After reading hundreds of novels I reached the conclusion that (for a male at least) the perfect novel needs THREE ingredients to engage the reader without boring him: 1 - STRENGTH : Constant MC drive to Increase his power/strength via cultivation or other means. The greater the obstacles he overcomes, the hardship he endures and the explosion of his power after he strengthened himself, the greater is the psychological reward. Even if the MC is not necessarily power-hungry, he should be forced to react when witnessing the cruelty of strong vicious people against the weak. Xianxia cultivation is the greatest narrative formula ever invented to satisfy the huge human psychological craving toward power, allowing the MC to become an immortal god. But to be exciting cultivation must be challenging, so avoid skills like Devour (to absorb enemy cultivation) or Soul Scrying (to instant learn enemy's techniques or skills) because like all cheats those are tension-killers. EXAMPLES: I Shall Seal The Heavens, Against The Gods, Martial God Asura, God of Slaughter, The Desolate Era. 2 - BEAUTY : An unending series of beauties in distress, with saving them as the main motivation to go on with the story. The MC should not be necessary a righteous person, but he should have a soft spot for damsels in distress. The beauties must not necessarily become part of the MC harem, they just need to be grateful to him. Of course the greatest psychological reward is for them to fall in love and have sex with the MC, but it should always require some additional work to conquer a girl's heart and earn a reward from her. Unless you are writing a comedy, 'yandere' girls are tiresome and uninteresting. Also ecchi scenes (involuntary flashing and accidental skinship) are good, but explicit sex scenes are boring. Sex must always be a mystery unveiling journey, it should be only hinted or described with poetic paraphrasing (Heaven is Not Lonely is a great master in this art), leaving the rest to the reader imagination. EXAMPLES: Womanizing Mage, Ancient Strengthening Technique, Battle Through the Heavens, Martial Peak, 108 Maidens Of Destiny. 3 - WISDOM : The MC must outsmart his enemies. The most cunning, the better. Battle strength alone is not going to keep interest in the long run. Scheming and strategy, especially long term grand designs and political ploys, keep the story interesting. Antagonists also need to be crafty to make defeating them a rewarding experience. Kingdom building on the other hand reduces interest, because the power of the MC becomes manifest and boring. The best MC is one that is always scheming against the system and hiding his strength. Unless he is undercover or secretly harboring rebellious plans, bestowing any position of authority to the MC will make him a part of the system and hence a much less interesting character. EXAMPLES: Legend of Ling Tian, Otherworldy Evil Monarch, Nirvana in Fire, Transcending the Nine Heavens, Lord of The Mysteries So the basic formula for long term interest in a novel is Cultivation (i.e. Xianxia/Xuanhuan) + Save-The-Beauties + Cunning Protagonist. Note that this three ingredients are necessary but not sufficient conditions to make a good novel. You still need a great story, some great characters and a fascinating world around those, otherwise even if you are hooked by the formula it would be an empty experience. IMPORTANT: A Xianxia that respects those three rules does not have to be repetitive or factory produced garbage! One of the most common criticisms of the Xianxia genre is that it's repetitive. The main characters commonly sets out to prove their strength in their hometown, offend several people more powerful than them, flee or mask themselves, grow until they surpass their previous rivals, and then move to a new area inhabited by people with a higer cultivation to repeat the provoke - flee - growth - victory - transition cycle all over again. This is called the "mountain beyond mountain" model. While it is true that the increment in strength of the MC must be followed by the appearance of new enemies of comparable strength, otherwise the tension disappears, this must not happens in the aforementioned way, but can be realized in millions of different ways. A writer that sticks to the "mountain beyond mountain" model is surely lacking in imagination. A great writer uses his creativity to narrate much more interesting stories, realistic or idealistic. The first type depicts life in all his gritty, ugly details and inconsistent, fickle nature, and leaves all abstractions and judgements to the reader. The second type is the most "poetic" and loved by intellectuals, because it uses the classical literary technique invented by the greeks of making characters out of single ideas, and then weave stories derived from the interactions and conflicts of those ideas. This allows the author to put the ideas to test, showing how much each idea is worthy and why some ideas are good and others are bad. Do my three rules above stop you from doing that? No. No one can stop you from writing high quality idealistic original stories and at the same time respecting the three rules mentioned above. Those three rules are like minimal safeguard devices, like saying that "a car must have wheels, seats and an engine" does not limit the car designers in any way. If you want to make a flying car with no wheels, then you are to invent the flying car first as a new genre and prove that it works. No xianxia should to be written recycling any repetitive story pattern: invent a new, fresh story every time and then just add the three ingredients above to make it psychologically edible. If you cannot do it, it's not the formula's fault but your lack of imagination... If anything, my formula does the very opposite: it helps breaking the shackles of the genre. Many authors wrote their first xianxia following verbatim the story format of the most pupular xianxia, because they are scared that if they write something differently, the reader would not like it. But my three rules ensure that you are finally free to write anything you want, all you need to be sure that the reader is not going to be bored is to follow those 3 simple rules. EXAMPLES: Zhu Xian, The Joy of Life, Nightfall, Way Of Choices, Lord Of The Mysteries, Immortal Devil Transformation, Grasping Evil. My related list on this kind of novels. UPDATE 1: If you need to boil it down somehow, you can think of it as a three feelings rule of xianxia: First: the feeling of increasing ones strength. Second: the feeling of having always a new beauty to help. Third: the feeling to outsmart a cunning adversary. The moment you stop feeling anyone of those 3, your interest in the novel drops. You can be lacking in any other narrative element but those three. While writing a xianxia you should always ask yourself: how long since I’ve last let the reader feel to have increased the MC strength? How long since I’ve last let the MC to have a new beauty to save? How long since I’ve last let the MC to outsmart a cunning adversary? If too many pages or chapters are gone without having the reader experience those 3 feelings, then you are at risk of having him drop the novel. UPDATE 2: Xianxia is not a genre tailored for female readers, because women lack the craving for strength that men have. There is a minority of women that makes exception anyway, mostly the tomboysh kind, so a xianxia for women is theoretically possible. But being male and female psychology different in too many aspects, some formula rules should be changed. With female readers and a female MC, I recon that we should at least change the 2nd rule to something like: ‘the feeling of having an attractive or mysterious male character suddenly caring (openly or not) about the female lead in trouble’. But I’m a male, so I’m not the right person to define the rules for a theoretical shojo xianxia. UPDATE 3: An essential part of the xianxia genre is the cultivation system. Historically all xianxia cultivation systems stem from Daoism and the daoist doctrine of inner cultivation, but you are not limited to it. Truthfully, as long as you respect rule one (constant growth of the MC strength), any cultivation system will do. Even a genetic or cybernetic based cultivation system would work. The sky is the limit, literally. The truly difficult thing creating a cultivation system is being choerent and profound at the same time. To grasp the logic of cultivation systems I suggest any writer to read the following four novels. The following novels feature four among the best cultivation systems ever written, and should be read in this exact order: 1) ‘The Desolate Era’; 2) ‘I Shall Seal The Heaven’; 3) ‘Heavenly Jewel Change’; 4) ‘Lord of the Mysteries‘. The first teaches you how to write a ‘canon’ based system, the second teaches you how to expand beyond the canon still ensuring a system that is profound and captivating, the third teaches you how to write a completely original but still very powerful system, and the fourth teaches you how to make even the most limited or strange western esotericism into a cultivation system xianxia like. Once you have mastered those four, you can invent any system for your novel and it would work without never be boring for the reader. UPDATE 4: Face-slapping is the perfect example of a common but non necessary element of the xianxia genre. Even if face-slapping is absent, if the 3 rules are there, the novel works. Take Lord of The Mysteries for instance: many of the most common tropes of the xianxia novels are missing, including face slapping, and yet it is still a genuine great xianxia novel because it respects all the 3 rules. No one is going to loose interest in a xianxia novel if you stop giving the reader flace-slapping scenes. But try to miss any of the three-feelings-rule, like the save-the-beauty element, and to replace it with something else, like money-hoarding, status-rising or kingdom-building, and you will see the reader suddenly dropping the novel after other 50-100 chapters at best. Even if you add an entire harem, but those girls have not been individually saved by the MC in a save-the-beauty scene, the reader would get bored. UPDATE 5: Can a xianxia novel still be interesting even if it does not adhere to the three-feelings-rule? ‘Interesting’ is a word with a broad meaning. I would rater split the interest in two categories: hooks and meat. Hooks are those elements deemed psychologically necessary in a novel to grab the attention of the reader so you can feed him the meat. And the meat is what the novel is truly all about. The original ideas of the author are in the meat, and those are the difficult part to write. Hooks are necessary but not sufficient conditions to make a good novel. You still need the meat (an intriguing story, great characters and a fascinating world) to make the novel good. But the hooks cannot be underestimated, because if those are missing no matter how good the train is, without rails is not going to reach his destination, the reader mind. I mean, there are great artists that can break the rules of a genre, and still succeed in keeping the interest, but those are able to do this only because they have invented new rules that work, and with those are going to estabilish a new genre. But if you don’t first master the rules that work, you cannot create new rules. No artist likes to stick to the rules, but creating new rules that work is very hard. Before inventing cubism, Picasso mastered all previous painting styles. But if you are not Picasso and you don’t want to estabilish a new genre, staying within the 3 rules of xianxia it is enough to create an infinitely rich world with stories and ideas that are truly ‘interesting’. UPDATE 6: Rule N.2 does NOT transform a xianxia novel in jack off material! As I said, rule n.2 only dictates that the MC should often save a beauty in distress, getting in return her sincere gratitude. Everything beyond that is optional and up to the author. I really do not understand why the act of saving a beauty can be categorized by some as a ‘jack-off material’. The instinct to help a woman in trouble is one of the most noble and admirable traits in the human male (one of the very few ‘good ones’ if you ask me), because women are ultimately more fragile than men. The added requirement of being beautiful is just to make the experience more rewarding for the reader, because the appreciation of beauty is an universal psychological trait (in both male and female) and even if it is not fair towards ugly women, if an author starts writing novels where the MC prefers ugly girls to beautiful girls, it would be not believable at all and at worst the MC would be categorized as a weirdo with an ugly fetish. Of course you can make the MC save ugly girls too if they are in trouble, but that would never be as psychological rewarding as saving beautiful ones. And because we are talking about rules to make a novel more interesting and more rewarding for the reader, since there are only advantages and not disadvantages, why should anyone oppose it? This is xianxia, not some realistic literary genre required to adhere to the nitty-gritty aspects of real life even if the reader is not pleased with them. Xianxia is a genre born to allow the little humans to dream to be immortals and as powerful as a gods. It is the ultimate redemption of the soul by means of imagination from the shakles of the bitter reality of life. Then why in the world I should reduce the excitment in reading it?