My love of Japanese writers began with Yukio Mishima and Yoko Ogawa. I cannot remember which I read first – Mishima’s “The Sound of Waves” or Ogawa’s “The Housekeeper and the Professor”. However, there is one thing they share with many other Japanese authors I’ve read over the years and that’s an appreciation of the ordinary.
So often, writers are told that stories need conflict. Add more conflict and the readers will come. That may be true. In fact, it is true. A story without conflict is not, by itself, very interesting.
I would argue that conflict need not always be sword fights, explosions, or murder plots. Life, as so many of us know from first-hand experience, is rather dull. Routine. Unexciting. But life is also full of conflict. Ordinary conflicts over parking spaces, misunderstood emails, missed birthdays, unmet expectations, et cetera.
Japanese authors seemed to have distilled the ordinary into something quite poignant and beautiful. So many times the protagonist, or narrator, is never even named.
The drama and beauty of the story is told through the slanting light through curtains, unsaid words over lunch, a pain in the stomach or a lump in the throat when our true feelings don’t come out properly, or at all.
From reading stories like Mishima’s “The Sound of Waves”, or Ogawa’s “The Housekeeper and the Professor”, or Murakami’s “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage”, I’ve personally learned that a life, any life at all, is a good story, an extraordinary story. A priceless and beautiful story.
Conflict in fiction doesn’t have to be huge to be effective or to move along a story. It can be as simple as an unspoken confession, or one spoken a day too late. Conflict doesn’t need to flash, bang, or roar to be meaningful or world-shattering. Or move the reader to tears.