Picking up women is overrated. (Screenshot from the anime version of Konasuba, widely seen as the best Isekai parody so far. I am not going to steal the first place this time either. But at least I wrote a whole novel, which is its own kind of heavy lifting unless you have trained long and hard.)
Purrfect timing, as the resident catgirl of the team would say. On the last day of the (Inter)National Novel Writing Month, I finished the first draft of this year’s project, Crystal Dungeons. A moderately westernized variant of the Isekai Light Novel genre, it fits just fine in 51677 words. I’ve written so many things for so many years, but this is really the first time that I have naturally arrived at the natural conclusion in roughly the allotted size. I mean, the first time in my life, seriously. Usually it needs padding or cutting to get close to the target word count for the type of novel I write. This time, things just fell into place with minimal guidance to the muses. The big boss fight happened where it should, followed by the foreshadowed reveal that throws open the possibility of sequels, while still giving a satisfying ending to the book.
I’m temporarily impressed by myself. I would totally have paid $2.99 for this on Amazon (after proofreading).
Proofreading is tentatively planned for January, if I live and have the health and haven’t forgotten the whole thing. ^_^ If I try to proofread now, I’ll see what is in my head instead of what’s on the screen, because the story is still in there, at least loosely.
Isekai novels are a big thing in Japan, I understand, and there is a certain formula that has become very popular. It centers on a young man, typically teenager or early 20es, who is transported to a magical world or allowed to go there after his death. The world is often similar to a computer role-playing game. Due to some contrived circumstance, he is made superior to other people in that world, with exceptional magic and physical skills, and go around casually righting wrongs and assembling a harem of sorts. (There is usually no actual sex in the novels that are translated to English at least, but it is certainly implied that there will be eventually.)
Naturally you can only write the same story in so many ways before it starts to get stale, so we get a lot of branching trends. Some have female protagonists, who typically assemble friends instead of potential lovers. Some have older people as protagonists, but usually they become young again near the start and things proceed much the same way.
Then there are stories that subvert the trope, as we say: The premise is almost the same, but an important detail makes it all different. For instance, two popular series have the protagonist incarnate as low-grade monsters, a slime and a spider respectively. In the end they soon become excessively powerful in their own way, but it is less instantaneous and obviously their new form puts some limits to socialization…
There are edgy stories like Shield Hero, where the hero is rejected and betrayed by the world he came to save, becomes an outcast and does some morally questionable things before gradually being redeemed.
Finally there are outright parodies, like Konasuba, where things go horribly wrong in comical ways, over and over.
My vague idea for this National Novel Writing Month was a lighthearted half-parody on the standard trope: The main character gets to make requests (wishes) for what powers he wants to have in the magical world, but the requests are interpreted more literally than he expected.
–He wants great magic power, which he gets, but without the ability to actually cast magic spells.
–He wants an ultimate ability that kicks in to let him win life and death fights. This power turns out to be “Death cry”: When he is killed, he revives by draining the lifeforce of those who killed him, basically switching place with their life/death status.
-He wants the chance to pick up women in dungeons. (This is a direct reference to the title of another popular series: “Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?”) This is taken literally by the powers that be, so he ends up carrying around women for one reason or another, and they are rather heavier than he imagined.
In the end, however, while all this is part of the 51677 words I wrote, it ended up not really being a comedy. It is mostly lighthearted, but not laugh-out-loud funny for the most part. There is also drive-by commentary on racism, sexual harassment, worker exploitation, and the fact that the most beautiful people are not necessarily the ones you should trust. But there is plenty of banter, flirting, misunderstandings, and the occasional pun. So, fluffy, but not pure wish-fulfillment.
Looking back at the book I wrote, I suspect that the way the “gods” granted his requests was actually better for all involved than the way he imagined beforehand. So I guess in that one way it is a little autobiographical…