LitRPG – What Why and How
I’ve recently been listening to a lot of LitRPG and you’ve seen me talk about it with Sufficiently Advanced Magic, Ascend Online, and Towers of Heaven that I’m listening to currently. Those are the ones that I have enjoyed but I also read Awaken Online, which had some issues.
So, what is a LitRPG book?
LitRPG is a novel where it takes place in a world where there are statistics for the characters, like you would in an RPG. This can either be split between the real world and a game world, like Ascend Online and Awaken Online, or it can be a world that just happens to have RPG like rules, which you get in Towers of Heaven (though that kind of walks the line between the two) and Sufficiently Advanced Magic. In these books, you see the characters clearly leveling up and becoming better at things, gaining new skills, and getting new quests (fairly often). The quests is more obviously laid out in the ones where they actually go into an RPG, but the other ones really do the same thing as well.
LitRPG is a really easy and obvious way to do the heroes journey as you have that marker of progression for the character, and if the character is good, eventually they’ll be able to do more and more good. Now, you also have books like the first one in the Awaken Online series where the characters aren’t good, but might, in fact, be the villain of the piece if you really look at it. But if you don’t consider them going that far, they become an edge lord. I have mentioned the term before, but an edge lord is a character who is supposed to be the bad boy and edgy. I highly recommend not doing an edge lord character if you decided to write litRPG, because it seems like a wish fulfillment and often then leads to stupid situations just for fulfilling some wish of the author.
Now, LitRPG has also moved into other mediums. I actually think LitRPG most likely started in Japan, though you could argue that D&D Novels might have been the original. Manga and Anime like Is It Wrong to Pick Up A Girl in a Dungeon? and Sword Art Online are examples of LitRPG or LitJRPG that have been around for a little while. Is It Wrong to Pick Up A Girl in a Dungeon? is an example of an anime where the world itself has RPG rules to it, and Sword Art Online goes between the real world and various game worlds. It’s interesting to see how popular that these anime are or aren’t, but personally I find them both enjoyable.
So, what makes a good LitRPG?
I think that there are a few things to look for. First, you can often tell within the first few minutes or pages if the book has some sort of fulfillment edge lord fantasy feel to it. This will often be done by creating situations of unnecessary violence or hits of things of a sexual nature. This has happened in a few times when I started listening to something and I could tell quickly that it was going to be a situation where we were going to end up with an edge lord.
I also think that you can tell the quality of the writing pretty quickly by how they use descriptions or dialogue. I’ve noticed that some of the writers, since a lot seem to have originally been self published, don’t structure their books in the best way. I talked about this in my world building article, but don’t spend the first few chapters or third or whatever of the book explaining your world to me. Show me and also give me plot at the same time. If you can’t do that, I’m probably going to set down your book. And the same with dialogue or maybe more so with relationships. Know your strong points in writing. Also, be careful what point of view you use.
Also, when creating LitRPG works, have your system figured out and dispense some of the information for leveling up, things like that into your book. But don’t lean too heavily into the trope of the pop-up messages in your screen of how much damage you take or when a skill upgrades. You can show us a character sheet once in a while. I think that this is less annoying in the written form, but when I’ve been listening to things on an audio book, it really wrecks the feel you’re trying to create for the world and the characters.
Finally, have your story cohesive. People are familiar with RPG’s, you often have one quest and then another and then another, and eventually you might tie them all together, but you’ve been playing for a year now and you’ve lost one of your story threads along the way at some point, so that’s fine. But in a book, I can listen to even some of the longer LitRPG books in a week or maybe two. So that means the thread that you lost, because you might actually be pulling from your own pen and paper RPG, or just because you didn’t keep enough notes in your writing, it’s obvious to me. And if you’re doing it intentionally, don’t. It might feel thematic, but you’re writing, and like the character sheet, those things that you don’t notice in a pen and paper RPG are very obvious in a LitRPG book.
And let me do a finally, finally and say this. LitRPG is a ton of fun, I’ve been enjoying what I’ve been listening to. It has been making me want to play more D&D and write my own LitRPG, but please, people, please, if you are going to write something and self publish it on Amazon or somewhere, please hire and editor. Or at least have some friends who aren’t going to be Yes Men read the story and give you feedback. In Ascend Online, he needs someone to edit his content because he isn’t great at description so uses words over and over again. If the Sufficiently Advanced Magic writer had a good editor, they could have fixed the bad romantic language that the author tried to add to the book. And really, this isn’t just for litRPG, but please use a good editor people.
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