Discussion in 'Author Discussions' started by freemen muaddib, Sep 16, 2022.

  1. freemen muaddib

    freemen muaddib Well-Known Member

    Oct 29, 2019
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    by Freemen Muaddib


    Hi, fellow daoists!

    If you are are reading this then you have already discovered the most sublime literary genre of all: the Xianxia Novel! You are probably asking yourself why this kind of novel, when done right, is more exciting and addictive than anything else you read before, right?

    We have all been there! And the answer is not simply because Xianxia is a genre born to allow us little human beings to dream to be immortal and as powerful as gods. Not simply because it represents the ultimate redemption and breaking free of the soul from the shackles of the bitter reality of life through imagination. Things are more complicated than that. And for a long time I ventured in a extraordinary journey in the hope to discover such a secret. After reading hundreds of xianxia novels and meditating on the Dao, I finally found enlightenment and reached a breakthrough. Now I want to share some of the insights that lead me to reach a new realm in my inner cultivation. Insights are like tea leaves. Though warming up the water is necessary to make tea, without tea leaves you only get something to drink to quench the thirst of your body, not that of the mind. You can circulate your Qi, but without insights, your internal energy is just like hot water. You cannot make tea without tea leaves, and you cannot make a breakthrough without insights. To the cultivators, the Insights are priceless. So I will give them to my fellow Daoists for free. The main insight I had and that I want to share is that to concoct a xianxia novel you need THREE essential alchemic ingredients. Those three are needed to engage the reader without boring him in the long term. I called them "The Three Feelings of Xianxia".


    • 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 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 you should avoid skills like Devour (to absorb enemy cultivation), Soul Scrying or Copy Eyes (to instant learn the enemy's techniques or skills) because, like all cheats, those are tension-killers. Also, cultivation degrees must be meaningful and abundant, with many realms each one more awe-inspiring than the last. Dull and shallow cultivation realms, like the nameless 5 tiers of Versatile Mage for example, are a sure recipe for a novel to get boring fast. The true voyage of an MC in a xianxia novel is through the realms of the cultivation ladder, so each of those realms must be a marvel. To paraphrase GoT, "Only the ladder is real, the climb is all there is." And this is also why experience-based cultivation systems, as in the LitRPG genre novels, are trash compared to xianxia. EXAMPLES: I Shall Seal The Heavens, Against The Gods, Martial God Asura, God of Slaughter, The Desolate Era, Martial World, A Record of a Mortal’s Journey to Immortality, Zhu Xian.
    • 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 at or described with poetic paraphrasing (Heaven is Not Lonely is a great master in this art), leaving the rest to the reader's imagination. EXAMPLES: Womanizing Mage, Ancient Strengthening Technique, Battle Through the Heavens, Martial Peak, Nine Star Hegemon Body Art, Heavenly Jewel Change, Heavenly Star, My Wife Is A Beautiful CEO.
    • 3 - WISDOM : The MC must outsmart his enemies. The more cunning is the MC, the better. Battle strength alone is not going to keep the interest up 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, Immortal.


    • NOTE 1 : So the basic formula for long-term interest in a novel is Cultivation + Save-The-Beauties + Cunning Protagonist. Note that these 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 them, otherwise, even if you are hooked by the formula, it would be an empty experience. But more importantly, YOU NEED TO BUILD TENSION in every scene! And that is not an easy task! This is why I prepared for you the DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO TENSION AND ANTICIPATION, you can get the free PDF on Cheatography:
    • NOTE 2: 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 set 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 higher 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 the strength of the MC must be followed by the appearance of new enemies of comparable strength, otherwise the tension disappears, this must not happen in the aforementioned way but can be realized in millions of different ways.
    • NOTE 3: A writer that sticks to the "mountain beyond mountain" model is certainly 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 its gritty, ugly details and inconsistent, fickle nature, and leaves all abstractions and judgments 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 weaving stories derived from the interactions and conflicts of those ideas. This allows the author to put the ideas to the 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.
    • NOTE 4: No xianxia should be written by 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 in breaking the shackles of the genre. Many authors wrote their first xianxia following verbatim the story format of the most popular xianxia because they are scared that if they write something different, 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, Immortal


    If you need to boil it down somehow, you can think of it as "The Three Feelings Rule of Xianxia":

    1. First: The feeling of increasing one's strength.
    2. Second: The feeling of having always a new beauty to help.
    3. 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 have a new beauty to save? How long since I’ve last let the MC 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.

    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 exceptions anyway, mostly the tomboyish 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 reckon 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 female or ‘shojo’ xianxia. Someone sharper than me (thanks ONcEX!) noted that shoujo xianxia is not theoretical, and is a well-established genre to a certain extent. For example, The famous Three Lives Three Worlds series is a xianxia as it involves immortals, gods, demons, and cultivation. We also have novels such as Death Exists Not at the River of Oblivion, Unprecedented Pill Refiner: Entitled Ninth Young Lady, Ascending, do not disturb, The Journey of Flower, Heavy Sweetness Ash-Like Frost (a.k.a. Ashes Of Love), Poison Genius Consort, The Good for Nothing Seventh Young Lady, Accompanying the Phoenix, Ostentatious Zhao Yao, The Glass Maiden (a.k.a. Love and Redemption), SanSheng, Heart Protection, The Blue Whisper (and all other Jiu Lu Fei Xiang novels), and more like that. Maybe it is true. But to classify those as xianxia novels we need to renounce the requisite that to be a xianxia the MC must cultivate to become a god or an immortal because in the aforementioned the aim of the female protagonist is usually just love, family, revenge, saving people or protecting herself. In this new paradigm, just the presence in the story of gods or immortals would be enough to call it such.

    If Three Lives Three Worlds and all the other shoujo xianxia are compared to the shounen xianxia what we found is that the protagonist is less focused on cultivation and power. Some other similar shoujo novels about immortals do not even mention cultivation. The female protagonists are rarely power-hungry, and they are not greedy for physical strength at all. Strength is just a tool to reach a personal objective. For female readers, the first of the three feelings rule is not valid anymore. What are the rules then? What elements make those novels attractive to female readers? Being a male I can’t say for sure. For example, some female readers seem to like reverse harem, while others prefer a struggle to achieve the “one true love”, or to endure a love triangle (not to mention the mandatory BL elements!). Few females even put battles and political scheming on their radar, but they don’t dislike them as long as they are about personal relationships and not some abstract flag-waving, partisanship, and blind loyalty. Female groups infighting for reputation and status is also an attractive element in the story for female readers, but I’m not sure if, on average, they prefer the FL to be the “innocent girl” type or the “scheming girl” (or "black-belly girl") type. Also, since for women beauty=strength, I expect the FL to be interested in things that improve their appearance and demeanor (e.g. dresses, cosmetics, artistic talents, singing and dancing lessons, beautifying pills, magic charms, rejuvenating potions, etc,…), but often those are instead explicitly avoided by the FL to conform to the modest and pure girl stereotype, or the sassy/tomboyish girl stereotype, apparently both very popular with kings and gods (why?!!). I give up...

    An essential part of the xianxia ("immortal hero") 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 up to godhood, with no cheating tricks), 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 about creating a cultivation system is being coherent and profound at the same time.

    To grasp the logic of cultivation systems I suggest to any writer read the following five novels. The following novels feature five of the best cultivation systems ever written, and should be read in this exact order:

    1. The Desolate Era;
    2. A Record of a Mortal’s Journey to Immortality;
    3. I Shall Seal The Heaven;
    4. Heavenly Jewel Change;
    5. Lord of the Mysteries.

    The first teaches you how to write a ‘canon’ based system, the second teaches you the way to create the slow "build up" of cultivation and consolidate the foundation, and the third teaches you how to expand beyond the canon while still ensuring a system that is profound and captivating, the fourth teaches you how to write a completely original but still very powerful system, and the fifth teaches you how to make even the most strange western esotericism into a cultivation system xianxia like. Once you have mastered those five, you can invent any system for your novel and it would work fine.

    But beware: cultivation must never be boring for the reader. Cultivation must be challenging. And in many ways.

    It is often said that cultivation is made of 4 ingredients (the so-called P.U.R.E. paradigm):

    1. People (e.g. Dao protectors, teachers, guiding souls, artifacts spirits, acupuncturists, dual cultivation partners...)
    2. Understanding (e.g. visions, books, jade slips, engravings, paintings , music, runes, talismans, spiritual objects, legacy wills or intents, insights, Dao treasures...)
    3. Resources (e.g. Qi, spiritual or elemental energy, spirit stones, pills, plants, alchemic potions, blood, marrow, beast cores, natural treasures, Dao treasures and weapons, souls to refine…)
    4. Environment (e.g. Qi rich places, spiritual places, places filled with the aura of powerful cultivators, sources of dense elemental energy, special cultivation rooms, spiritual formations, corpses or tombs of powerful beings, places exerting spiritual or physical pressure…)

    Finding powerful Dao protectors (people who guard the MC while he cultivates, helps him if a Qi deviation occurs, or infuse him with the energy needed to break through a bottleneck), rare resources, and hard-to-reach environments are all already challenging tasks for the average MC in every novel. But the understanding part is often omitted when the author describes the MC cultivating. The inner thoughts of the MC are often ignored and the author just mentions that he is meditating or just circulating and refining spiritual energy. Making his inner train of thought explicit and at the same time interesting for the reader is often too hard. This is because the author has to come up with original ideas and questions that the MC must ponder and solve in a meaningful, coherent intellectual journey. Desolate Era and ISSTH are both the best in this regard. Techniques are not just read, but each level poses a question that the MC must solve to successfully train in it, sometimes by observing the world outside and sometimes reflecting on his inner Dao. To advance and improve his understanding of the cultivation realms the MC must get Insights, solve profound mysteries, investigate with the occasional help of great teachers, or experience enigmatic visions that should be decoded like a rebus. The deep mysteries that the MC experience and struggle with in ErGen novels are what make his xianxia novels the best. The perfect xianxia novel is the one that makes the reader expand his understanding (of the Dao or of any other metaphysical doctrine in the novel) together with the MC. And this should be challenging for both the reader and the MC, like meditating and solving one new kōan zen at each cultivation step, giving a sense of satisfaction like when from a paradox a great truth is unveiled. This is the reason why the U letter in the PURE cultivation paradigm is both difficult to write and incredibly rewarding for the reader if done right.

    When writing xianxia you have more freedom than you can imagine. No trope or pattern is unchangeable. Don't believe those who says "whitout that it is not xianxia!'. There are no such sacred cows! Face-slapping is the perfect example of a common but non-necessary element of the xianxia genre. Even if faceslapping 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 and its cultivation system allows the characters to become gods. No one is going to lose interest in a xianxia novel if you stop giving the reader face-slapping scenes. But try to miss any of the three-feelings-rule, for example, the savethe-beauty element, and 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, because the saving is what binds them to him. But beyond that, it is all about your imagination.

    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 rather split the interest into 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 its destination, the reader's mind. I mean, some great artists can break the rules of a genre, and still succeed in keeping the interest, but those can do this only because they have invented new rules that work, and with those are going to establish 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 establish a new genre, staying within the 3 feelings rule of xianxia is enough to create an infinitely rich world with stories and ideas that are truly ‘interesting’.

    First of all, a harem is not something degenerate or immoral. Harem is a choice, and a choice perfectly understandable for a xianxia. Having many love stories is normal for people who live forever. Second, rule N.2 does NOT transform a xianxia novel into 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.

    What I find hard to understand is 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 noblest and most 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 a universal psychological trait (in both males and females) 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 psychologically 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 no 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. Don't forget: Xianxia is a genre born to allow us little human beings to dream to be immortal and as powerful as gods. It is the ultimate redemption and breaking free of the soul from the shackles of the bitter reality of life through imagination. Then why in the world I should reduce the excitement in reading it?


    Many criticized the novel for being formulaic and for following the 'Mountain Beyond Mountain' story pattern. But most of those critics simply do not like the xianxia genre. The truth is that if Martial God Asura is so popular and it is still going on after almost 5000 chapters is because IT IS VERY GOOD. The universe, the story, the characters, the humor, the adventures, and the fighting.. while it follows the usual MBM scheme, are all very well made and entertaining, because it cares about following the Three Feelings Rule of Xianxia Novels.

    The Author, Kindhearted Bee, is not a peerless genius like Er Gen, so you won't find the depth and mysticism you would find in Er Gen novels. He is not a symbolist, so you won't find the poetical meanings that you would find in Mao Ni novels. Nor he is a smart geek like I Eat Tomatoes, so you would not find the rich and detailed exploration of cultivation methods and realms, like in The Desolate Era. He is also not a very romantic fellow, so while there are a lot of beauties falling for the MC in his novels, their love stories are far simpler and colder compared to those of Heavenly Silkworm Potato, Cabbage Flatbread or Jiu Lu Fei Xiang.

    Yet, the story is always intriguing, the characters are always fascinating, and, even in chapter 4920, I'm still eager to read the next one. I'm still hooked on MGA, and I hope it would never end. If even the most simple xianxia novel can become addictive with the 3 feelings rule, imagine how much more a good xianxia novelist would gain following them.



    I hope that the above notes of mine will help western authors to write more novels belonging to the xianxia genre! :)
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2022
  2. Orris

    Orris angelical menace extraordinaire

    Jul 24, 2022
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    :hmm::hmm::hmm: ... i feel like ive seen this kind of post before. did you just make a duplicate or something or was it someone else
  3. DustySpiral

    DustySpiral Active Member

    Feb 13, 2021
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    This seems like a more refined version of a post I sort of recall him making in the past. P.U.R.E. seems new, and I do wish more xianxia works emphasized Understanding instead of having cultivation be mindless power-upping with with the occasional lighting strike.

    Anyway, the previous post wasn't nearly this organized/elaborate IIRC, and I can respect the effort put into it even if I disagree on the universality of his claims. I will also concede that there is a subset of readers that would enjoy any xianxia following those rules. That said, I contest his claim that anyone that dislikes one or more of them won't like xianxia in general.


    Rule 2: Yeah, yeah, we've done this before. So: Very few of the people ranting against harem bring up anything like morals or whatever. Those that do generally focus on the MC being a dirtbag and the main counter to the long-life thing is that all of the women in such novels are pining for the MC (and only the MC!) forever* while the reverse is not true. But even that is at the edge of the actual most common complaint: It stunts character development, stalls the plot, etc. Harem has a tendency to force the novel to make a ton of narrative sacrifices to include it and anyone that isn't super into beauty collection is going to start getting annoyed. The Xianxia genre already has enough difficulties developing a decent side-cast as it is.

    A single save-the-beauty plot will appeal to most Xianxia readers though, I will agree. Moreso if the beauty is actually contributing something to the plot besides being cute + in distress (Being a power-up vending machine usually doesn't count for this). Frankly, you can drive reader interest with any save-the-character plot, it's just much easier to get the typical (?I think?) Xianxia reader to care about a minor character if they're an attractive woman.

    *As an aside, I think the whole pining-forever thing is usually ridiculous for the exact reasons OP brought up. Their feelings for some guy that's barely ever around shouldn't stay frozen at the peak they hit during the save-the-beauty-climax.
  4. Xian Piete

    Xian Piete Author of many mediocre stories

    Sep 4, 2017
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    There are rules for writing (just so that we can all read and understand each other's writing) but no rules for fiction. Get out of your box.