My House of Horror by I Fix Air-Conditioner is a Chinese web novel. I read a fan translation that was 2.07 million words long (that .07 represents 70,000 words -- a novel length!) or 6,892 pages on my Nook e-reader. It took me 3-1/2 weeks to complete. And I had that time off work, so I was reading 30+ hours a week.
Previously, I've never lasted over about 1,500 pages on a serial novel or anything in serial novel form (like light novels that were originally web novels). I find that authors have this great idea, write it, and then . . . run out but keep writing anyway so that even the best book becomes, frankly, bad.
But that didn't happen here. Now, the novel isn't perfect; part of it is bloated and the writing disintegrates somewhat. But it never becomes bad and it always picks up again. Considering the utter fatigue of writing at the pace the author did, this is a truly stupendous feat. So I'd like to tell you about it.
Chen Ge owns a haunted house at an amusement park after his parents mysterious disappeared six months ago. They left him nothing except a rag doll and a black phone. Then one day the black phone vibrates and gives him the option to accept missions. Some of these missions are mundane things to improve the quality of his haunted house, like to install more security cameras. But other missions warn him that they are dangerous and will interact with REAL ghosts.
There may be things living in his room, in his mirror, behind the door of his bathroom. The bigger the danger, the bigger the reward. And then there's the biggest reward of all . . . because maybe, just maybe, by taking on these dangerous missions, Chen Ge might unravel the mystery behind his parents' disappearance.
The story is a times funny, creepy, and action-packed. The best part of the book is probably the fact that the way in which some of the scenarios unravel is genuinely creepy in the best way. By which I mean: I'm not a horror person. I like a bit of thrill, but I don't want to be actually horrified. Playing creepy horror games that turn out to be real, exploring abandoned mental asylums . . . this hit a real sweet spot for me.
Why It Worked
The book had a very effective formula. It went like this:
Chen Ge has problems: his parents disappeared and the haunted house they left him is small, falling apart, and on the edge of bankruptcy--as is the theme park it exists within. He's friends with his sole employee and the theme park director.
The black phone gives him a mission to do something creepy and dangerous but with rewards. Chen Ge does the mission (and these can get very long indeed, the further we get into the book) and gets the reward. Along the way, he meets dangerous ghosts, most of whom have dangerous follow-up missions he'd better fulfil or they'll kill him. The mission reward in some way changes his skillset or the haunted house itself, and we have a sequence (sometimes tens of thousands of words long) showing this change to the audience. At the same time, he deals with the reactions of customers/ competitors/ online critics.
The essential points of this pattern are:
- Everything is related.
- Everything has consequences.
- Everything drags Chen Ge deeper into the world of real ghosts and horrors.
Chen Ge is an extraordinarily active protagonist. Near the beginning especially, he could've just said "No." He could've never done the black phone's dangerous missions. He could've sold the haunted house. He could've rested on his laurels. But he doesn't. He continually presses forward until he can no longer draw back, because he's made enemies and they're coming for him.
This pattern sustains Chen Ge's story for 2.07 million words. The full pattern wouldn't suit a single novel, but the essential points would. I've learned a lot and enjoyed myself in the process. If you've ever considered writing a serial novel and want to see a good example of how to sustain them (or just want a good book to read), I'd recommend this one.