How to Scrap the Outline: Haruki Murakami & Synchronicity
Haruki Murakami plot points interlock with meaningful coincidences, bridging the gap between conscious and subconscious. He has gone on record to say that he doesn’t outline any of this.
“When I start to write, I don’t have any plan at all. I just wait for the story to come. I don’t choose what kind of story it is or what’s going to happen. I just wait.” Paris Review (Summer 2004)
How can such complexity be conceived without planning? Part of the answer lies in the lengthy revisions Murakami devotes himself to. But the other half of the equation, the more esoteric, relates to Murakami’s use of synchronicity as a literary device.
Coined by Karl Jung, synchronicity refers to the possibility that events can be connected not only through causality but through meaning. The Police’s most successful album deals with the concept. Coincidentally, Murakami’s work often includes references to English rock. Is that synchronicity?
Sting’s lyrics in Synchronicity I offer a description of the concept:
With one breath, with one flow
You will know
A sleep trance, a dream dance,
A shared romance
A connecting principle
Linked to the invisible
Logic so inflexible
Yet nothing is invincible
Jung said the following:
“…it is impossible, with our present resources, to explain ESP, or the fact of meaningful coincidence, as a phenomenon of energy. This makes an end of the causal explanation as well, for “effect” cannot be understood as anything except a phenomenon of energy. Therefore it cannot be a question of cause and effect, but of a falling together in time, a kind of simultaneity. Because of this quality of simultaneity, I have picked on the term “synchronicity” to designate a hypothetical factor equal in rank to causality as a principle of explanation.”
Murakami’s work is rife with strong parallels never explained.
In the Wind Up Bird Chronicle, The Japanese army briefly mentions they need sheep for winter clothes, so they can deploy soldiers in Russia. Earlier, a Japanese soldier is killed in the manner that a sheep is skinned. So, the army seeks to employ a method of making clothes, the same method used to kill a high ranking soldier. Synchronicity!
Near the end of chapter 23, The Thing in The Center of the Circle, the protagonist recounts how all the characters, including himself, are in some respect related to Manchuko and the Japanese army’s activities there. They are at the center of a circle. Sychronicity!
These abstract relations satisfy readers, bringing meaning to the meaningless. The Thing in the Center of the Circle is a microcosm of the Wind Up Bird’s structure. Murakami might as well have written it first as an outline, then built the rest of the story around it. If this novel was written chronologically, he must have had some inkling that the characters required a central point of connection.
Here, the lesson for writers is to know that such a connection should be made before starting a work. Better still, know what the connection is itself, whether it’s logical or abstract. This is perhaps as important as knowing the ending before you start writing a story.
When synchronicity relates unrelated ideas, and in a subtle and effective way, there is no reason to consider the internal logical relationships of character and plot. It is this capacity, the capacity to connect the unrelated, which allows Murakami to write without outlining.
In part II, we’ll explore how this concept extends into Murakami’s prose style.
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