Mood has a great deal to do with the success of a piece of fiction because it is related to how the story makes the reader feel. A writer aiming for a melancholy or surreal mood in fiction could study the novels of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami for tips on how to achieve those moods.
Murakami conveys these moods through character, plot, language and theme. His characters tend to be isolated, lonely figures. For example, Toru, the protagonist of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, loses both his job and his cat. He drifts through life in a passive state disconnected from his wife and seemingly only able to connect with other characters who are equally drifting like a schoolgirl he meets, May. The narrator of Sputnik Sweetheart is deeply in love with a girl who does not love him back. Through these and similar characters, Murakami’s stories tend to leave his readers feeling lonely and dislocated as well.
Murakami’s plot developments lead to a certain type of mood as well. Most of his books chronicle a series of surreal events that often seem unconnected. For example, in Kafka on the Shore, a man can communicate with cats. Murakami’s plots often feel dreamlike, and this results in a dreamlike mood for the reader as well.
Discussing Murakami’s use of language is trickier because his books are all published in translation, and Japanese is significantly different from English. However, Murakami’s work is noted for being stylistically unlike many other Japanese novels and therefore different in translation as well. Murakami has a casual, flowing style in his native language that his English translators have effectively captured. This lyrical language reinforces the mood of melancholy.
The themes in Murakami’s work include human isolation and loneliness, longing and nostalgia, and thin or nonexistent boundaries between other planes of existence and reality. For a reader deeply engrossed in the meandering world of Murakami characters and these preoccupations, the solid, everyday world can seem unreal even after the book has been set down.
Murakami also achieves a note of longing in his fiction that he communicates to his readers in the ambiguity of his novels. Because most of his books do not wrap up with a typical resolution, the reader is left a little bit unsettled and a little bit lost just like his characters.
From examining Murakami’s work and technique, we can also see that the elements of fiction need to work together in order to convey a certain mood. They must be consistent. Mood may not be at the forefront of your mind when writing the first draft of a novel, but as you revise, you should think about the mood and how you want the reader the feel.
What have you learned about mood from the work of Haruki Murakami?
8 replies on “Creating mood like Haruki Murakami”
Very good article. I’m going to do my own research on Mr. Murakami, as I feel some of my upcoming pieces require a certain “mood.”
I’m also glad he has an editorial cat-sistant helping him. I have several… 🙂
I believe the cat-sistant is the crucial factor in his success 🙂
You are absolutely right when you say that his themes might be related to isolation and loneliness, longing and nostalgia, and thin or nonexistent boundaries between other planes of existence and reality…
I´d say that many main characters in Murakami most times experience the feeling that french called spleen… which was basically related to not fitting in… A sort of existential blue feeling so to speak…
You made me think that I need to catch up with Haruki Murakami… the books I have read so far really touched me …. hopefully he´ll be soon get the Nobel Prize as he have been a contestant a few times….
Thanks for the clever post… Best wishes. Aquileana ️
Thank you for the kind feedback, Aquileana. Sorry to only respond now, this somehow didn’t show up in my Disqus feed.
Yes I totally hear you on ‘spleen’ (or I would also call it ‘alienation’) in Murakami. Yes, he’s been a very prolific author!
It’s my pleasure.
Thanks for using Murakami’s novels to show how the elements of fiction work together.
As I write, I must bear these in mind in order to create the mood that I desire for my readers.
However, it just occurred to me that there are many kinds of readers. People are never quite touched in the same way when they read a piece of fiction. What do you think?
Hi Ohita – it’s a pleasure! You’re right, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ audience so you have to ultimately write on the subject (and in the style) that matters to you most. There are universal elements we find touching, though, such as individuals coping with the aftershock of loss (even if the particulars of how people go about coping differ). Thanks for weighing in.
Thanks for summarising the key points of Murakami’s style on the mood. It’s arduous for a new writer like me to achieve such finesse (why do I even think about mood when I barely managed to finish the debut lol)
But it’s super awesome to understand how he employs elements of fiction so the overall mood feels real, as opposed to feel enforced.
About the translation, I once heard he likes to write in English, too. Does it mean some of his works are originally written in English? How do they compare with his books that are translated first?
Hi Sekar, thank you for reading! There’s an interesting article on this subject in the New Yorker here: https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/lost-in-translation. Apparently Murakami said ‘“My books exist in their original Japanese. That’s what’s most important, because that’s how I wrote them.”
Unfortunately I can’t compare Murakami’s English with the Japanese as I’m not fluent in Japanese myself (I’ve been trying to learn some in Duolingo though learning kanji and Japanese syllabaries is challenging coming from English as a first language).