[Reading Room] Dr. Heidegger’s Experiement by Nathaniel Hawthorne

This is a story that, as well as being enjoyable and stuffed with great language, is firmly rooted in short story history.

Dr. Heidegger invites five old reprobates to his study for an experiment (as apparently all men of learning did from time to time if Hawthorne and H. G. Wells and all the rest are to be believed). Of course, it turns out that the guests are the subjects of the experiment and, of course, it doesn’t go well.

As I was reading it I was aware that the style is so far from our modern style of writing and talking as to be almost as foreign as Shakespeare (in fact, it probably will be in a couple of generations). It’s not quite as dense as Dickens, not quite as antiquated as Washington Irving, but has that strong third-person narrator that not so many writers use any more (with apologies to Terry Pratchett, who lets the narrator visit from time to time).

It wasn’t just influenced by the past, though. I could clearly see how this story (and others like it) had influenced another generation of writers: the early science fiction and fantasy writers; the people who wrote for The Twilight Zone and other early TV shows. There’s a strong dose of the mysterious, the tricksy, the twisty ending (though this one doesn’t twist so much). I could clearly imagine this, updated and dusted off, in a Twilight Zone episode.

In fact, it occurred to me that this would make a perfect story to use in the CopyCat Workshop component of the StoryADay Warm Up Writing course. If you already have your copy, why not dig out that workshop and give it a try today?

[Writing Prompt] Copycat Story

Today’s prompt is adapted from one of the most popular segments of the Warm Up Writing Course that I run here as an online course (and a home-study version).

The Prompt

Write A Copycat Story, based on one of your favorite short stories by another writer

Tips

  • Take a story by a writer you really, really admire — preferably a short short story that won’t take for ever to reproduce. Analyze it in minute detail: from word choice to sentence length. Now, choose a different setting and different characters with different dreams from that of the originals, and write a copycat story, following the exact structure and tone of the original.
  • During the Renaissance — the great flowering of European art and culture during the 16th and 17th centuries — great artists and artisans enrolled apprentices to train with them. The apprentices learned the principles of their craft not by creating their own unique works but by painstakingly copying the works and style of their masters. Why shouldn’t we try the same thing?
  • Don’t attempt to get any of our trainee copycat work published. That’s a plagiarism scandal just waiting to erupt!.

 

(If you want more details about this, and examples to follow, try the Warm Up Writing Course (home study version), the work-at-your-own pace version of the popular online course I run periodically here at the site.)

 

Go!