I’ve read a few of Murakami’s books, and I’ll admit that I can’t put them down. They just are really good reads. I’ll admit that I am reading the English translations, and I’m sure that some of the subtleties of the original version are lost in the translation. Even still, definitely worth a read.
There may be spoilers here. I guess that depends on the context. In order to prevent much damage, I will try to limit the spoilers to “Kafka on the Shore,” as it has the best examples of my point.
As a bit of a mind exercise, I tried to compare my writing to his, to see where it would take me. Specifically, I was thinking about some of the processes of writing KS, a couple of the criticisms of KS, and also a couple of comments that have popped up here.
I find it hard to explain the plots of any of Murakami’s books. Not because they are overly complex, but because it sometimes seems like it takes a long time to explain such a simple plot. Well, maybe that’s not the right way of putting it. The crux of “Kafka on the Shore,” the pivotal crisis, as it were, is marvellously understated. There is a massive build-up involving multiple characters with page upon page of back story. But in the end, the whole driving “point” of the story is dealt with in vague, nondescript terms. Basically, if you isolate the point of the story, you could say “A creature wants to invade somewhere, but stopping it from doing that is important.”
That creature spends more than fifty years setting an elaborate plan in motion, lining up a number of people’s lives, only to be defeated in an incredibly simple manner.
One of the common criticisms of Katawa Shoujo is that it doesn’t really have much of a point. In fact, you can summarise each of the stories in about a sentence. But is that such a bad thing? If you really think about it, a lot of the great fiction can be dealt with in that manner.
Romeo and Juliet is the tale of two children whose forbidden love destroys both of them. Animal Farm is about the flaws of capitalism. Sherlock is about a bitchin’ detective.
But all of these stories thrive because of the journey that the reader (and, I believe, the Author) is taken on during the course of the story.
This has made me think that the art of good story writing isn’t having an awesome twist, or a horribly complex cast full of interactions, but by simply the level of detail that both reader and writer are willing to get into. If you are describing a complex concept, but in simple terms, then you don’t really need all that many words. In fact, I would think that it would even be counter-intuitive; people spend more time dredging through the WORDSWORDSWORDS than they do on the meaning.
Conversely, if you have a simple concept, you can go into much more detail about the, well, detail. Turning to Kafka again, most people can understand the basic conflict. There is an evil thing that needs to be stopped. This leaves Murakami free to give a massive amount of detail to the back story, to the point where that all-important climax almost fades to obscurity.
It’s kind of the same with Norwegian Wood. The ending is pretty much foregone from the get-go (well, at least heavily hinted at), and yet you still find yourself turning the pages in order to be sure. Maybe it’s because you desperately want to be wrong…
So, turning back to KS… Sure, the stories weren’t all that complex, but I think the level of detail in the back stories and “universe generation” is what makes many people like it. Okay, I don’t really want to be comparing KS to actual literature, however I think I have started to appreciate things on a slightly different level now.
Now, if only I could apply that kind of thinking to my writing…