Kicking off this series is Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes, winner of the 1960 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. The version I enjoyed was republished by Escape Pod and performed by Dave Thompson. This story was recommended to me years ago and it’s been on my to-read list. I never got around to reading it until recently when Escape Pod podcast this story. Honestly, I waited too long.
Charlie, a simple-minded young man intent on learning as much as he can despite his troubles, attends night classes after working all day at a factory. His opportunity arrives when his teachers invite him to participate in an experiment to increase his intelligence. Charlie would be the first human for this experiment, and whose predecessor is a mouse named Algernon. Man and mouse develop a special relationship, as does Charlie with each of his doctors. As his intelligence increases, so does his understanding that these doctors don’t know everything. His friends at work are tested; most aren’t truly friends, and eventually he leaves the job. The real trouble is when the experiment fails Algernon, and Charlie understands what’s in store for him. We experience his fears and frustrations, his anger at what he’s finally achieved being taken from him. In the end, he rejects everything.
Dave Thompson’s narration of Daniel Keyes’ story is amazing. If you haven’t tried audio fiction, this would be a rewarding first try. The emotional pauses, the tension in Thompson’s voice, the pacing of his words all carry the intensity of what Charlie endured. This story moved me for so many reasons, but it also inspired me.
One of the inspiring elements was Charlie’s strength, after knowing his fate. Facing old tormentors knowing it’s going to happen again, and eventually having the dignity to say no despite his failing intelligence.
It’s time to turn this reading experience into a writing prompt. Keep in mind, the intent is to spin an element of this story into something completely new. Start by asking basic questions. Make a list or a bubble chart, whichever appeals to your writing process.
- What moved you the most about the story arc?
- What fascinated you?
- What pulled at you, even if you can’t specify why?
Using your answers to these questions, consider angles for your story. Here’s an example list I brainstormed. (If something below appeals to you, go write it; I’m happy to share prompts.)
- An intelligence experiment that worked; intelligence wasn’t enough – the subject wants more.
- A relationship between a person and animal that foretold of the person’s fate.
- A story of a simple-minded person who struggled to improve himself and succeeded.
- Tell the story from the doctor or teacher’s viewpoint.
- Write the fantasy version of this story: no science.
- Write a story of someone marching toward death.
- How would you turn this into a story prompt?
My experience with Flowers for Algernon as my story prompt was to write a fantasy version in which there is a happier ending. I found that it gave my character a stronger voice, and a challenge to make sure he sounded different enough from Charlie that no one would know where the inspiration came from until I revealed it myself.
I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I did, and that if you’re writing from a prompt, that the words you seek are flowing. Please let me know if you’re trying this method and if it’s working for you. Or if you’ve written a story and want to share your challenges in writing.
Daniel Keyes: http://www.danielkeyesauthor.com/dksbio.html
Escape Pod: http://escapepod.org/
Escape Pod 409 – Flowers for Algernon: http://escapepod.org/2015/04/20/ep490-flowers-for-algernon/
photo credit: Dawn Bonanno