- Inner Monologue
- Difference between what the character says/does and what they think
- Being overly-dramatic for comedy
The story “Dark Matter” by B.J. Novak is about a man, the narrator, who realizes that somethings in life are best left unknown. The story starts with, the narrator whose name is never mentioned goes to a planetarium, without his friends who he invited. The tour guide, referred to as a “fat nerd” or even a “fat fuck” sometimes, ends the tour by saying that more than ninety percent of the universe is made up of dark matter but “nobody knows what it is!” The narrator immediately thinks that the tour guide is lying so him so the narrator lies about there being a problem with a diorama of Saturn. Then the narrator grabs the tour guide by his badge string and chokes him, demanding to know what dark matter is made up of. The tour guide gives up and invites the narrator into his office to tell him the secret about what dark matter is. They go to the tour guide’s office. The tour guide starts telling him the universe’s greatest secret when the narrator’s phone goes off. The narrator doesn’t answer but looks to see who it is because of his curiosity. It was his friends suddenly asking whether he still wanted to go to the planetarium. Then the tour guide continues but the narrator is distracted and starts wondering whether those friends had gone to a party last night without him and that was why they had all texted him at the same late time. The narrator is so distracted by the thought of his friends possibly betraying him that he completely ignores the tour guide’s explanation about what dark matter is. The tour guide ends by saying that the narrator is the only other person in this entire world that knows what dark matter is made of other than him. The narrator doesn’t have the heart to tell him that he wasn’t paying attention so the scene ends in a very awkward hug. That night, the narrator sees his “so-called friends” and they admit they did go to a party without him but the narrator forgives them. He then goes on to do an imitation of the tour guide that they call sweet, and who the narrator admits is sweet. The story ends with the narrator reflecting on that day saying that somethings were simply best left unknown.
This story would not be as compelling or funny if it weren’t for the inner monologue. It would be an incredibly dull story if it weren’t for the hilarious inner monologue. It is superbly used when the tour guide is trying to tell the narrator about what dark matter is. The reader boards onto this train of thought that really also makes a point about how our human society is dependent on social interaction, and how a lot of the general public has a “psh science” attitude to science (as de Blij likes to say). For example, in the line on page 4, the narrator thinks,
I really hoped it wouldn’t come to that, though, because I had gotten pretty excited to see the looks on their faces when I told them about dark matter and about how nobody in the world knew what it was except the scientist and us.
This moment really proves how truly humorously used this inner monologue is. (And in this example, it is mixed with a bit of irony.)
This inner monologue is used alongside with the difference between what the character says and does, and what they think. This is especially useful in establishing the character as a liar (perhaps a reason his friends go to parties without him). It really helps with not only characterization, but also with making this piece funny. For example, Novak writes,
“Uh-huh, wow, whoa, that’s crazy,” I said, while I thought about whether I should give them the benefit of the doubt and still make plans to meet up with them later.
This is an excellent quote to demonstrate the effective humor.
Another thing that worked particularly well was the use of being overly-dramatic, for example, the whole bit where the narrator chokes the tour guide and even threatens to kill him is very overly-dramatic. However, it is extremely funny and very telling as to what the narrator is like.
I think that I could use more comedy to help characterization and move plot along as Novak does in this story. I also believe that using these three techniques could help make my writing funnier, and I think it is important to me personally that I don’t just write something emotionally heavy, I think that it is important to me to include humor because it adds a lovely color to a story.
- Who do you empathize with in this story? Do you empathize with the tour guide? Do you emphasize the narrator? Do you empathize with no one?
- Do you believe that the fact that this person could be learning the biggest secret of the universe but can only think about his friends says something about society? If so, what do you think it says?
- Do you agree with the theme that: “some things are best left unknown”? Or do you believe that we should try understanding everything? Why or why not?