Rev. Dr. Corey Minatani, M.Divinity
Submission for Publication Consideration
A Novel Idea: Growing Through Creative Writing
"The cell was ten feet wide and fifteen feet long; the door was closed to others who had done wrong," I thought to myself. In reality I was trapped physically, but what of my mind? Questioning myself one day, I thought about what could be accomplished. The need to do something I had never done before was overwhelming. Then I had a novel idea, literally. I wanted to attempt to write a fictional novel. I was never a creative person, but I thought I'd try to write. I couldn't sing, rap, play an instrument, or draw. I decided to visit the library. Finding out that writing books were scarce, I had to order the books needed for creative writing. Once the books arrived, the books relayed all sorts of writing drills and exercises to creatively write. Doing these exercises gave me the confidence to continue. Next, the books spoke of various forms or patterns to help one get started in writing; things like describing the setting, developing the characters, and dialogue were given in easy patterns that would allow beginners to begin the novel writing process. One book detailed a novel as 40,000 words. The goal was to write those 40,000 words in a single, dedicated month! After reading this essay, I hope the reader may feel ready to dive into the world of creative writing.
Obtaining the 'right' source material will help you 'write.' The biggest obstacle of creative writing is not having a proper primer to guide you through the process. First, check the library and put a hold request on any writing books in the system. Regardless of the sort of book, a new writer will pull something of use from any book on writing (e.g. grammar, dialogue, etc.). Next, ask your fellow inmates for catalogs on new reduced-priced books. For example, I thought the only access I had was the prison library. After asking one of my fellow inmates, he
Corey Minatani gave me a book catalog that sold books on the cheap. Many great books I bought for less than $3. If your prison has a college, register for ENG 101/102 to get started on the basics of grammar. Many of these classes will help you brush up on syntax and simply get you to write. Some colleges hire very excellent instructors that will help you edit one's writing, and may have outside reading material to loan the aspiring writer. In addition, here at Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla Community College runs the education program, and has been good to bless us with a college-level library with reference materials (e.g. dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc.). The old adage, "Seek and ye shall find," readily applies here in prison. One of the books was on pantomiming and commedia dell'arte called The Moving Body (Lecoq, 2001). Lastly, if one is strapped for cash, there are several nonprofit companies willing to send books to inmates for free! For example, Left Bank Books has a 'Books to Prisoners' program that was kind enough to send me two outstanding books on acting: Building Character (Stanislavski, 1936) and a play called A Streetcar Named Desire (Williams, 1947). Why did I request books on acting? I felt there was no better way to learn how to animate my characters in my writing. Keeping eyes and ears open for source books on writing is a must. If you're not that serious yet, you will be once you get started and people start reading what you write.
Professional writing books will have drills or exercises to build writing skills. As one may build muscles at the weight deck, one must build writing 'muscles.' Complete all the tasks they ask you to do. Doing so enables you to keep writing without running out of things to write about. Remember not expect to be an overnight success. Do the exercises, and the skills will develop; writing is a lifetime skill. Some of the drills cover character background, dialogue, setting, etc. For example, one book had a list of job interview questions that you must answer on behalf of one of the characters. In other words, you write what you think how the character
Corey Minatani would answer. This gives the author the emotional feel of the character. Once this is done, you can write this character into a myriad of scenes. Some books advise you to write about what you know. I knew about a lot of stuff, but nothing I thought anyone would like to read about. Instead, I wrote about subject matter I loved. For example, I love the Sci-fi Fantasy genre. This genre is the 'sword and sorcery' fantasy background. Things in this old-time world that I didn't know, I researched at the library (e.g. a trebuchet, which is an overly large harpoon siege weapon). You'll be surprised to know the best writers do the same thing: research at libraries. Lots of people have the romantic idea of being the next big novelist; lots of people also think of being on the cover of Muscle and Fitness. In order to make this idea a reality, do the warm-ups and drills the books ask you. Failing to do so, one will get discouraged and quit.
Like sheet music, lyric writing, sports, and muscle building, form is important; following the form at the beginning will help build confidence and motivation. Many books talk about setting. Setting is basically the opening scene in a book. For example, writers suggest painting the scene of a background in vivid detail; this painted scene creates the backdrop in which to plant your characters. For example, the first sentence on this essay is part of a setting. Here is an easy way to set up a great book scene. First, know the form. The form is three sentences describing the scene or background, then two sentences introducing the character(s), then another three sentences in more detail of the setting (i.e. 3/2/3). I used this over and over again. Each time I do so, I get a great scene in which to place my characters in my story. Here is a small excerpt from The Yellow King. An archeological dig site of the scholar and his hired workers opens the scene.
Cut out from the limestone cliffs, exists a large valley. Within the valley, a large, manmade road with raised brick work on the edge facilitates the transport of the find. The
Corey Minatani area: a desert region. Dry and dusty lot, unbearable except to those whose focus can look beyond said discomforts.
To the left of the road, at the edge of the valley, a tent is raised in which to keep the seeker and his assistants from the elements which inhibit the search, such as sand storms. The sandstorms, when full-blown, clog the air making it difficult to breathe and see beyond. Vision is limited, but also, the dust and the sand dampens the daylight such that it turns red-orange.
Next, writers should describe what the characters are doing by way of action. Do not write something to this effect, "then Mike went to the store, up the stairs, and opened his door." This is more of a narration and can be very boring. My advice is writing as if you're describing a mime in pantomime; use a couple of sentences to describe each intricate action. Imagine as if you're writing for a silent movie. The following scene from The Yellow King describes the action of the King's Archon's Proclaimer, Aznod, who is digging at the archeological site.
The face and the head of the Proclaimer shake uncontrollably from left to right, a succession of times. Finally, a nodding, not of the Proclaimer's own will, forces a nod, to the affirmative. Reaching his right fist above his shoulders and aiming at the object in the ground, he strikes the mysterious object. A resounding crack ensues, denoting, the broken hand. As the hand is pulled away, the focus object of the strike is also revealed. Also broken.
Lastly, create natural dialogue. Avoid the wooden dialogue that sounds unrealistic. For myself, I studied plays whose sole performance seems to rest upon outstanding character dialogue to forward the story. As an example, here is an excerpt from Do you have the mime? The proprietor of the Painted Lady Pub, Rodolfo, has a few words to the hired bard, Ponti the Magnificent.
"A little loose with the poetic license of the story, eh?" asked Rodolfo appearing instantly from the back of the pub, to the nearest shadow near the bard. This startled the bard somewhat.
While still strumming and humming, Ponti retorted, "The larger the amount of coin, the more truth I put in!" The customers are laughing and smiling at the end of the second act.
"Yes," wryly smiled Rodolfo, "The truth. Quite elastic, I see. Tell me, any elastic truth I need to know about before you present Act III? I wanna make sure you get my paint right!"
"Paint? Oh, yes. Mime. Jester. And, uh, Guildmaster, eh? I'll make sure the Harlequin's part in the story most interesting and, how shall I say? Intricate," assured Ponti.
Once the basic form of developing the setting, character acting (e.g. pantomime), and natural dialogue is learned, one can easily drop a bunch of ink to create a first novel.
Writing is an area for personal growth; creative writing is an area for personal growth in prison. Once basic information is known, anyone can get started with confidence. Remember to get all the books you can on creative writing. Consider playwriting books for dialogue, and acting books for detailing the character action. The writing books will have drills and exercises. Do them and get warmed up to the process of writing in fiction. Like weight lifting, good writing adheres to good form. Keep disciplined to maintain the form. Writing my first novel, Splinter in the Eye: The Bourgeoning Adventures of Aznod Dona, was a splendid opportunity for growth in creative ventures. In so doing, I found out so much about myself. The weird thing was I like to write, especially, fiction. I hope you join the ranks of great writers someday. By the way, someday people might say, "Will you sign my copy of your new book?" The question has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
Lecoq, J. (2001). The Moving Body: Teaching Creative Theatre. New York: Routledge.
Minatani, C. (2017). Splinter in the Eye: The Burgeoning Adventures of Aznod Dona. Walla Walla: Association for Biblical Integrity and Truth in Evangelism.
Minatani, C. (2019, February 1). Do You Have the Mime? (Z. Jakstas, Ed.) I Hope Newsletter: Spiritual/Cultural/Educational, 3,4.
Minatani, C. (2019, April 1). The Yellow King (Z. Jakstas, Ed.) I Hope Newsletters: Spiritual/Cultural/Educational(39), pp. 2,4.
Stanislavski, C. (1936). Building a Character. New York: Routledge.
Williams, T. (1947). A Streetcar Named Desire. New York: Dramatists Play Service Inc.
New York Writer's Workshop. (2006). The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books.
Smith, Jack. (2013). Write and Revise for Publication. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books.
Suggested Book Retailers for Prison:
Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller Company
RE: Catalog Request
PO Box 15
Falls Village, CT 06031-0015
Nonprofit Nationwide Book Distributor (2 Free Books)
Left Bank Books
Attn: Books to Prisoners
92 Pike Street Box A
Seattle, WA 98101
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