a marketing push, because they might be able to make something of this yet!
With the advent of the internet, though, we’re back in a perfect environment for serial fiction. It’s easier than ever to publish stories – whether you’re publishing free, or selling subscriptions, or using a tip jar or other method – and it’s easier than ever for people to find and read all sorts of new fiction. Beyond that, serials fit perfectly with today’s hectic schedule. We’re always on the run, trying to get ten thousand things done in a day, and few of us have the time to sit and really immerse ourselves in a 600-page novel. Reading a quick chapter of a serial novel, though? No problem! You can do that on your way to work, or in line at the bank, or on your lunch break. And with technology offering tons of different ways to get access to that chapter – emailed weekly, delivered straight to your phone through an app, available through a website subscription at your convenience – it’s simple, easy, and convenient to read a serial. You don’t even have to wait for that magazine in the mail.
In another part of the forest, a group of Kurokawa samurai in the command of the guard captain of the summer residence came upon their lord. He was sitting on a rock at the side of the road, and when he made no motion to even indicate he knew they were there, the guard captain dismounted and quickly marched over to kneel before him.
“My lord. Thank the heavens you’re safe!”
“No thanks to you, Captain.” The daimyo declared in a cold angry voice, not even looking at the men. “You will atone for your mistake by the morning, I trust?”