If you want to understand writing Romantic Comedy Light Novels (RCLN) you just need to picture a dance party in your head – a high school gym dance filled with awkward teens. Maybe it’s something you remember from your own experience, or maybe it’s like a what you saw in a video.
Can you picture it?
Now, in that party is your lead character. He’s leaning against a wall because he’s feeling awkward and has no confidence to ask his crush to dance. The reasons for his awkwardness are up to you, but everyone understands that feeling of looking out and seeing someone they’re attracted to but who feels out of their league.
Suddenly the music changes, his crush looks at him, comes over, and takes his hand – “Let’s dance,” says the class beauty.
The lead character is shocked, but this is his wish come true, so of course he agrees.
He’s a terrible dancer, but he tries his best, and after some initial stumbling, the two actually have an okay time dancing together.
When the song ends, she leans in and asks if he’ll stay next to her at the party for the night.
Overjoyed, the lead character agrees, and he begins to follow her around.
But as he follows her around, she stops being his ideal, and he learns from being close to her that she’s got problems – big ones. Not only that, she’s also using him. Maybe it’s to make someone jealous, or to give her an excuse not to dance with others, but he’s with her because it suits her own needs, not because she likes him.
However, being seen with this beauty has had unintended consequences.
Other girls are now looking at him in a new light, wondering what she sees in him or thinking she’s giving him a stamp of approval. Other guys are jealous of him, and want him away from the beauty.
Now the lead character is being offered a chance to dance with other girls. Which he does, and starts to get to know them as well. Each new dance making him less awkward and shy – giving him confidence in himself and his dancing. He’s no longer the shy wallflower, but starting to become a full member of the party.
And, as he grows confident, two things start to happen. The beauty starts to see him in a new light, and he starts to see the real her – understanding her problems and why she is the way she is.
Then, just as the party winds towards its close, and the two of them start to realize their feelings for each other, something happens that splits the two of them up. Her deep personal problems surface, and she gets scared, so she pushes him away and tells him to get lost. He’s left alone while the DJ starts playing “Separate Ways” by Journey. (Cause the DJ is a jerk!)
He’s heartbroken at first, but after he reflects on everything that happened that evening, he realizes why she’s rejected him. He has now grown enough through the night’s experiences that he understands her problem, and he knows the solution as well.
So, just as that annoying DJ announces the final song, he rushes to find her before she leaves.
When he finds her, she’s being bullied by others, but he sweeps in, saves her from her troubles, and takes her away for them enjoy the final dance together. As they dance, he shows her that he really does understand her, and she admits her feelings as well.
With the end the dance, the two walk out the gym door, hand in hand, towards the future.
A nice story, right?
Well, this is also the basic plot at the heart of the majority Romantic Comedy Light Novels.
It might take place at school club meetings, it might take place during sports practice, or after school jobs, but the pattern almost always remains the same.
The inciting incident causes the awkward main character and their beautiful (but flawed) crush to spend time together, the main character grows because of the time they spend together, and then finally after something causes them to break apart, the newly reborn main character does what it takes to bring them back together as a real couple.
Throw in a little awkward teen sexuality, comedy, and interesting characters, and you have a typical Romantic Comedy Light Novel!
If you understand this, then you have the basics you need to write a RCLN (or series of them), but since you’re reading this, you probably want a little more detail. So, let’s talk about the key ideas you need to know to write them.
- Fulfilling the Reader’s Inner Needs
- Flawed Characters
- Come in Five Flavors
- Use the KSTK Story Structure
- Genre Rules
- Variations on RCLNs
- Final Thoughts
1. RCLNs are Wish Fulfillment Stories about Fulfilling the Reader’s Inner Needs
As in all stories, the main character of the story is a stand-in for the reader, and because of that if the main character gets their inner needs met, so does the audience. All humans have needs they require to fill happy, and the audiences for RCLN have a particular deep set of needs beyond just being entertained that they want from their stories.
- Being picked
- Being admired
- Being praised
- Being useful
- Being loved
These five basic needs are something that the typical young person desires, and which the lead character of a typical RCLN will have fulfilled as the story plays out. Thus, also making the reader feel they have had their needs filled as well.
Let’s take a look at each.
Each RCLN starts with the main character being picked by the love interest. She might directly come to him, or she might be stuck together with him by an outside party but then accept him as a partner. In either case, she chose to be with him, and this fulfils the reader’s deep desire to be recognised as special by those around them. We all want to be recognised for who we are, and having someone we admire suddenly turn and validate us as people is something everyone fantasizes about. So, when it happens to the main character in a story, it makes us feel happy and like it can happen to us as well.
Of course, we don’t just admire other people, we want to feel admired ourselves by others. In a typical RCLN the main character will (often for the first time in their lives) given a chance to show off their personal talents to the world and be admired by others for who they are and what they can do. The female lead being paired with the male lead, despite it being an obvious mismatch, brings the attention of others who try to learn what she sees in him. So, the male’s hidden greatness is revealed to the world and people start to appreciate who he is and what he has to offer.
Once people start to admire the male lead, it doesn’t take long before their admiration turns to praise. They start to not just accept him and admire him, but directly compliment him about his good points. And, while this might not seem like such a big deal, this is actually a particularly important point. In our society, it is normal for women to be complimented by those around them, however the opposite is not always true. Men actually receive few compliments for their acts and abilities except when they do something really exceptional. And, if you don’t believe me, think about the last time you received a compliment (as a man) or gave a compliment (to a man). It’s one of those hidden parts of life we don’t think about, and it makes the main character getting complimented by those around him extra special for male readers.
Fourth, men need to do something useful to be praised for, and of this list, being useful is probably the most male-centric need. Most men are problem solvers by nature, and they want to feel that they have helped those around them, even if just in simple ways. Thus, the male lead of the story needs to be useful to the people around him, and especially the female lead, in order to earn the admiration, praise and ultimately love they receive at the end of the story. (See Character Problems below for more details.)
And lastly, the main character needs to receive love from the female lead for who they are and what they have done in the female lead’s life. They have been useful to her and helped to transform her (and often her world) in some way, and in trade the female lead returns the favor by giving the male lead the love and affection that he (and the audience) so desperately wants. Over the course of the story, he might have received little bits of love and affection from her (and others), but it is only through receiving the true and unconditional love of the female lead that the romance story cycle is brought to a close.
Without these five needs being met, a RCLN story will fall flat because it isn’t satisfying the inner desires of its audience members who often crave most of these things in their lives. Just as an Isekai fantasy story is giving the audience their desire to escape from their own world, a RCLN story is about someone like the audience having their world transformed through meeting that perfect person who will unlock their potential.
In many cases, these emotional rewards are given to the male lead as they slowly transform into a better version of themselves, and act as treats along the way to let them know they’re moving in the right direction.
One final note – some of you may have noticed that sex isn’t on that list, despite being a very basic human need and motivator. There’s a reason for that. Sex in RCLN is a motivator, but not a reward the main character usually gets except in some online-only extra chapter which the author sells after the story is complete. The truth is that sex is complicated and complicates relationships, and while characters trying to get sex is very funny and leads to lots of fun situations, characters having sex is less funny than characters trying to get it. (These are Romantic Comedies after all.)
Also, and this is where the audience is again important to understand, a large portion of the audience for RCLN are young men who haven’t had sex yet. If sex is introduced, is brings complicated feelings for the audience, and takes them out of their happy romantic personal fantasies, which is where the author is trying to keep them. So, when it comes to sex, most Japanese RCLN tend to leave it out.
2. RCLNs have Flawed Characters.
The first rule of writing any kind of romance story is that the audience should be the same gender as the intended reader, and the love interest(s) should be the ideal partner for that audience. Obviously, that means in the case of RCLN, the main character is going to be male and the lead love interest (or love interests) are going to be female. Why? Because these books are written to be sold to (straight) men whose ideal partners are women.
If you’re writing something else, such as same-sex love, or pan-sexual love, that’s fine too, but the important thing is that you keep your target audience in mind. You’re selling your audience a wish-fulfillment fantasy story, so the main character needs to be as close to your audience as possible, and their love interests need to be as close the audience’s ideals as they can be. This is how you will reach, excite, and satisfy your target readers.
So, when it comes to characters in RCLN for men, what should they be like?
The Male Lead
Generally speaking, there are two types of male leads in Japanese RCLN.
Lightly Flawed and Deeply Flawed.
The Lightly Flawed male lead is an idealized version of the author/ideal reader, and is actually a capable character who just lacks confidence, experience, or something else, and that holds them back. For example, they might be a good student and athletic, but because of their low self-confidence they’re ignored by the world around them. Or maybe they’re very capable, but lack fashion sense and so this has made them a bit of a social outcaste.
Examples of this type of lead character are Kyon (in the Haruhi Suzumiya series) who is actually a very normal person with just a few small flaws that keep him from reaching his personal potential. Or Tomoki Yuuki (from There’s No Way A Side Character Like Me Could Be Popular, Right?) who is a powerful, capable and athletic character who has a scary (but not ugly) face that makes almost everyone afraid of him and avoid him. (So, his self-confidence is very low.) And another more recent popular example would be Sakuta Azusagawa (from Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai) who is actually a very nice and fairly normal guy whose flaw is that his own low self-worth makes him try to save others to prove to himself he’s not useless.
These characters usually have some small personal issue holding them back, and usually killing their self-confidence, and this is the thing they will need to overcome in the course of the story as they grow, mature and develop as a person.
The Deeply Flawed male lead on the other hand is a total emotional trainwreck.
These are extreme social introverts who are just limping along through life and probably not even doing a very good job of that. This is characters like Tomozaki (from Bottom Tier Character Tomozaki-kun), who is a nerdy, video-game addicted social recluse with no self-worth to speak of. Hachiman Hikigaya (from My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected) who wears being a social outcast as a badge of self-loathing pride.
These characters are usually borderline Hikkomori (shut-ins) who are only at school (or participating in society) because they have to be. They are typically witty and sarcastic, but otherwise useless people who would normally never have any experience with the opposite sex except if a minor miracle occurs, which is exactly what happens. The female lead usually setting off a chain reaction that will ultimately result in them finding the strength to overcome most of their flaws.
The thing to remember about Japanese RCLN is that most of them were written by young males as webnovels (first) where they were writing their own fantasies and for an audience just like themselves. They usually didn’t go much farther than looking in the mirror to find their main character or their audience. The more socially active writers wrote lightly flawed (but still ultimately awesome) versions of themselves, while the less socially active writers (read: shut-ins who rarely leave their room at their parent’s homes) wrote characters who were slightly less socially awkward and wittier versions of themselves.
As for you, you can do the same, or you can do something different, but either way, the one thing your lead male character must have is a flaw. And this flaw will be the thing that they grow out of and overcome as the story goes on and they become part of the other world where the female lead lives.
The Female Lead(s)
There are two rules for female leads in RCLNs:
Rule 1) They must be attractive.
Rule 2) They must have problems – often big ones.
It goes without saying that since the female leads of these stories need to be the ideal love partners of the audience, the audience needs to find them physically attractive. There’s a reason we see the female leads on the covers of the books, and that’s because they’re the main selling points of the story. The covers tell their audiences, “Here’s a beautiful girl you can have the feeling of a relationship with” and if she appeals to the audience, they buy the book and get to experience what it’s like to be close with that girl.
However, in addition to being physically attractive, the audience also needs to find the female lead’s personality attractive as well. This doesn’t mean she needs to be totally likeable (some female leads in RCLNs are outright mean people), but there needs to at least be hints that she’s got a loving and endearing side to her somewhere.
A loving and caring side that is just waiting for the male lead to unlock- which leads us to the second rule.
Men love to fix things and feel useful, and that includes their ideal partners.
Love interests in RCLN all have a problem of some kind. These problems might be small ones, or they might be really big ones (especially for the female lead), but either way they have a problem that can only be fixed by one person – the male lead. Through fixing that problem, the male lead earns the respect and affection of the love interest, and it fulfills the deep desire all men have to be useful to their partners.
Perhaps it’s a carryover from dating sims, but love interests in many RCLNs (especially harem ones) are often portrayed like video game bosses the main character needs to “defeat” in order to move on to the next emotional stage. What this means is that there will be often be a series of love interests, each with a problem, and each of their problems is progressively more difficult for the main character to solve. This forces the main character to “level up” (emotionally, and as a person) as they find a way to solve each love interest’s problems, and when they’ve finally reached their maximum level, they have to face the final boss – the true female lead.
Is this realistic? No. But this is a fantasy for young males, not reality.
And in this fantasy, the young male lead just needs to unlock the hearts of the beautiful girls around them by being there for the girls and stepping in when they need him. This can be physical (like dealing with bullies), but most male leads are nerds so it’s usually mental (helping them understand something or learn something), emotional (helping them find courage or self-confidence), or social (like helping them solve interpersonal problems). Whatever it is, the male lead helps the female lead to find the right answer, and in trade she comes to respect him and grows emotionally closer to him.
And of course, he grows too.
Each girl he helps takes the male lead a few more steps along the path of becoming his own better self and specifically overcoming whatever problems are preventing the male lead from reaching his true potential. As noted above, most male leads in RCLN have serious confidence problems, and the most typical RCLN progression is for the male lead to become a little bit more confident with each love interest he helps.
Naturally, this needs to be presented in a natural and organic way, not a mechanical way like a dating sim would (unless this is a litRPG Romcom!) but that’s where the skill of the writer comes in.
3. RCLNs come in Five Flavors
There are five specific plot patterns that can be commonly found in RCLNs that are worth taking a look at. Most of them will follow one of these patterns, but be closer or farther away from it depending on the style and tastes of the author and audience.
- Beauty is a Beast
- My Harem
- White Knight
- Relationship troubles
- Love Triangle
This isn’t meant to be a complete list, but a list of some of the most common plots.
Let’s look at each in turn.
Beauty is the Beast – The male lead is a weak beta male and she’s the idol everyone thinks it perfect (but has a few major hidden flaws), however after circumstances stick them together, both begin to transform each other into someone better. Only he can see her true self, and that’s what attracts her to him and brings them together in the end as they complete each other.
- Key idea: Loser guy + Exceptional (but flawed) girl.
- Examples: My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected, Toradora, Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, Don’t Toy With Me Miss Nagatoro,
My Harem – The male lead finds himself the object of affection of several different beautiful women and must navigate his relationships with them and grow closer until he finally picks the right one for him. (Or ones.) Each story arc is about the male lead helping (being useful) to the female lead of that book/arc, and thus earning her respect and affection. In the end, something happens which forces him to choose among the girls he’s helped and pick his one true love from among them.
- Key Idea: One Normal guy + two or more (flawed) beauties.
- Examples: We Never Learn, The Quintessential Quintuplets, Love Hina, My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute!, Rascal Does Not Dream Of Bunny Girl-Senpai
White Knight – Similar to Beauty is the Beast, but here the male lead is normal and stable (instead of being a loser) and may even be a popular and well-liked guy. The female lead is a deeply troubled or flawed person who needs someone to get her out of her shell and/or save her from her troubles.
- Key idea: Normal guy + Flawed Beauty
- Examples: Haruhi Suzumiya series, Higehiro: After Being Rejected, I Shaved and Took in a High School Runaway, What Happens If You Saved A High School Girl Who Was About To Jump Off?,
- Light novel mysteries typically use this pattern.
Relationship Troubles – The male and female lead confess their feelings for each other at or near the start of the story, and the rest of the story is them trying to figure out how to make the relationship work. This plot can easily slide into being a slice-of-life story unless there are strong forces which preventing their full commitment to each other. Usually this plot ends in engagement, marriage, or at least the couple moving on to some deeper level of commitment once their challenges have been overcome.
- Key idea: New couple overcome unexpected challenges to make their relationship work.
- Examples: My Plain-looking Fiance is Secretly Sweet with Me, Our Dating Story: The Experienced You and The Inexperienced Me, What I Love About You, Fake Marriage with my Ex-Girlfriend
Love Triangle – The male lead finds themselves caught in a love triangle where three people are pursuing each other romantically, but each one likes a different person. The classic version of this plot is that the guy likes one girl, but she isn’t interested in him, while another girl likes the male lead, but he isn’t interested in her. Often these two girls are best friends or sisters, with the one the male lead likes rejecting him out of love and respect for her friend/sister, even though she secretly likes him too. (Some stories flip this script and make it two male friends/brothers chasing one girl who has to choose between them, but this isn’t as popular for male audiences as it is for female ones.)
- Key idea: Normal guy + two girls
- Examples: A Romantic Comedy Where the Childhood Friend Absolutely Will Not Lose!, You Like Me, Not My Daughter?!
- This plot was popular in the 80s and 90s, but has largely been replaced by the top three in modern stories.
These five plots cover a lot of ground, and make up most of the light novels (and Romcom anime and manga) on the market today. It should be noted that there is some overlap between them and one story may even transform into another as the author tries to extend the story and characters beyond the original premise. (Most often, the other plots transform into Relationship Troubles.) However, the core premise of each story is the key to spotting which of the above plots you’re looking at, and once you get the hang of it you can identify them pretty easily from just the book’s cover or blurb.
4. RCLN use the KSTK Story Structure
Since these stories are written by Japanese, they naturally use a modified Ki-Sho-Ten-Ketsu (KSTK) structure like almost all light novels, manga, and anime do. At their core, they are following the typical five-act KSTK plot pattern, but they do add a few little extra elements depending on where in a novel series they take place.
Let’s look at the three standard plot patterns and how they’re organized.
For the intro novel/story arc, it is:
- Introduce male lead (KI)
- Meet Cute with female lead (KI)
- Adhesion Event(s) (KI)
- Daily Life 1 (SHO1)
- Daily Life 2 (SHO2)
- Big Event (TEN)
- Ending (KETSU)
For follow-up novels/story arcs, it runs:
- Reintroduce leads (KI)
- Introduce problem of the story (KI)
- Daily Life (SHO1)
- Daily Life (SHO2)
- Big Event (TEN)
- Ending (KETSU)
And the final novel/story arc has its own pattern:
- Reintroduce leads (KI)
- Unglued (KI)
- Daily Life (SHO1)
- Daily Life (SHO2)
- Big Event (TEN)
- Reunion (KETSU)
Looking at this, you can see how they structure each book in the series. The first and last books have their own plot patterns while the middle books (and sometimes there can be many middle books) have what is basically a more normal KSTK pattern since they don’t have to do as much heavy lifting.
Notes about a few of the parts above:
- Meet Cute is an old movie industry term for the moment the future couple meet each other in an interesting way.
- Adhesion Event refers to the moment the lead couple become stuck to each other until the story (or book, with Harems) is over.
- Daily Life is things happening to the characters as they try to deal with the situation that the KI events have stuck them in. SHO(1) is usually a reaction to what happens in the KI phase, while SHO(2) is usually the characters trying to solve some problem.
- The Big Event is centered around a dramatic twist that happens, usually at the end of SHO(2) but not always.
- Unglued is the opposite of the Adhesion Event, where the main characters are suddenly, and often unexpectedly released from their deal/bond situation. Unglued can happen anytime before the Big Event, but is usually at the start or middle of the final novel/story arc because the characters need time to adjust to the new reality of being apart and discover that they really need each other in their lives so they can come back together as part of the last Big Event.
It should also be noted that in harem stories, where the male lead isn’t attached to any particular girl, the story will often follow the “intro story” pattern for every book/story arc. Each book has a new “female lead” which the MC spends the story getting to know, with the previous female leads jealously circling around with concern as they watch the MC get close with the new girl.
5. RCLNs have Genre Rules
Like pretty much every type of genre fiction, RCLN have developed their own genre “rules” which are pretty standard across the subgenre. Let’s look at a few of the major ones.
Romcom Light novels (at least in Japan) are often written from the first-person perspective of the male lead. There are a few reasons for this, but the big one is that these books are personal fantasies where the reader is along for the ride as the main character (who is the reader’s stand-in) experiences the life of a RCLN lead. Not only that, the first-person perspective also makes the main character much more sympathetic (since we view the world from his perspective) and gives a chance for the main character’s personality to “shine”. In other words, we get to hear their inner-monologue as they think about things, and usually do it in a funny, sarcastic, or interesting way.
On the other hand, not all RCLN writers decide to go this route, and RCLN can definitely be written from other perspectives. Another option is the dual-first person perspective, where the writer alternates writing chapters from the male or female lead’s point of view to give a wider read of the situation. This works best when the two main characters are actively in conflict with each other (see Kagyua-sama: Love is War) and the audience is being treated to the misunderstandings of both sides about the situation.
And of course, some writers go full third-person so they can be cinematic and don’t have to deal with the limited perspectives of what a first-person narrator knows/sees. It’s all up to you.
She Picks Him
It was mentioned earlier that the female lead picks the male lead at some point, whether directly or indirectly, to be her partner for the story. What wasn’t mentioned is that her picking him is usually not a good thing for the male lead. In fact, a lot of the drama (and comedy) of the story will often come from the complications of him being picked by her. She hasn’t done him a favor by picking him (at least not in the short term), but her favor or attention is now making his life much more complicated and not always in a good way.
This can be a simple request like “help me pass physics” or “help me prove the school is haunted” or it can be a more complex deal like “pretend to be my boyfriend so my crush gets jealous.” But whatever she asks of him isn’t going to be easy or fun or him, and will definitely be something which leads to them spending a lot of time together and getting into amusing situations.
He Picks Her
Just as the female lead picks the male lead, at some point not long after that the male lead should decide to accept his new situation. It will often be presented as him getting a glimpse of her vulnerable side under that problem-causing exterior, and this will make his heart skip a beat before everything goes back to normal and he’s unhappy again. But he did see that potential, and that there might be something more to her if he just sticks with her long enough and holds out hope.
They’re Stuck Together
There should be something that links the two leads together and keeps them from just walking away when the going gets tough between them. However, it shouldn’t be something that prevents the male lead from also spending time getting to know other female leads. He can’t cheat on her, because then he looks like a jerk, so their relationship and connection needs to be based on something that holds the two of them together which isn’t love or emotional commitment. (That comes at the end of the story.)
This is one of the reasons why so many of these RCLN are based around clubs, jobs, or hobbies- this creates a community which both partners are members of and can’t escape spending time together. Another way the two are stuck together is often geography – they’re usually living in the same area, neighbourhood, or even building! It’s hard to escape someone when they’re living in the next room and you share a kitchen or bath. But the most common way the two leads are stuck together like glue is neither people nor place – it’s a promise.
Usually, when the two leads connect, they end up making some kind of bargain with each other. It might be based on something he needs, but usually it’s mostly based on her needs, and since she has a problem and needs his help to solve it, they make a deal. Maybe she straight-up bribes him (“I’ll get my mom to put you in her next movie.”), or maybe she blackmails him (“I’ll post your diary for the whole school to see if you don’t do it.”), or maybe she just offers to help him with his own problem in a fair-trade way (“If you help me start a club, I’ll help you find a girlfriend.”), but whatever it is they make a deal.
And it should be a deal they can’t easily back out of without consequences, either. Because there’s no question, he’s going to get fed up at times with her (and maybe she with him), and this penalty (and those glimpses of her vulnerable side) are going to be what keeps from him just walking away.
And lastly, the deal they make should always have a built-in endpoint, because when it’s time for the story to end, the deal needs to close on them in a hard and fast way which breaks the bond between the two of them and sends them both into emotional freefall.
There Needs to be Comedy!
These aren’t just called “Romantic Light Novels” for a reason – these stories are filled with a big dose of comedy to keep readers entertained as the romance plays out. They’re about playing with both the reader’s heart and funny bone – and if they don’t do both, then they’re not going to be very successful.
The truth is, the target audience for RCLN are guys, and for many reasons, those guys aren’t interested in reading a story which is just a pure romance. Guys need something else to be part of the story to keep them entertained, and since sex is off the table, and these stories don’t usually have much violence in them (at least not inflicted by the female leads), then that extra element has to be comedy.
However, there are different kinds of comedy, and RCLN aren’t collections of one-off jokes and gags with a romance plot – they’re something deeper than that. These characters need to feel (somewhat) real to the audience, and real people don’t just sit around making jokes and pulling pranks on each other. Instead, the comedy of these novels needs to come from what is called “situational humor,” or comedy which is the result of flawed characters being put into interesting and awkward situations and reacting to it in interesting ways.
Many people point to Situational Comedies (Sitcoms) like Big Bang Theory, the IT Crowd, Seinfeld and FRIENDS as examples of situational humor, but the truth is that sketch comedy shows like Saturday Night Live, Key and Peele, and The Kids in the Hall are probably better models. Sitcoms tend to have a lot of gags, whereas sketch comedy shows are built around quirky characters being stuck together and watching the sparks fly. They take situations from real life the audience can relate to and then exaggerate them to the point of being funny and sometimes awkward.
That doesn’t mean your book can’t have gags, but in Japanese RCLNs you’ll notice that jokes and gags aren’t very common. Instead, most of the humor is coming from a combination of the main character’s (often) amusing ways of thinking and the situations they find themselves in. Study how they do it by reading books like My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected, and you’ll get the picture.
Just Because There’s a Female Lead Doesn’t Mean No Competition
Your typical RCLN, even ones built around Relationship Troubles, has a female lead who is the clear love interest for the main character, but the male main character also needs to have a series of social and romantic encounters with other cuties. If he didn’t, how is he going to grow in confidence and as a person?
Therefore, once the female lead is established as A) bonded to the main character, and B) out of the main character’s league, then the female lead should usually move from being the love interest to more of a supporting role character. Since it’s been established that the female led isn’t really interested in the male lead and is just using him, she should shift to being a friend/wingman/boss type character role who either doesn’t mind if he’s spending time with other girls or is actively encouraging it.
Yes, there are some series like My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute! where the female lead is extremely jealous and wants to keep the male lead for herself, but this can quickly get tiresome. They usually turn into a series of stories where the male lead either purposely or accidentally cheats on the female lead, and the male lead tends to be a little bit of a jerk.
6. Variations on the Theme
This article has been about what could be described as “vanilla” RCLN which are set in our world and are primarily dramas about characters trying to find romance in a realistic setting. However, there are a fair number of RCLNs which aren’t set in our world at all or which don’t follow the standard form. So, it’s worth taking a look at these as well.
Fantasy and Science Fiction
Fantasy (and more rarely, Science Fiction) settings are pretty common places to stage a RCLN novel series and they play out pretty much the same as outlined here without much difference except for the fantasy elements like magic and non-human races. Sometimes RCLN writers want to take advantage of the classed society and noble intrigues that a fantasy setting can offer, and that’s totally fine. The only thing you probably want to think about is whether this story is a fantasy story with romantic comedy elements or a romantic comedy with fantasy elements.
If the story is first and foremost a fantasy story, then you should use the romantic comedy rules here to guide your romantic subplots in how they’re structured and turn out. Pick one of the five types of romantic comedy stories and use that as your romantic comedy subplot formula, and try to keep in mind what your audience will be looking for when you weave it into your greater fantasy story. Good examples of this are Konosuba (which uses the White Knight pattern) and RE:Zero (which uses the traditional harem pattern).
On the other hand, if your story is primarily a romantic comedy, then the fantasy elements of the story are probably just going to be an interesting backdrop to have your story play out on. For example, your characters might attend the Royal Academy of their setting, and learn magic and mix with other races (catgirls!) but at heart the story is still the same story that it would be if it were to take place at the high school around the corner from you.
Sometimes the writer wants to bring the fantasy to the Romcom, and you get stories like The Devil is a Part-Timer, High School DxD, or A Certain Magical Index. Just like regular fantasy romantic comedies, you’ll need to decide whether the main story is the romantic comedy or the fantasy story, and plan accordingly.
Although they’re not often translated (because they’re usually for girls), there is a long history of romantic mystery light novels in Japan. They usually follow the pattern of a high school girl meeting a young, handsome Sherlock Holmes wannabe and becoming his Watson while a will they/won’t they romance simmers in the background of their relationship as they grow closer with each other over time.
The gender-flipped version of this type of story is typically presented as more of a comedy and is based around the “Beauty is a Beast” plot. In this case, the beastly beauty also happens to be avid mystery fan, and she picks the male lead to drag along on her adventures as she tries to solve whatever mysteries or problems might come their way. He becomes the Watson to her slightly off-kilter Holmes and the narrator of their adventures. As they solve the adventures, they grow closer and he sees different sides of her, and she comes to rely on him, until finally they have some kind of pairing in the end. (If there is one, since mystery stories are often one-offs which end when the case is solved.)
You can use everything in this article to write serious romance stories targeted at a male audience, but don’t expect many people to read it. Getting young men to read is already difficult, and if you don’t give them some extra incentive, they’re not likely to pick a romance or drama story up. That said, you could use this information to write a serious romantic subplot in another type of story that appeals to young men.
Everything here could be used to write romantic comedy erotica novels as easily as it can be to write more chaste RCLNs. Just make sure when you market your book (cover, blurb, etc.) that you make it clear that these books contain lots of sex so that the right audience will find you and you won’t get a bunch of poor reviews from people who thought they were getting something more like the Japanese RCLNs which avoid sex.
Romantic Comedies for Women
Some of you might be wondering if you can use these rules for writing RCLNs targeted at women instead of men.
And, the answer to that is no, and yes.
RCLNs are based on years of evolution with the focus of reaching a particular audience – young Japanese men. They’re designed specifically to appeal to that audience, which is why you’ll note that the first thing discussed is filling the reader’s inner needs. And, while many of their needs are similar, men and women have different inner needs they want filled by their fiction.
So no, you can’t just use the formula laid out here directly and expect that you’re going to hit the mark with a female audience. (Even if your female audience prefers women.) There’s just too much male psychology connected with the way these stories work for it to directly translate to something that women will want to read. If you want to see an example of this, contrast the “Beauty is a Beast” plot with the classic “Beauty and the Beast” plot which dominates women’s literature and you’ll start to see the differences.
On the other hand, all of those plots have alternate female-centric versions as well, and the KSTK story structures for the books will work fine for many different kinds of relationship stories. So, there is a lot here which is universal, and if you know your target audience and their needs well, you can probably adapt a lot of it to serve your purposes. It’s all about knowing your audience and what they want.
Same-Sex Romantic Comedies
If you’re writing for a gay male audience, then generally everything here should work fairly well except that (obviously) your love interests are all going to be men instead of women. Otherwise, it likely plays out largely the same. And, this is also true if you’re writing yuri lesbian relationships with a straight male audience in mind and swap out your male main character for a female one.
On the other hand, if your audience is actual lesbians, or if you’re writing gay romcoms for straight female readers (BL stories), then you’re going to have to do a little more research into how to connect with your audience. That will mean reading your subgenre extensively and researching some advice about reaching that audience so that you can give them what they’re really looking for. Don’t just assume that gender-swapping characters will produce good results.
Everything here will generally work if you’re writing a funny story about male friendship and bonding instead of a romance. In fact, sports manga/anime like Slam Dunk often use these methods for writing Bromance instead of Romance, and many sports stories are actually harem stories with just a few modifications.
What those modifications are would take another article, but they key thing to remember is that men bond over activity and doing things together. The real story is the characters doing things together and how that lets them become closer by interacting around that activity. So, if they’re playing basketball, the bonding elements will be training and playing the game, the relationship elements will be getting to know the other players, and of course the comedy elements are the flawed personalities and quirks the various players have.
Visual Novels and Dating Sims
Considering that many elements of modern RCLNs evolved from dating simulator games like To Heart, using this information when putting together a dating sim should work fine. Basically, you just need to add a points system where the choices the main character makes in their interactions with the love interests results in them either being accepted or rejected by the various cuties at a critical moment in their storyline.
Japanese Romantic Comedy Light Novels are a subgenre which developed over time and was built on experimentation. The first mega-hit RCLN, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, from 2003, was based on the author’s ideas of what the audience might like, but from that point on RCLNs have been deeply shaped by the relationship between what publishers make and what readers bought. The more readers bought a type of RCLN, the more publishers published them and the more new authors copied the methods of the books they loved and which sold well.
As a result of these many years of evolution, the successful RCLN of today are finely tuned to capture the hearts of the audience, and using a formula the writers have consciously or unconsciously picked up from reading the books of those who came before them. This article is an attempt to take some of the guesswork out of writing them so you don’t have to do quite as much homework, but it is just a start and you should still read as many of these books as you can before you try writing them.
In any case, I hope you found this article interesting and if you have any questions or comments please leave them below. Romantic Comedy Light Novels are a fascinating subgenre of light novels, and it’s been a lot of fun researching them. I hope this article as helped you understand them better, and you have just as much fun writing them!