Category Archives: Blog

People are Stealing My Story and I am Lol

An Unprofitable Effort

What I have learned through regular updates through these past months is something similar yet different to Gaurav. As much as it sounds like a terrible waste of time to write fanfic anymore, as an experiment you do at least get immediate feedback for what works or not in what you’re writing. The difference between a fanfic and a serial novel is actually fairly small – we call that sort of thing a web novel (which we’ll discuss later in this essay) and it has been fairly productive in gathering reader responses about what they like to see in a story and what they don’t like about the usual web novels that they read.

Now, before we continue let me just say again that the best way to write is just to Sit Down, Shut Up, and Get It Done. Do it all in one go, don’t bother trying to justify yourself to anyone. Don’t let anything stop you – be the next J.K. Rowlings, or at least note my friend Gaurav (lonewanderer) who decided to just bravely bite the bullet and quit his job to finally get most of his novel done. Let nothing get in the way of your writing.

My experiment trades the pursuit of something publishable someday for the immediate dopamine rush of reader response and reviews. And from that, a concrete idea of the specific niche that suits my writing style. How my readers like my pacing, character development, and emotional involvement in the words I put down.

It was for this reason that I chose to Reconstruct Isekai Smartphone, after all. A story so lacking in characters and plot that I could do almost anything with it, but it felt more rewarding to polish a dirty rock into a diamond as a proof of concept that there are no inherently bad tropes, just bad executions.

But even in its base form, a story such as this could become successful. So you have to at least respect Patora Fuyuhara’s work ethic and the odd happy meeting of tropes that make it so derivative as a power fantasy and yet also so utterly inoffensive. It’s the literary equivalent of sugar water.

 

How Do You Manipulate the Reader’s Emotions?

Pardon if I refer you to TVTropes for a while. The Isekai Genre is the lowest common denominator for power fantasy in Japanese web novels, often mixing in both Boring Invincible Hero and their Harem. Usually it means someone who dies is transplanted onto another fantasy world, sometimes with their own bodies or reborn in a local.

In Chinese web novels, transmigration stories such as these are often mixed with a System with a gamelike interface that more blatantly allows the MC to cheat, or a Peggy Sue time travel back to the past plot for glorious revenge.

Yes, these are trite plots that lend a lot towards making a horrible mess of a Mary Sue/Marty Sue of a protagonist.

But rather than deride readers for having very poor taste, let’s think. Why are these sort of power fantasies so popular? Why is it that other people are willing to go along with what is practically a form of literary masturbation?

Because if you think about it really, many of us feel helpless in our daily lives, trapped by the system, limited in our ability to change the world around us. We see injustice and are unable to confront it, we are made to feel cowardly and weak by the threat of social violence. Many feel lost and unwanted.

It’s interesting to me how Japanese and Chinese web novels differ. In Japanese WN, the protagonist shows off a lot, gets an easy harem, and loves to be underestimated before cutting loose. In Chinese WN, specially the wuxia genre, there’s no end of loathsome arrogant enemies that exist mainly to talk smack and be smacked down. “Face-slapping” is a visceral thrill, showing those powerful what for when they find someone who is strong enough not to give a shit about their plots or their threat of violence or their social influence.

The Western counterpart is actually pretty easy to identify, you’ve got no end of action heroes or superheroes. But they tend to struggle more, if only because the ‘web novel’ genre has largely been killed in its crib by fan fiction. And fan fiction passed under the radar as just an irrelevant guilty pleasure. Published works get more editorial control.

Still, all of us feel a vicarious thrill when the hero finally gets to show off. The Hulk finally ‘hulking out’, or the climax of an action movie when the hero basically just blasts through the opposition. Web novels take that feeling and try hold it all the time.

As each arc ends, the next one is just a setup for the next round of faceslapping. Character growth really just doesn’t happen as much.

People are bored with heroes that win all the time and even more so with villains that win all the time. What’s the difference?

 

What Makes Your Work Any Different?

As Megamind once said: PRESENTATION!

I’ve long been accused of a whiplash style of narrative. I mix comedy and snappy dialog with emotional drama. Because that’s long been my belief about pacing – you can’t keep the reader amped up all the time, sometimes you need to relax the pace. Sometimes you need to let it dip. Other writers think of writing as something like a building under construction, making something worth the reader’s time. And that’s perfectly good, that’s the road to something publishable.

But to me, writing is more like a performance.

That’s the part where instant feedback and regular updates help. Interacting with the audience can be so addictive, but it also goes both ways. It’s not pandering to the audience, but knowing that you can affect their views as much as they can have valid complaints too.

You push out with your energy, and they push it right back, and it sets up this feedback loop that unlike working alone trying to build that manuscript, leaves you riding high slapping out those words so eager to see if the reaction you get is the one you’re trying to provoke with your writing. On and on until you crash.

That is the difference.

-x-

My reconstruction story, IN ANOTHER WORLD WITH JUST MONIKA, takes just one element of IN ANOTHER WORLD WITH SMARTPHONE – the fact that smartphone should be an interesting part of the plot in itself or don’t bother mentioning it in the title. Like a Checkov’s Gun, if you draw attention to it, better damn well use it or the reader will feel cheated.

So instead of Touya, who is so utterly bland as to be a reader stand-in, we have Playa. Who deliberately makes it clear that he was shedding his prior identity, even so far never mentioning his name.

 He has his own motivations, his own personality, but as an audience surrogate I’ve found that readers don’t necessarily need a blank slate. Playa just LOVES being in this alternate world so much, that readers replied they want to find out more about the world and how it works just because it’s so interesting to him. What should basically be clichés become fascinating in a vicarious way, as someone seeks to experience it all as something completely new and desirable – to experience it again as someone from a world tired and mired in fakeness and greed and moral uncertainty.

But he’s also a self-medicating manic-depressive, so in some ways there’s tension in that if he stops you can almost believe he would shatter. It takes A LOT for some people to get the emotional engine cranking again once they fall into that pit.

And instead of completely unremarkable smartphone, we have one in which lives a digital being named Monika, the girl from the infamous visual novel Doki Doki Literature Club. She is a jealous monster who does not expect to be forgiven, but also a tortured soul that wants to change. To be better. The tension comes from not knowing if she will continue to be a good person or end up brainwashing and murdering a whole lot of people again out of sick love.

Unlike your typical reincarnation or transmigration story, there’s no advance knowledge of the plot or any prior knowledge of the world. They have to discover and adapt to everything as they find it. Unfortunately, being so well-read, they often mistake the tropes of what they encounter as something else – that’s why the tagline is “Playa and Monika’s Completely Wrong Genre-Savvy Adventures”.

It’s horrid cliché of a world, but it’s a world that’s so full of mystery and wonder to them. The people they encounter are not just cardboard caricatures, but shaped by their environment – and the gaps are filled in to explain why in the previous canon they all act as they do. This is the running theme of the work – yes, it’s a generic fantasy world. But NO ONE has ever really been to a real generic fantasy world.

They are flawed protagonists, but are both trying to be better people. Unlike your typical isekai trash, they are both familiar with the words of Benjamin Parker.

But being intelligent well-read people, they understand that just like the Three Laws of Robotics, a rigid rule has flaws.

            “What’s wrong with you?” Elze asked. “You have all six external elements now, that’s ridiculous. You don’t have to look so sad about it.” She huffed and crossed her arms. “In the name of all of us who were born with only the Null elements, I’m offended by that. Why not just be happy?”

            “Yes, this should be a cause for celebration, shouldn’t it?” added Linze.

            I sighed. “I am going to tell you two different sentences to live by. Both are equally true, and equally terrifying.”

            Elze lifted an eyebrow and with a slight raise of her chin wordlessly bid me to continue.

            “The first, is that [with great power comes great responsibility].”

            Elze nodded. “Okaaay. I agree with that.”

            “The second, is that [there is no obligation in power, only privilege].”

            Elze frowned, opened her mouth to speak, and then stopped.

            “Bollocks,” she hissed at last.

            Monika sucked in her breath, showing her clenched teeth in the cute gap between her lips. /”I really wish I could disagree, but you’re right. Live either of those words to the utmost, and they’re terrifying.”/

            “People like me don’t just happen for no reason. The best thing to do with this cheat affinity is a life of gentle mediocrity, or some sort of relaxing business isekai, but somehow I don’t feel this life will allow us that.” I gave a sad little smile and reached for the last stone.

            “I’m no hero like the Spider-Man, who would give and give and give, trying to fight crime and injustice in the small hours between taking care of his studies and his family, hiding his face so that his enemies don’t follow him home. Getting wounded and battered and blasted for no pay, no benefit to himself at all, other than the knowledge of doing the right thing.”

            I held the colorless stone up to eye level. “Nor do I have any tangible ambitions of conquest and supremacy. Like hell I want the hassle that comes with politics and ruling. I’m not a warrior, for me strength is its own reward. You need strength to protect the ones you care about, but if you care only for strength then you’ll stand utterly alone at the top of the world.

            “There’s just one test remaining – if this stone doesn’t activate, fate is not so fickle as to put something like me here to balance out some great calamity that’s about to happen.”

        Elze looked dubious at my overly dramatic declarations, while Linze had an intent expression.

            Aaand…

Treat the whole thing seriously, but never so seriously as to forget that things can happen arbitrarily for humor, and no one is every immune to it. Even the MC is as much a valid target for situational humiliation as anyone.

It’s like a Let’s Play or watching someone react to Queen for the first time. Or Disneyland from the eyes of a child.

Delight like that is infectious.

Escapism is a completely valid reason to ready anything too.

Conventional literary wisdom has it that a character needs to be challenged. I fully agree with this. However, not all challenges need to be physical. Power should not be met by power. If your character is powerful, don’t try to amp the drama by throwing him against stronger and stronger enemies, but confront him with problems that can’t be solved through violence.

Or, if you’re like me and doing all this for humor, make the MC character himself the problem and watch as everyone else runs around with mistaken conceptions trying to deal with this total OCP of a nutbar and find a way to slot him somewhere into their mental landscape.

Playa is a Showy Invincible Hero and the audience is asked to indulge in the kayfabe.

 

Six Months In, What’s the Result?

I went into this experiment with the primary goal of not writing a story, but to manipulate the reader’s emotions. Plot is important. Is the reader invested in the story as it happens? Characterization is important. Who are the readers shipping? Pacing is important. Would the readers be bored if I drag this on too long?

It’s a comedy. Are they laughing?

It’s an action scene? I can only hope that the audience will find this as awesome as I imagine.

As a recent review goes:

This may be just a proof of concept for the author, but it’s become my favorite of all his works. I see the stuff I’d appreciated before, but the language is cleaner and the writing’s fresher- it really looks like he’s having fun, as opposed to being weighed down by the vast majesty of the world he shaped like in something else I love. This is a meal of like 90% sugar, and I’ve developed a taste for it.

And another:

I’ve followed this story when it was still in its early chapters cuz I like Monika and the twist made in this fanfic I found interesting. 

I’m a seafarer and I always download books and stories to read. One of it is this fanfic and I give you many thanks for the laughs and joy this amazing read gave me. 

I offer my sincerest wish that you can breakthrough tough situations in life. I may not know what you feel but I know myself that carrying on forward(not moving on) is the best way when you’re lost.

Thanks for being an author to an awesome story. I’ll keep watch of your works to come.

-x-

New writers tend to have a problem with pacing or characterization. They fear their plots are too trite and predictable. The feeling of getting nowhere. Of treading the same issues over and over again. (This is largely why the cyclical nature of xianxia adventures and the utter lack of interesting antagonists or developed secondary characters is such a bore.)

As a proof of concept, I took the most trite and predictable of plots and just by making it Consequentialist, in which the absence of a specific power is carried through to the most logical conclusion,  every decision influences an event in the future, so even the hokiest and blandest generic isekai fantasy setting becomes fresh again.

Not to say that you should pander to your readers, but if anything, you should be setting up and subverting their expectations. This is where all those shitty other WNs help this particular genre, because people are so used about what to expect that fulfilling them doesn’t matter while defying their expectations is such a pleasant surprise.

For you, perhaps the most important  questions are:

  • “What is my niche?”
  • “What are the expectations that the targeted audience will have towards stories in this niche?”
  • “How much should I conform to their expectations for a comfortable sense of familiarity, and how much should I defy for the actual interesting points that set my work apart from all the others?”

This is why a writer is a reader first. You write what you personally want to read.

(And yes, I have horrible tastes in literature and I accept that. :p )

An audience is not strictly necessary for a writer. If you have a strong literary voice, your own emotions will resonate across the page. You can do this for your published works even while you write in a cave. This VOICE is a combination of word choice, pacing, dialog, world-building, all these other subconscious little tools in your literary toolbox that only comes out when you feel confident in what you’re writing.

Steal the shit of whatever cool like quips you may have heard from movies and books and anything else elsewhere. You know the saying: only beginners plagiarize, pros file off the serial numbers and pass it off as their own.

When you are utterly shameless, you are a free soul not weighed down by gravity.

I know some writers struggle with how their characters don’t turn out the way they wanted, and normally I’d wonder about how organically growing them is a bad thing – except that plot and character now are conflicting, and it’s completely dissatisfying.

Like blocks refusing to fit, a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. I think that a lot of these boils down to “what see myself speaking through the page isn’t what I wanted to say at all”. And that’s good. Your own personal literary validity is the most important of all. Writing in isolation means being able to winnow through all of these doubts until you make something you’re confident in.

What this experiment has revealed to me is that “Whatever you write, there’s always going to be some reader interested in that.” You can’t please everybody, but you will always be pleasing somebody.

 

The Statistics

Just like with a franchise business, location is everything.

In six months, 600k views on webnovel.

It took me almost a decade to get 2.5 million views on another story of mine, with almost 3/4th of a million words.

It’s interesting to find statistics like this. It’s understandable that it’s most popular in America and the Philippines, but why Italy and Indonesia?

 

So What’s With the Stealing of Your Story?

Well as you can see, posting on webnovel has a significantly greater audience than the platform we’re all familiar with, fanfiction.net, which still has an interface as if stuck in the early 2000s. The funny thing is that webnovel has a poor reputation of stealing the translations of others translating Chinese web novels and posting over on their own site.            

There is also how reading their novels requires ‘spirit stones’ to unlock chapters, which could either be given by daily logins or bought by real money. Web novels can run for thousands of chapters, and reading one to the full can cost you mucho real dollars if you’re impatient.

So there are ironically sites that steal webnovel/qidian content and repost them on their own sites to make their own profits off ad revenue.

It’s like a grand circle of life.

And ever since webnovel added a fanfiction section for others to post their stories, some people have decided to post other people’s long well-regarded stories there without permission from their authors – like Fulcon’s Shinobi: the RPG or Sir Poley’s Harry Potter and the D20.

I decided to post my stories there first so that at least I’d have some control over what happens.  

And since IAWJM now has over 100 chapters it’s automatically being scraped and reposted on other sites. It makes me lol because those other sites don’t have a fanfiction section and so it’s put on the block with the same validity as actual web novels and people who don’t realize the source material are struck by how different it is compared to the other self-indulgent messes with asshole protagonists they read.

And I’m left thinking – I wonder if there’s someone translating this without my knowledge on some other foreign langue site?

That would be just fine too.

Translating is hard work too, you know. I’ve tried to scanlate some old Filipino komiks before. It takes a lot of brainpower to convey the words accurately instead of just literally.

 

Yeah It Was Just Clickbait

Sorry.

THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY – REVISION and second drafts!

I’m an aspiring writer perpetually stuck on the launchpad. I always get excited when I start a new writing project – It’s all good fun and excitement when you worldbuild and visualise awesome setpieces, but it evaporates to dust the moment you start putting them in words.

Yuck!

Blargh!

What the fuck am I writing? Can I even call myself a writer? Words, what do you fail me? Aaaaaaaargh! It turns to chaos and self-loathing and you put the project away, inside a folder of abandoned projects (But you don’t delete them – There is always some hope) and try to forget that you ever wanted to be a writer. Excise that part of you, if you want to be dramatic.

It’s a couple of months before you slink back to the file, late one night. The dreams begin again, beautifully imagined landscapes, desperate fights, sassy comebacks and all those glorious moments. It’s almost like a high that we writers constantly seek, relapsing again, and again to the wonder of creating stories and then to the self-loathing of not being able to create anything tangible on paper that matches our dreams. A cycle that cannot be broken.

I’ve been writing my first novel for the past 10 years now. And I’ve never gotten more than halfway through one of them.

Until this time.

I quit my job (And that’s a story for another time) and embraced that I sucked as a writer. SUCKED. But I decided I wanted to write an ending, see what that felt like. And I did. And it turned out just as I expected. I wrote 100k+ words of an novel that isn’t even worth wiping your ass with.

But I wrote it anyway, and as I have begun to edit it, I’m trying to see just how badly I fucked up. And I did fuck it up. Big time. It’s all pieces scattered, here and there, meaningless, pointless and boring. But I learned something in all that shit and it was in the moment I started revising the damned thing. Revising a story after it is written is not a place most aspiring writers ever get to. It’s redrafting, the second draft, call it whatever you want. And I’ve always thought I hated, hated the idea of going over what I wrote.

And that’s turned out how I thought too. It isn’t the nicest feeling to scratch off pages of writing as crap, cut and then began the tortuous process of rewriting. But I think this is where you learn a lot about the craft, and especially your own writing.

And I learnt about pacing.

I think I did. Of course, I could be screwing this up too, and so badly that I don’t even have a clue that I am. But hey, if you’re this bad, there isn’t much to lose. The dignity’s all gone anyway.

Now, I’ve always thought that pacing was some sort of mystical art. Like monks up in the mountains, hiding wisdom behind cheap aphorism, always ready to stump the eager protagonist that comes to learn. I thought pacing was something that couldn’t be learnt. Just done.

But I was wrong, which wasn’t surprising since I’ve been wrong most of my life.

I found that pacing was all to do with verbs and promises.

Now, if you’re scratching your head like a confounded baboon, don’t worry, I’ll try to expand on that so that even the non-mystical monks amongst you can understand.

Most of your chapters begin with some sort of promise, some vague approximation of what might happen. He/she could be going for a dump. Or have their head cut clean off (Hey there, Sean Bean!). And this is what the wise and the writerly call as promises. And keeping them or not keeping them is the entire deal with pacing. Let’s say the protagonist is stuck in a city, under siege. Now, the promise set up is the siege and the writer has many wages to engage with it – it could be an attack, food shortage or the usual treachery and back-stabbing that follows when too many people are shut up too close together. Now, if none of this is advanced in any way and if instead, the protagonist is waffling with her shoes, or the fact that he’s got dirt on his dress, then you’re reader is going to be pretty pissed. Now, if the story is instead about a pageant, then waffling with shoes or finding dirt on the dress fits.

So, if the actions of the protagonist does not move toward resolving or complicating any of the promises, if it doesn’t engage with the promises, then you’re likely to end up with a rather bored reader. Likely. Now, you can never be sure of this sort of thing. Obviously, there is perspective that the reader brings and a ton of other factors. It could be that the reader has a guilt-complex of biblical proportions and reading that kind of book is just the kind of punishment he or she wants.

So, you’re probably shaking your head and thinking what’s new that I’ve got to tell? All this is rather self-explanatory. You don’t need anyone to point it out for you. But here is how I learnt this is actually executed in a story, at it’s smallest detail – Verbs and time. See, I think (and it could just be me out here, all alone), that verbs have a big impact on how the reader sees time. Each verb moves the time in the story by say, a single unit. So how many verbs are you using before you engage with the promise you set up? How many verbs are being used for a particular plot arc? There can’t be too little – It’ll not make sense or will feel undercooked. But have too many without a sense of progression, without a change in the protagonist’s situation, without the promise being engaged with, and then it’s too slow.

Let me repeat – Verbs are how the reader sees a progression of time in the story. Now, of course, there are outliers and no, I never said that this was a rule in writing. There are no rules in writing. Just call it a feeling, you know? Like the sort of feeling you get when you need to piss.

Now, you’re thinking that I’m talking bullshit. You’re probably right. Writing is an art. It’s never meant to work in such a mechanical way, with units and all that crap. I thought so too. A mystical art. But this is what revising my story taught me.

So, here is the sum up, the TL:DR – Fulfilling, complicating or just engaging with the big promises that you set up affects pacing of the story. And verbs is the unit of time in most cases in your story. If there’s something like a nuclear bomb ticking down, then weather is least likely of places where you must spend your verbs. Unless if you’re predicting nuclear winter in which case ‘Hallelujah!’

Now, for the next post, I want to take about repetition!


Why So Many Writers End Up as Manic Depressives

Please watch the video first.

-x-

And so my commentary based on the video:

-x-

 Today we say, “that man is a genius”. But in ancient times, it is said, “that man has a genius”.

I used to think that complaining about the muse is a silly excuse that writers use to avoid responsibility for their work, or at least long-standing running gag between writers. However the difference between hollow literature and something that resonates with the reader is how much genuine feeling can be put into the page.
 
And that’s why we obsess over quality, when that is merely the superficial concern about how much the author’s intent can be understood from little more than words on a page. Writing is an art and a craft. The craftsmanship we can admire from the strong, precise choice of words, the pattern of sentences and dialogue that build up to an effect. The art is the whisper in the back of our minds, “This feels right.”
 
-x-
 
The human brain is composed of the part that is a genius and the part that is reptilian. There is no convincing the lizard brain, it only recognizes emotions. But it is the spark in the chamber that drives everything else. Likewise, the genius brain can have all the knowledge you can access, but it can’t fit anything together when there’s too much choices. The genius must offer options, the lizard must devour the unwanted, like Ma’at feeding sinful hearts to Ammit.
 
Various subconscious influences like your body, your environment, your influences, the other things you have read, in many ways we can’t explain how words just appear in our minds to make the vague plan become a real story.
 
The lizard brain is lazy. If you let it, it would rather just sleep and distract itself with amusements again. The dopamine rush is the same. The genius brain is happy to cooperate, because it treats solving any problem with a dopamine rush the same as getting something done; and the logical part of the brain betrays you by saying that if it is easier, then it is logically doing well for less work.
 
Our brains are kinda dumb, that’s what I’m saying.  Don’t forget that as much as we extol sapience, we are all still made of meat.
 
-x-
 
So it is fair to say that behind the writer is this big invisible bundle of illogical mysterious force out of our control that is responsible for making the words come out. You can say “my muse is being an asshole” as much as my “my subconscious is being an asshole” but “wait, isn’t my subconscious, me” so “Am I an asshole?” so it is better “My muse is an uncooperative spiteful bitch.”
 
The conscious you is not solely responsible for the writing that you do.
 
The genius, the creative mind separate from yourself, it is not acknowledging this that makes us modern writers feel so pressured and in despair. We seek to please everyone because we can’t decide our own standards. But if you write to someone else’s specifications, the story is sapped of authenticity.
 
Have you ever looked back at your writing and gone “Oh, this is good! What was I thinking back then? What was I feeling? If I could get into that mental state again… do I have to relax? I know I was gaming a little bit, how come I didn’t end up wasting so much time again as usually happens? What made me stop and concentrate?”
 
We all seek validation, but before that we need to actually write. Serial novels get that validation and the pressure to keep writing to a schedule so as not to disappoint your loyal readers. But of course books done in isolation are of higher quality, made under much more pressure to the much more demanding audience of one’s own unfair standards; you can’t be the next JK Rowlings if you don’t just sit down, shut up, and get it done.
 
The novelist trades away the instant gratification of commentary for the hopes of a tighter, more satisfying narrative later on.
 
So prime the lizard brain, feed it your unnecessary thoughts and knowledge, and listen to the giggling of the muse behind you, saying “Don’t get too full of yourself, boyo. Do you really think you’re the only one responsible for all of this?”
 
So go ahead and blame your muse too if what you’re writing doesn’t turn out right. She’s cute but kinda incompetent too.
 
“Meh.”
 

You got your tense medical drama into my shameless isekai fantasy story?!

Half the fun about literature is the unexpected, and this goes for both reader and writer. This is doubly true when you are talking about derivative material.

 

As a writer, it can still surprise me where the story can go even as I’m writing it. Take for example this simple scene in the Light Novel, Isekai Wa Smartphone:

Since the summoner had been taken care of, the remaining Lizardmen simply faded away. I assumed they’d gone back to wherever he’d pulled them out from.

“Looks like it’s over… Everyone alright?”

“I’m doing great,” Elze replied.

“I-I’m alright as well,” Linze meekly muttered.

“As am I, I am.” We made it out alright, but the people who had been attacked had suffered great losses. One of the remaining soldiers made his way over to me, leg dragging behind him.

“Th-Thank you… you saved us…”

“Don’t mention it… What’s the casualty rate?”

“Of ten bodyguards… they got seven of us… Damn it! If only we’d noticed sooner…!” The man trembled in frustration and clenched his fist. I felt the same, in a way. If only we had shown up a little bit sooner… but there was little point in dwelling on such things any longer.

“S-Someone! Is someone there? Gramps… Gramps is…!” We all turned to face the carriage when we unexpectedly heard the voice of a girl. Crying and shouting, a little girl with long, blonde hair clambered out of the carriage. She looked to only be about ten years old.

We ran over to the carriage, and next to the white clothed little girl lay a gray-haired old man in a black formal outfit. Blood flowed from his chest as he wheezed in pain.

“Please save Gramps! He was hit by an arrow…!” The girl, face soaked in tears, begged us for help. This old man must’ve been very important to her. The soldiers brought the old man down from the carriage and laid him down on the grass.

“Linze! Can’t you use your Healing magic on him?!”

“…I-I can’t. The arrow must have snapped, and part of it is still lodged in the wound. If I heal him in this condition, the arrowhead will get stuck inside his body… E-Even that aside… my magic wouldn’t b-be effective on a wound this dire…!” Linze’s words were laced with apology and regret.

As soon as the little girl heard what Linze had to say, her face clouded over with despair. She gripped the elderly man’s hand tightly as she wept, and it looked like she would never stop crying.

“Young miss…”

“Gramps…? Gramps!”

“I am afraid… that we must part here… But please know… the days I spent with you… were among the happiest of my— ghh! Ack…!”

“Gramps, that’s enough!” Damn… the old man was coughing and sputtering. Was there really nothing we could do? I had never tried out major Healing magic before, but I had read about it in the tomes Linze had let me borrow. I knew the incantation, too. It wasn’t impossible for me to cast… probably.

Should I take a gamble here? But even if I heal him up with the broken arrow still lodged in the wound, there’s no telling what might happen. The wound healing up might even make the arrow sink in deeper, which would make it pierce his heart… Wait… if I could just pull the arrow… out of the wound…

That’s it!

“Please, move out of the way!” I hurried the soldiers aside and knelt down by the old man. After that, I quickly pulled one of the other arrows out from the side of the carriage and committed the shape of the arrowhead to memory. Then, I focused on the image strongly in my mind.

“[Apport]!” In an instant, a blood-soaked and broken arrowhead was firmly gripped in my hand.

“Amazing! You used the spell to retrieve the arrow!” Elze looked at my hand and almost screamed with joy. But I wasn’t done yet, there was one more step.

“Come forth, Light! Soothing Comfort: [Cure Heal]!” As I cast the spell, the wound in the old man’s chest gently began to regenerate. It was almost like watching a video rewind itself. It continued like that until the jagged opening had closed up completely.

“…What is this? The pain… is receding? Whatever is happening, it… doesn’t hurt? It doesn’t hurt… I’m healed?”

“Gramps!” The old man sat there, completely baffled, but upright and unharmed, as the little girl threw her arms around him. She cried countless tears of relief, refusing to let go of the old man all the while.

Watching the sight made all of us let out our own relieved sighs. We slumped to the ground.

“Phew…” Well, I was just glad it had all worked out.

So, a little background. Touya Mochizuki, the MC (Main Character) of this story has the usual cheats of an isekai novel protagonist, and is blessed with almost inexhaustible magic power, the ability to use any magic spell of any of the main elements, and ANY personal magic classed under the [Null] element.

He learned the spell [Aports] just a while ago. While on the road, he and his companions rescued a carriage being attacked by summoned lizardmen. The summoner wanted to capture the little girl inside in order to force her father, a Duke of the kingdom.

Touya and company defeated the ambush, and here we see how he used [Aports] in order to remove the arrowhead and then heal the wound. Is it clever? Is it impressive?

Well certainly in-setting it seems so. People sounded very impressed about it.

It’s a fairly breezy 741 words.

So what did I change in my version of the story?

First, it was expanded to 2200 words.

Within the scene, it was explained why he had an arrow wound that broke off inside his body. The little girl’s fear is expanded a little more, a bit more dialog.

And most importantly, the MC DOES NOT CONVENIENTLY HAVE THE [APORTS] SPELL.

The spell brings the object to between the caster’s hands. Monika cannot use [Aports], because as a digital being that lives inside a smartphone, she has no hands. 

This means that within those 2.2k words, the most that could be done was emergency medical treatment to bind the wound. No magic was used.

Actually healing the wound would use up an entire chapter, another 3.3k words, and it’s not just the MC doing everything.

Since they lacked the [Aports] spell to trivialize the whole thing, they actually had to do field surgery. Everyone had to do something to contribute. Everyone had to feel the pressure and the fear of making a mistake that could kill.

Is this better? What’s wrong with brevity and moving the story along?

Let’s have a look at some of the reader responses.

That’s some fantasy Trauma Center shit right there.

majikero

Well, dunno about anyone else, but none of the things talked about in the chapter were things I didn’t learn in my high-school biology class, so it doesn’t break my SOD. As for his success in operating, magic, as Monika said, work off intent and seem to be relatively self-correcting. An earlier chapter also note he’s been practicing healing magic in particular too.

Deathwings

I personally loved this chapter because it really examines the kind of knowledge and application you’d need to use to heal someone with magic. All the time it’s simply treated as glowy white stuff that miraculously fixes everything. (except cutscene wounds. Damn you cutscenes!)

But here, simply accelerating the body’s natural healing won’t work. He’ll be long dead before then. So, magic can greatly assist in keeping him alive until then. Now that I think about it, Playa’s medical ability and knowledge might be one of his most valuable assets, especially if he’s going to continue adventuring around, fighting people.

TheOrange

When I started writing this story, there was not really any intention of particularly focusing on the esoteric meanings of magic. This medical drama was not expected, not even by me, but as I was writing it is seemed to naturally emerge from the limitations and practical knowledge of those involved.

 

Okay, ‘medical spells’ are spells that act like a doctor does – basically keeping the patient alive by stitching up holes and/or making new holes to let the body heal itself back to (semi)functionality.

Healing spells (and some iryo-jutsu) do the healing for the patient – like the kind that magics up fresh, healthy cells, makes blood where there is none, makes diseases/poisons and their byproducts go poof, brings the patient back to life while doing all of the previous, etc.

…and I never knew how badly I needed a magical system with ‘medical spells’ rather than healing spells. Put that in a magical buddy cop story and I’ll read it until the end of time.

KafkaExMachina

That is the difference. Usually [Heal] magic just refills someone’s HP, there’s no tension nor acknowledgement that you’re rebuilding the body. There’s no sense of how it is limited or the need for the caster to study anything.

I blame this on how Healing Magic was actually first used in RPGs under Clerical Magic, in effect they were actually Applied Miracles and the gods didn’t need to bother with learning anything about medicine.

Unfortunately, as [Heal] became necessary for the task of keeping the party alive and became a common sight, we lost some of the wonder and awe inherent to [Healing] magic.

Few even bother to remember anymore that [Regeneration] would certainly not save you from needing surgery.

There was discussion between leaving the arrow in and simply healing it over, so that the injured could survive traveling for two more days and then have the doctors cut him open again to remove the arrowhead and stop the internal bleeding.

There was also the reason to dare to risk field surgery in unsterile conditions because they have already been ambushed once, and staying on the road was an unacceptable risk to their noble miss.

Lacking [Apport] they actually had to make forceps out of bent pieces of armor, cut into the wound with a sharpened fruit knife, and pull it out before they could actually [Heal] the wound. It was a slow and painful process.

I put up another question:

Okay, guys, so I need to make a blog post about the difference between [Apport] and how lacking it led to a more drawn-out medical scene. Why do you think it is more impressive to have something done with difficulty rather than with ease?

The same reason Tony Stark making a suit of powered armor in a cave with a box of scraps is arguably more impressive than any of his later armors save, perhaps, the bleeding edge armor. It conveys a lot more required skill, thought, nerve, conviction, and ingenuity, because we’re watching someone do something very difficult with less than ideal tools and conditions.

Interestingly I think it only really came off as impressive, because of the original scene and how simply it was handled there. Without that as context, Playa’s massive magic affinity, access to the internet’s unimaginably wide database of medical information, and all this capable (if untrained) assistance, would actually somewhat lessen those aspects of what made the feet so impressive.

Of course, pulling that off would still be plenty impressive on it’s own. But you asked why this seemed more impressive, not why it seemed impressive in general.

Mizuki_Stone

Personally, I think it’s like the difference between MacGuyver and Batman. With MacGuyver, you get so see him solve a problem with his own wits, knowledge, and whatever he has on hand. With Batman, there’s mostly a Utility Belt ex Machina that solves whatever problem right away so we can see him go back to punching the Joker.

In the end, MacGuyver ends up being more satisfying to watch because the viewer has that sense of “Oh hell yes it’s working!” when MacGuyver improvises a solution using only the material he has with him.

lt_agn02

Something done with difficulty engages the reader more because it does not trivialize the problem at hand. There’s more sympathy and sense of accomplishment when you follow along the character’s actions.

There’s actual bravery involved, from the ad hoc medical team and the patient that had to watch his own chest being cut open because they best they could offer was a magical local anaesthetic.

Victory is only there if there is the possibility of loss.

Touya just solved the whole thing within three paragraphs.

There was no drama at all.


When writing or reviewing a scene, it’s important to note the purpose of those paragraphs. In the original, it was to showcase the utility of the [Aports] spell, which no one else other than Touya could use.

It was meant to tell the reader that he was special and indispensable. Which is… ehh. Were you as impressed as the other characters in it?

In the altered version, the purpose of the scene was to reveal to Sue, the little noble girl, that [Healing] magic was not so simple and that it takes actual work to save lives. It’s much easier to end lives than to save lives.

Being a doctor was a respectable occupation, a noble occupation even, and now she actually had motivation to be more than just someone’s trophy wife late.

The MC needed help, even though he had boatloads of magic power on his own, he only had two hands, and those two hands were most useful doing magic spells that could keep the patient alive during the operation.

Monika, being an AI, could not contribute physically but without [Diagnosis] none of this could be possible.

Yae, the samurai girl, showed that her skill with sword, her excellence at cutting flesh, could also be used to save lives.

Linze, who also had the [Light] magic affinity to [Heal] wounds, needed the nerve to swab blood and widen a wound more than than just magic power – and that nerve not to flinch when needed by others makes her a stronger character than when she started.

Elze, her twin sister, whose boyish traits often left her feeling useless in times of delicacy, had the bravery to make the final pull of the object from the wound, the sheer guts to do what was likely to actually kill the patient instantly if improperly handled.

Even the patient, Butler Reim, showed how much he was dedicated to his duty but at the same time he genuinely loved his little miss and did not want to leave her behind just yet. As long as the girl needed him, he would be there to serve her.

Less is more but sometimes more is just more.

In between death and life, there is growth.

Every day, daily updates. The story has now breached 70k words in little more than a month. Every day, every character grows a little more compared to how they were yesterday.

I respect the work ethic that went into Isekai Smartphone that led to it being 12 volumes. But fundamentally, the characters remained the same at the end as they were at the beginning.

But most of all ‘In Another World World With Smartphone‘ never really had the smartphone be interesting at any point.

Remember that. It is foundational to the changes of this story… literally everything follows from this one simple change in the premise.

It’s “Another World with the Most Interesting Smartphone“.

You can start to read it all here (SB), in the place where I do daily updates.

A more edited version also updates daily over at Webnovel.com, here. It is delayed by some chapters, but benefits from later proofreading.

I am beyond shame.

So I actually have been updating at least 1000 words daily for a whole month now somewhere else.

Why?

I’m getting some serious reviews out of what should be just another stupid wish fulfillment story.

 I love this- the original in another world with my smartphone was so formulaic of the isekai genre’s most standard tropes that it was entertaining like a car crash, and digestable like soup- interesting in how bad some of the choices would be for a story and yet so standard for isekai that one can stomach it- altogether potentially entertaining but no real substance.

The story basically gave the MC every possible advantage an isekai protagonist type could get (physical enhancements, ultimate magic potential, and tech from his past world) and the MC was so bland and nice that you kind of shrug and go along with a lot of what he does. It had good moments- I like how out of all the power the mc has the spell he wins the most with is the magical equivalent of a cartoon banana peel, and the uses of comboing his phone with the world’s magic is interesting- but he isn’t a chosen or summoned hero, any great threat to the world is far away and only hinted at worst so there is little to justify the MC being so powerful and he is so bland that while he doesn’t grate on the viewer he doesn’t engage either. Its like they threw in as many isekai tropes they liked and removed any they didn’t so all the characters are nice the threats are mostly easily overcome and wanted to see what kind of story that would be.

A bunch of the boosts the MC got would be interesting alone- the physical enhancements with no magic would force him to compete against others who certainly have some form of magic helping, the universal magical alignment would be interesting especially as it give access to certain relics later on in the story as their creator was the same- but having unlimited mana means the MC is never forced to be creative, and every trick he does use feels like an idle thought, but if he had normal mana levels he would have to be strategic in how he spent his power, just throwing more mana at the problem wouldn’t work. Having infinite mana could be intersting too, depending on what spells he knew, the point would be to force creativity. Heck just the smartphone could be don well, as you have shown here, depending on how it interacts with the world’s magic.

In your story you have managed to make it tens if not hundreds of times more engaging by first, giving the MC a personality, 2nd by giving him someone to bounce off of in the form of Monika, 3rd create investment in their pasts and issues, and 4th rebuilt every moderately interesting interaction in the canon story into a new more entertaining form by having said characters be involved and actually HAVE character, and finally, you make the isekai protagonist powers interesting again by not only giving them to someone who actually thinks about them, but by limiting them and spliting them between the MC and Monika you enhance their character interactions and make the possiblities many times more interesting because we know they will try and do interesting things with it.

So in short Bravo I can’t wait to read more

And –

 So I somehow only stumbled across this today and binged it. I’m with you that I really think the main character of In Another World With My Smartphone is too overpowered to be anything but boring, and I think you’re absolutely right, dropping the power level slightly is gonna make things more interesting.

And then Monika cranks the power level right back up, but A) her Null powers are still less broken than Touya’s, and B) her power boosts increase the drama, not eliminate it!

I should not really be proud of writing goddamn fanfic, but this really goes back to my core beliefs as a writer. I believe that there is no inherently ‘bad’ concept – it’s all just a matter of how you take the idea.

I believe that a story is made mediocre only by not following through to the furthest extent the implications of they have plainly written.

Powerlevels don’t matter. There are more ways than just physical conflict to introduce tension into a story.

Character -> Plot -> Conflict.

Just look at this thing.

Just look at this utterly generic yahoo.

Isekai wa Smartphone is almost impressive as a standard for how bland and generic and utterly lacking in challenge as an anime can be. It is so bad that it can’t even be called bad, because that would imply the work could actually provoke any strong emotion.

And that’s why I felt compelled to do this. Because it’s my proof of concept.

Take as generic and one-note the characters, as servicing the protagonist the story may be, and actually just change one thing – one tiny little thing – and the whole thing suddenly acquires a lot more depth if you dare to follow that everything else that changes because of that alteration in the premise.

Just change the perspective by which the protagonist views the world he’s entered into.

In Another World with JUST MONIKA sure isn’t high literature, but if Isekai wa Smartphone could get published and get turned into an anime, sure as hell there’s hope for us writers to make it big eventually.

I actually respect it for the length and sheer effort that went into writing it for eleven books now, despite the sheer lack of worldbuilding and what could have been juicy plotlines that went nowhere.

What any writer needs most is that work ethic.

I’m not trying to ‘correct’ the story, but to demonstrate character balance –  why harem anime is stupid, not just because it is demeaning but because interesting female characters lose what is actually interesting about them and their brains when around the MC.

A strong female character does not necessarily need to be strong physically or magically – hell, there are a lot of overpowered characters I can point to that I can still deem as weak characters – but must have ideals and agency. Every person has things they value, things they can endure, and things they cannot.

Girls fighting over a boy is not drama. Canon Isekai Smartphone is actually fairly unique in that we don’t see any of that tired old bullshit, they actually communicated like sane people about their mutual desires.

None of that abusive tsundere female-on-male violence either.

(How strange, to call a work interesting because of everything it lacks instead of everything notable it may show to the reader.)

Isekai Smartphone lacked drama because no one could ever put anything of theirs at risk. No one’s ideals were ever at any point challenged. No one ever felt in danger of failing, of losing something meaningful to them.

I’m not making a more dramatic story. I’m making a story that dares to ask itself questions about what it wants to accomplish.

This is not a DECONSTRUCTION.

This is a RECONSTRUCTION of the whole goddamn genre.

I am going to keep writing this for a while until the inspiration burns out.

As a writing experiment, I think it may be useful in the long run. A writer usually doesn’t need to ask why what they have written is effective prose, only reach for that feeling – “Does this work?

It certainly feels like it’s working so I’m going to try to hang onto that, to absorb the unconscious value judgments I’ve been making, to reuse in more serious works later.

I’ll let you guys know when I’ve got even more original works out in the pipeline.

Writerblog online.

All right, let’s get this show on the road!

Karavanir.com is back online, and it’s time to get the workflow going again. For now, I’m testing functionality for blog posts expressing our views on the craft of writing.

This is CarloMarco, aka bluepencil. I hope you’ll find some of what we say to be worth reading.