Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Murakami on Dialogue

Haruki Murakami has an interesting take on the use of dialogue. His books seem to be more about characterisation than plot and so there feels as if a lot goes into the construction of his dialogue. And in that I have three observations:

Sumire frowned and sighed. "If they invent a car that runs on stupid jokes, you could go far."

"Put it down to an impoverished intellect," I said humbly.

"Okay, all joking aside, I want you to give it some serious thought. What do you think she showed me there? If you get it right, I'll pay the bill."

I cleared my throat. "She showed you the gorgeous clothes you have on. And told you to wear them to work."

"You win," she said. "She has this rich friend with clothes to spare who's just about the same size as me. Isn't life strange? There are people who have so many leftover clothes they can't stuff them all in their wardrobe. And then there are people like me, whose socks never match. Anyway, I don't mind. She went over to her friend's house and came back with an armful of these leftovers. They're just a bit out of fashion if you look carefully, but most people wouldn't notice."

I wouldn't know no matter how closely I looked, I told her.

Sumire smiled contentedly. "The clothes fit me like a glove. The dresses, blouses, skirts - everything. I'll have to take in the waist a bit, but put a belt on and you'd never know the difference. My shoe size, fortunately, is almost the same as Miu's, so she let me have some pairs she doesn't need. High heels, low heels, summer sandals. All with Italian names on them. Handbags, too. And a little make-up."

"A regular Jane Eyre," I said.


The dialogue is written in two different styles. Firstly, with the usual quotations: "A regular Jane Eyre", but also as a direct tell to the reader: I wouldn't know no matter how closely I looked, I told her.

Murakami uses this to break up conversations, much in the same way as changing sentence length changes the pace of the narrative. In his latest book: After Dark he resorted to colons: Kaori: "Well, I never". It's an interesting choice and it works, but I'm not yet sure why.


In eight lines of dialogue there are two adverbs. Their use: I said humbly and Sumire smiled contentedly, keep the pace of the dialogue going. The reader isn't side-tracked with a list of what each character is doing at this time, or with an elongated discussion on relating just how contented Sumire looks.

We're all told we should avoid adverbs and adjectives however Murakami shows their perfect use. He is taking the dialogue and modifying slightly to enhance their manner. And sprinkled disparatley they have greater power. If, "put it down to an impoverished intellect" hadn't included the defining I said humbly the reader could easily, and wrongly, imagine that the character, K, giving a wink or a self-important smile of his own - which would be out of character certainly.

And with Sumire, we get a spiel that pours out of her about clothes, serving, from her contented smile to consolidate her infatuation not so much with the clothes but with her love interest Miu.

These short adverb breaks help the dialogue inform the reader on these characters. Sumire has until now dressed like the Beatnik Jack Kerouac, is turning by proxy into a woman as her infatuation with Miu grows.

K's character comes across in his wit, his references and his self deprecation.


We can use the sparse descriptions of movement or manner to inform the reader on the beats of the scene. During conversation Murakami only relates a change in expression or a movement when a character reacts to something - ahh, the art of brevity:

1. Sumire frowned and sighed.
- she is upset by K's joke.

2. I said humbly.
- K tries to ingratiate himself by making a self deprecating statement. He didn't mean to offend.

3. I cleared my throat.
- K is preparing to say something important (and of course, we have the distinct impression, or at least I do, that he fancies Sumire. He's not averse to giving her a compliment).
- She doesn't pick up on it. There is no reaction, because...

4. Sumire smiled contentedly.
- ... whether or not she picks up on his compliments she seems more enamoured with all thought of Miu than K.

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