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?