Welcome to Cogito Ergo Scribit

Cogito Ergo Scribit is where I write about writing. I'm a writer with more than a decade of experience, and I'd like to lend my experience to others while I continue to learn myself.

Everything here is copyright Carrie L. Eckles unless otherwise stated.

I enjoy reading comments and welcome the insights and questions of others. Like my blog? Let me know! Think I could do something a little better? Tell me how. I welcome everyone's thoughts.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Just Thinking

When I was younger, I used to love this Canadian show, "Instant Star" (by the creators of the epic "Degrassi" series). It was about a girl named Jude. And, like the title suggests, she became an instant star by winning the local Idol-like contest "Instant Star" at only fifteen years old.

In the first season, naturally, her music was more personal and from the heart. And I'll never forget one line of lyrics that remains in my head to this day (some six years later): "I'm only human and I've got something to say."

I'll never forget those words. If I had to sum up why I write, using someone else's words, those would be the words I would choose. I write, because I have something to say.

And that begs the question: why do you write? Have you ever even thought about it? The reason I ask is because I want to know, in words right out of everyone's mouth (or fingertips, as the case may be), why they write. Is it something you merely decided to do on a whim? Or is it something so integral to your life that you couldn't stop doing it, even if you wanted to?

Anyways, that was all I was thinking. At the moment, at least.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Who is your Agatha Christie?

Me? I constantly read Agatha Christie novels. My mother was who put me onto them. At first, my teachers were weary of it, as the books tend to be a bit advanced for a kid from Alabama. But, do you know what happened? My sixth grade teacher moved up to seventh grade, so I had her for reading that year again. When she tested my reading, after having read Ms. Christie's extraordinary collection of suspense for the past year, she was startled by something. I went from having a 9th grade reading level (considered slightly better than average for an 11-year-old) to having a college-age reading level. I had the highest score in the school.

So, what's my point in all of this? Though it may seem the contrary, it's not to brag. My point is that what we read growing up really shapes us. Not only does it expand our vocabularies, but it also serves to frame our tastes and our literary standards. And, if we're lucky, it feeds our passion to learn to be better writers.

I definitely count Agatha Christie among the authors who has made me a better writer. She's really high up there on that list. And I want you to think and tell me: who is your Agatha Christie? Who did you read growing up (or even as an adult) that made you become a better writer while they held you in thrall with their words?

Whoever that person is, it's time to revisit them. That's exactly what I've done. I just finished reading The Affair at Styles day before yesterday and now I'm about to finish The Secret Adversary. And, do you know what? I'm more in thrall now than I ever was before. I appreciate her writing so much more now than I did when I was younger; I had so much admiration for her then that I wouldn't have thought that possible, but there it is. To this day, her writing captivates me the way it has always done, and I'm in awe of that lady's accomplishments. Truly, she was a mind that I wish I had known; though she's long dead, her books survive and allow us to peep into her brain in a very entertaining way.

So, I ask you again, who is your Agatha Christie?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Today's Project

I thought we'd try something new at this blog: projects. We all work on them independently. Linking/posting isn't required, but it's always nice. It's a way to keep the creative juices flowing, as well as challenging yourself to think about things you don't always think about.

So, to start this project on a positive note, write an account of the time in your life you're most proud of. Even if it's just a small, tiny moment, if it makes you happy and proud to be a human being, write it out. Even if you don't share it, even if you keep it secret -- write it out. Look back on that memory with pride and smile a warm, happy smile.

I plan on doing it too. I can't say how long it'll take me, as I've been busy (and sick), but I do plan on doing it. And I plan on making this a series if it goes over well with my readers. Even if you don't share what you wrote, feedback would still be lovely. Mayhaps you could let me know if you liked the exercise? Or you could tell others whether or not you liked it? And if you like it, maybe you can link it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

How to Write Good Haiku

A lot of people think haiku is the lazy person's poetry -- but they're wrong (and I daresay ignorant). Haiku is an art all its own. It relies on formula, but also style. And it's important to add your own flourishes to really make it your own.

Haiku are composed of 17 moras (syllables, in English). There are five syllables on the first line, seven on the second, and five on the third.

Often times, nature is mentioned in the first line. Here is an example of a traditional haiku by Matsuo Basho:

fuji no kaze ya,
oogi ni nosete,
Edo miyage


The wind of Mt. Fuji,
I've brought my fan!
A gift from Edo

As you can see, wind, a force of nature, is mentioned in the first line. That's a very classic way to begin a haiku. But it can be modernized.

Below, I've written my own haiku. I hope you enjoy it.

The snow falls sweetly,
I wonder why my cold heart beats,
It must be your love

I still use a natural element in the first line, but the tone of my haiku is completely different. What does it say to you? How do you interpret it?

The thing is: I put my own spin on it. I used my own words. You can still write poetry that follows strict formatting and be original at the same time. So, give it a go and see what you turn up with.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Excuses...and a Game

Okay, so I haven't blogged in awhile. But I have an excuse! And it's a good one: I've been writing. Yes, I've been actually writing on my novel and I've had so much fun that I haven't been able to put it down.

Per a friend's suggestion, I'm rewriting my novel entirely in first person. It's a big overhaul, because it changes the whole vibe, plus I've found all sorts of other things I want to add now. XD

So, instead of asking a question today, I decided it'd be fun to play a little game. It's called Choose. I think we've all played it at some point in our lives. Essentially, you're faced with two scenarios; both are either equally pleasing or equally displeasing and you have to choose which one you'd rather have/do/see, etc.

And now for the game.

Choose: Writing on your blog/website or writing on your novel/story project?

For many writers, that's a difficult choice. But it's not for me. As much as I love blogging, my writing always has to come first, which explains my absence from the blogosphere for awhile.

And now you're wondering: what does that mean for my readers? Essentially, not much. The quality will always be here. Think of this blog of a database of the own meanderings of my mind. I'm not going to update obsessively -- I could care less about ad revenue, even though it's nice. Instead, I want to focus on content and quality. Period.

I'm never going to abandon this blog -- that's for certain. Even if I go without blogging for a month, it'll still be here. I'll randomly update with something to say.

Because it's all about dedication, isn't it? I'm dedicated to writing; most particularly, my writing, since it's my career and passion. Blogging has to come after that, but this blog is part of my writing journey, so here it stays.

This is just in case anyone was wondering where I went.

Writing Tip of the Day

*Listen to music to help set the tone of your mind while writing. (Do it and you'll see what I mean.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

The X Chromosome Factor: How to Write a Strong Woman

In the above picture, you see the Greek goddess Athena. What does she say to you? What type of feminine air does she invoke in you? Is she timid, fussy, or frightened?

Take a closer look, and you'll see the answers to the questions I'm asking. She may be wearing an elegant gown of gold; however, she's anything but fussy: she's fierce. She holds a spear and a shield. She wears the headdress of a warrior, because that's exactly what she is: she's the goddess of warfare.

But, just like every other woman, she's more than that. And that's the most important thing to understand when writing a strong female character. People tend to make their strong woman stereotypically harsh and cold, lacking all feelings and emotions. And usually, quite frankly, she's a whore. Because that's the biggest stereotype of all, isn't it? The stereotype that women gain power through sex.

Athena didn't. Throughout mythology, she remained a virgin. The Dark Ages are gone, fellow writers! Women in this day and age don't have to rely on sex to gain the benefits of society and power, just as the goddess Athena didn't.

And like Athena, other strong women have countless layers. Athena wasn't only the goddess of war. She was also the goddess of peace, which many would say is the flip-side of war. She was the goddess of wisdom, reason, handicrafts, and strategy; just as well, she was the patroness of heroes.

Athena represented the practical aspects that make women strong. While Hera, Artemis, and Demeter represented the other feminine attributes, Athena represented those which rivaled men. And still, she was revered.

Why is that? Why, in what we call the ancient times, did people -- even men -- worship a goddess who was strong, virtuous, and dynamic? I think we all know the answer to that: it's because she seemed so human.

And that's what you want to convey, above all else, when writing a strong female character: you want to convey her humanity. You want to show all of her layers. A woman might be war, but that same woman might also be peace. And it's not because she contradicts herself; rather, it's because she's real.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Question of the Day

So, I thought that it might be fun, periodically, to ask questions of the readers of this blog. Normally, these will be deeper, thought-provoking questions, but today I want to ask you: who wants to guest blog for me?

Yes, I'm looking for guest bloggers. And if you're so inclined, I will return the favor for you. It's a great way to network and a fun way to make new friends. Anybody who's interested can drop me a comment or an email and I'll get back to you.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Good (Helium) News!

My article "Tips for finding the best vintage clothes" has made the Helium homepage!

Also, more Helium news: I'm now a fact checker at Helium. So, Heliumites, look alive! I'll be watching. ;)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pimp Post: A Cynic's Reading

Andrew of Musings and Mullings has started a new blog: A Cynic's Reading.

The main concept of the blog, as the way it was related to me, is that it's a new, fresh way to do book reviews. At A Cynic's Reading, you won't find long drawn out synopses that make you yawn. Instead, you'll get a quick "first impression" and an honest "final verdict" once Andrew is done reading the book.

His tastes are exceedingly varied. Already, even though the blog is new, I've found some great use in it. In this day in age, when one is busy, it's hard to branch out into reading something new when you aren't sure if you will like it. But, with the honesty of Andrew's new blog, I know exactly whether or not it will be my cuppa tea before I even bother going to the library/bookstore.

All that said, definitely check it out! I look forward to seeing his blog grow.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cogito's Ten Rules of Writing

After many days of being very sick/ill and not posting, I bring to you a gift in list form:

1. Thou art a writer; thou shall write something every day (no matter what it is).

2. Thou shall not make thyself to be an idol (no matter how famous thou becomes).

3. Thou shall not commit plagiarism (for you will be laughed at and sued until eternity).

4. Treat writing as thy job, thy art, and thy passion; it is not your hobby, if you hope to succeed.

5. Read a good book now and again.

6. Cast out unworthy characters and raise up good characters, for thou art a writer and thus is thy duty.

7. Thou shall not be jealous of other writers; thou shall keep thy nose to the grind (and keep on truckin’).

8. Remember to take breaks when appropriate, lest thou might go insane otherwise.

9. Do unto your characters what they would do unto you – even your villains.

10. Thou must keep these rules in thy mind so that thou might refer to them later.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cogito's First Discussion Post: Fan Fiction (Yay or Nay)

First of all, you might be wondering what a discussion post is. Basically, it's a post where I start a topic, such as the one I'm mentioning in this one, and you lot chime in with your commentary. We get a dialogue going on through comments and "discuss". Very simple concept, but it can be a lot of fun as long as we keep it civil and respect each others' opinions, no matter how much they might differ from our own.

Fan Fiction

Fan fiction is a pretty simple term that's used to describe fiction written by fans -- just like the name says. Fan fiction can be derived from not only books; but also movies, video games, and television.

Some writers feel honored by inspiring their fans to play with their characters, others simply tolerate it as a fact of life; and there are others still who actively campaign against it (though this is rare).

So, the question is...

Fan Fiction: yay or nay?

Where do you fall into the generalized spectrum? Would you feel violated if someone was so enthralled by your work that they wanted to write their own take? Or would you be tickled pink with pride?

Personally, I'd fall into the latter category. As long as they're not making money off of it or claiming it as their own (which is very taboo and illegal), then I would have no problem. In fact, I would probably read the fan fiction. Why? Because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all; not to mention, it's always funny to see how people think your story will turn out. Sometimes, they're right on the money; others, they've got no clue and they're as wrong as spandex pants on a hot summer's day.

So, what do the rest of you writers think? Is it an abomination or a celebration? You decide.

Superior Scribbler Award

Al at Publish or Perish has passed along to me the Superior Scribbler Award. This marks the first award that Cogito Ergo Scribit has recieved. Thanks Al!


The Super Scribbler

1. Each Superior Scribbler, must in turn, pass the Award on to 5 most-deserving bloggy buds.

2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author and name of the blog from whom he/she has received the Award.

3. Each Superior Scribbler must display the Award on his/her blog and link to this post which explains the Award.

4. Each blogger who wins the Award must visit this post and add his or her name to the Mr. Linky List at the Scholastic-Scribe's blog. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who wins this prestigious Award!

5. Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

My nominations:

1. Brian at Oldman's Cantankerous Point of View

2. Andrew at Musings and Mullings

3. Rebecca Emrich at Living a Life of Writing

4. Hecate at Voice of the Crone

5. Graham Moody at Parallel Universe

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Two Articles About Character Creation

I wrote two articles about character creation that I think (and hope) might be of help to people out there struggling with the topics the articles cover. Both articles have been published at, so I'll merely link them here. (Expect a regular full post soon.)

1. Crafting Great Heroes and Villains

Creating epic heroes and villains is a difficult task. Many writers struggle with it, particularly in the fantasy genre, because they have a lot to live up to (think Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader). This article sheds light on how to achieve the epic heroes and villains you desire.

2. The Dos and Dont's of Naming a Character

Naming a character is one of the most difficult aspects of character creation. Their name is, more often than not, the first thing that represents them to the world. Even people who've never read the Harry Potter books know who Harry Potter is. A name is oh-so important; what's even more important is not to make any naming mistakes you'll kick yourself for later.

Personally, naming characters is the one thing I can say, with all confidence, I excel at. That's not to toot my own horn. It's just that every writer must know their own strengths in order to succeed. I hope my experience will benefit some people out there. (Just as I hope the experiences of many of you other writers will benefit me.)

Again, look forward to a regular post to be posted sometime later today.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Religion and Politics in Mainstream Fiction

One of the first things most people are taught as children about polite society is that the discussion of politics and religion in public gatherings is inappropriate. The reason for this is that politics and religion are the two main topics that most people get very passionate about. It would be very tacky for someone to talk loudly about their own political views at dinner, forcing others to, who may not agree with them, to listen as they attempt to swallow their roasted quail.

And that’s one thing that most sensible people can agree on: it’s rude to talk about politics and religion at points in time when the topic is unsolicited. But, many writers wonder, how does that relate to writing?

When you write a novel, it’s as though you’re having a conversation with potentially thousands – if not millions – of people. Even though you’re writing about your characters, if you’re a fiction writer, it’s only natural that your own personal views seep through, even in small ways. As a writer, it’s important that you be very diplomatic so that you don’t alienate people. And therein lays the question: is it possible to be diplomatic when writing a mainstream novel that’s tinged with political/religious undertones or overtones?

Before I give my view, let’s take a further look at the commonly accepted view of what exactly mainstream fiction is. When I entered the search into Google, this definition popped up: “Non-genre fiction, excluding literary or avant-garde fiction that appeals to a general readership.” This info came from this site, and it definitely fits the generalized definition of the term; furthermore, if I had to define it off the top of my head, that’s basically how I would put it as well.

By the very definition of mainstream fiction, we know that it’s the type of literature that’s supposed to appeal to the masses. It’s the book that the Average Joe or Jane will pick up when they’re in browsing the bestselling section at Books-a-Million or Borders.

Since mainstream fiction usually isn’t speculative, it’s really hard to work sensitive topics into the manuscript without offending someone or accidentally delving into the realm of genre fiction. (Your editor or agent would be particularly offended if they accepting your query of a mainstream fiction manuscript and you ended up sending them something that delved into an entirely different genre.)

So, the question is: What are the rules of working in politics and religion into mainstream fiction. The truth is, there are no rigid rules. It’s always best to follow your agent or publisher’s guidelines, but what I’m about to discuss is really just some common sense approaches to keep in mind.


Politics are easy to discuss in genre fiction, particularly in the realms of the historical, alternate history, fantasy, and science fiction genres. Aside of historical fiction, the other genres are very speculative. They rely largely on your imagination; you are charged with creating these worlds. And in these worlds you create, politics can -- and might very well -- play a prominent role.

In mainstream fiction, it’s hard to approach politics without sounding biased. Mainstream fiction is usually set in the real-world. If the book is set in America, you might get into pitting Republicans against Democrats, and it would simply turn into a huge mess. The book would take on political overtones, and most people who didn’t agree with the views of your protagonist wouldn’t even read the book (or else would be pissed off after reading it and never buy another one of your books ever again). If that happened, you’d be alienating a large fan base, which, as a mainstream fiction author, would be a terrible faux pas.

The easiest solution is to take the rule that we apply to polite social gatherings: just don’t talk about it. Don’t make politics too much of an issue if you’re worried about a backlash or alienating the majority of your readership (that is if the book was even accepted for publication at all).

But that doesn’t mean you can ignore politics altogether. The trick is to approach it in a safe, unbiased way. To err on the side of caution, steer clear of the really hot issues that get people worked up such as abortion or gay marriage. That doesn’t mean you can’t deal with abortion or gay marriage; it simply means that, from an unbiased and careful standpoint, it’s best to ignore the political aspects of those hot issues.

An easy way to work politics into a mainstream story without generating too many angry responses is to use it to describe a character. I would avoid assigning your main character to a political party, unless the main theme of your book is related to politics, which would be a very risky thing.

So, a safe way to casually mention politics in a character description would be to say something like “Poor old Uncle Edgar. He’s so senile; he’s still convinced Reagan is in office.” That’s a safe way to mention politics. You’re not stating your character’s political party; however you’re mentioning politics in a way that won’t offend people.

Simply put, the key is not to offend a large group of potential readers. Save politics for a genre that’s suitable for it. (That way, it’ll attract readers with that particular interest. Those who would be offended by it, won’t pick it up and buy it by mistake, because they’ll instantly know it’s not their cup of tea.)


Most people are even more passionate about religion than politics whether they’re religious or not. And since religion is such a personal thing, they’re more apt to be sensitive to it than anything else.

Mainstream fiction isn’t the place for religious overtones. That’s the bottom line. The Average Joe or Jane doesn’t want to hear your main character’s religious views (which are usually an extension of your own).

Religion is a complex thing. Even people belonging to the same religion have different beliefs; just look at all the thousands of denominations within Christianity or the different sects of Judaism. They all practice the same religion, but they all have different beliefs in how to represent, respect, and worship in their religion.

Furthermore, people within the same denomination or religious sect will also have varying beliefs from one another. After all, every person on this planet is unique.

As some of my readers know, I’m from Alabama. Christianity is very dominant here. My mom was raised Episcopalian and my dad was raised Church of Christ. When I was little, they sent me to a private Methodist school. Despite this, my parents didn’t enforce religion on me. They taught me values, instead of dogma. Thus, they allowed me to come to my own conclusions about what I believe is right instead of telling me to believe what their church says we should believe.

To add more to the mix, I was also raised around Catholic, Hindu, and Buddhist beliefs. I lived in a religious melting pot. That allowed me to understand that a person’s religious beliefs more depend on the way they perceive their religion as well as their own values, as opposed to what the standard dogma of their religion or denomination is. In other words, everyone interprets their professed faith differently.

And some people aren’t even religious at all. Many people describe themselves as spiritual or atheist. I’m not going to go into my personal beliefs here, because it’s not relevant, they’re very complex and unique to me (just refer back to my spiritual background), and also – and very importantly – I don’t want to offend anybody reading this.

And that’s the thing. This blog is a writing blog geared at a multitude of genres. It’s many things, but one thing it’s not: it’s not a religious writing blog, which is why religion really doesn’t have much of a place here. The same can be said for mainstream fiction. Religion doesn’t have much of a place there either.

Now, there are some small exceptions. Sometimes, religion is closely related to culture. For instance, many Jews keep kosher and many Muslim women (even in the west) make the commitment to wear the hijab. However, while these religious-related cultural aspects are important for describing the character’s world, it’s wise not to delve too deep into religion when writing a novel geared at the Average Joe or Jane.

If you must reference religion, do so very minimally, such in the instances I explained above. Don’t go into a religious crusade on paper. It will offend even more people than politics will. It’s true that controversy is a great promotional tool, but not when it’s inappropriate to the genre you’re writing for.

Mainstream fiction is general fiction. The goal is to keep it general and, referring back to the above definition, keep it appealing to the masses.

The One Thing You Should Remember

The one thing you should remember about politics and religion in mainstream literature is to never, under any circumstances, write anything that would offend 99% of the “general readership”. Your editor would probably stop it from being published, but that’s a bad thing too: you don’t want the editor to say “hell no” to your manuscript and chunk it in the rubbish pile.

Monday, September 7, 2009

How to Get Motivated Enough to Write (even when you're tired, sick, or braindead)

Image via Wikipedia

Most writers are self-employed -- especially those book-type writers who write those big ol' long chapters and agonize over subtext. Even freelancers are technically self-employed. They hire themselves out for a specific job, and when it's over, they move on to the next.

What most people don't realize about being self-employed is: you are your own boss. Nobody is in charge of you but you. There is nobody there holding your hand. Your successes and failures are all dependent on YOU.

That said: how do you motivate yourself? After all, the threat of being fired by yourself isn't really that terrifying. Some people even think "Ah well, I'll get by (financially) this month without my writing." Even though writing is your job, there is (or at least there should be) more to it than that. You should do it because you love it. There should be a passion for it, a burning deep within your soul that proclaims: “If I don’t write this down, I will suffocate and/or spontaneously combust.”

But even those who are all lovey-dovey with the concept of writing thousands of words a day (in coherent sentences, nonetheless) are often apt to proclaim loudly to the heavens: "But I don't FEEL like it today!"

And here's the thing: when people who love writing go ages without actually doing it, they feel this unexplainable emptiness in their hearts. A lack of writing is crushing to the soul. Writers must write. It’s in their DNA. They’re obsessed with it, and obsessions tend to lead to compulsions.

So, without further ado, here are ten important reasons and tips for keeping yourself motivated and focused on writing:

1. Writing is the perfect way to vent your frustrations about your idiotic best friend.

2. It’s a proven fact that using your mind constantly keeps you young. Writing (and utilizing languages in general) is a perfect way to do that.

3. You have a story to tell and you MUST tell it, or else you will simply curl up in the fetal position. If you don’t get it out of you, thirty years from now, you’ll be telling your children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren “I could’ve been a contender”.

4. You are a valid and productive person. People care about what you have to say. (Or at least the intelligent ones are willing to hear you out.)

Image via Wikipedia

5. You get to reward yourself with a piece of nice, healthy dark chocolate after each chapter you finish in a day. (*Note: that is no reason to write thirty one-page Dan Brown-like chapters and eat thirty pieces of chocolate in return. That’s abusing the system.)

6. You know that if you write the chapter that is nagging you, you’ll get to move on to another chapter that you’ve been looking forward to. (You can always go back and revise the nagging chapter once you finally spit it out.)

7. Accomplishing something is good for your brain and soul. It makes you happy. Happy people release endorphins that make them even happier, which reduces stress and anxiety, as well has high blood pressure.

8. Each day you write, you’re one step closer to publication.

9. Prioritize. How important is writing to you? For most writers, writing comes only behind their chosen deity (if they’re religious), their family, and their health. Only let things more important than writing deter you from actually writing, if writing is your dream. Don’t let a bad day get you down.

10. Talk to your support system. Most writers have family and friends that understand that writing is their passion and their business and are very supportive. Lean on them during troubling times so that you might move on and get back to doing what you love.

Image via Wikipedia

Saturday, September 5, 2009

To the Kings and Queens of Three-Word Sentences: Stop It!

Never underestimate the power of a good narrative. No matter how good the idea for your story is or how engaging you think your characters are, the narrative has to be there.

When writing, it's very important to develop a certain flow. I don't claim to have mastered this myself (I think there are even famous writers out there who haven't done such a good job either), but I know what works and what doesn't.

Example of a no-no:

I went to the mall today. I wanted to look for something nice to wear for my date. I didn't find anything. Then I ran into my friend Leslie. She was very mad about something her boyfriend said.

Okay, it's a very short snippet. Even though it shows action, it's not very good. Worse still: it's as dull as dirt. Reading it, you're probably thinking the same thing. And there are many reasons for that.

The flow is poor. The paragraph has an awful flow, mainly because the sentences don't vary in length and the word "I" is said far too much.

Rules to make this better:

1. Never overuse the word "I" or any other noun or pronoun. It makes the flow choppy and uninteresting. Furthermore, it gives the idea that someone without a strong command of their native tongue wrote it.

2. If all of your sentences are roughly the same length, it further adds to choppy-ness. Just refer back to the paragraph. They're all about the same length. When you read it, it forms an annoying rhythm or cadence in your head. That being said, don't make all of your sentences too long either. That also annoys the reader.

Remedy: Mix things up in a natural way by making your sentences vary in length. If you listen to yourself speaking, you don't speak in such a stilted manner. Some of your sentences are long; others are short. If you speak correctly (or close enough) aloud, try writing as though you're talking. That's what I've always done. Sometimes it leads to grammatical errors, but it definitely helps with flow. (Errors can be fixed during your revision process.)

Another thing -- and this is something that every writer should know -- is that when you write something that you intend others to read, read it out loud! I can't stress it enough. When you read it aloud, you will perceive it similarly to the way your readers will. And more often than not, if there's a glaring problem with flow, you'll find yourself all like "wtf, mate?".

There's still some more things wrong with the paragraph though. It's boring. Yes, there is action. But it's boring. It's not something someone would want to read -- and that's the thing, isn't it? You, as a writer, have to make people want to read your work. They aren't just going to read it because you worked long and hard on it. Even your friends won't read it if it's dull. That's just how it goes.

So, the remedy? Add description. Describe the scene and use words that pop to enhance visualization and add substance and relevance. If you do this, it'll make your reader want to read more.

Here is where I try to fix the paragraph using the rules and remedies I laid out:

I went to the mall around two o'clock this afternoon to look for something to wear for my date with Billy. Eternity was spent going through every store, thumbing through endless racks, and hoping for something that would make him drool -- something so edible it'd make him want to rip it off with his teeth.

By four o'clock, my search was still fruitless. Perhaps I was picky, or perhaps my local mall had a narrow selection. Either way, the situation remained the same and our date was in less than three hours. Just as I was drowning myself in my own sorrows, I ran into Leslie. Her face was bright red and her fists were clinched. She began muttering about Algernon and I resolved to listen, as the prospect of finding the perfect dress in time was completely and utterly hopeless.

Okay, so it's not a good or interesting fix, but I did use my rules while still keeping the general meaning of the "no-no" example! Even though my improved example was not great, you can still see that it is, in fact, improved. I added length and details to my story to make it more readable. Better still, since it's a first person narrative, I wrote it in the way the character might speak. That automatically allows the writer to vary the length of their sentence in a very organic way.

In the revised version, you learn more about the protagonist -- not only about what she's doing, and what her angle is, but also how she thinks. You know what she wants: she wants to find a dress so pretty as to make Billy rip it off with his teeth. And she can't find the dress. But the details give the reader the sense of conflict that they didn't in the first example. And if you can only remember one thing about story writing, remember: There has got to be conflict!

If you go through your story and find it reads very much like my first example, apply my rules and just see if it helps. Add descriptions and use words that force the scene to pop into the reader's head. If you do, you will be pleased with the results.

******Author's Note: ******

This is a re-posting of a post from a previous (now defunct) blog of mine, but it's a topic I wanted to address here. It was written September of 2008, a year ago. Do you think my style has changed since then?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Beating Writer's Block: Making Changes (and how to apply them)

As writers, we are innately prone to brain lock. Our brains just fizzle up and all of the sudden -- nothing. Not a word. No thought, no plot, no sound, no muse, no nerve impulses – nothing. Our brains refuse to make a connection to our fingertips and we fall prey to what is, naturally, our worst enemy: writer’s block.

Writer’s block is a scary thing. Writers depend on writing to make money. When we can no longer process words or write a single sentence, that’s an extremely scary ordeal. Writer’s block is the writer’s version of depression; in fact, many writers feel depressed when they experience it. They feel as though all of their creativity has died. But feel is the key word in that sentence. Their creativity is still there; it’s merely locked deep inside their cerebellum or something (I don’t really know – I’m not a brain surgeon).

Unlocking Your Brain

The simplest way to unlock your brain and beat writer’s block (with a shovel) is to make some changes. Changes are simple to make. Nobody stagnates; humans are constantly changing. The key is to know how/when/where/why to do it.

Knowing how to change might seem like an abstract concept, but it really isn’t. Whatever you’re doing right now, do the opposite. If you’re the type of writer who literally sits in front of the computer all the time, typing away, your brain is probably overworked. Back away slowly from the computer (pry your fingers form the keyboard if need be) and then run far, far away and head straight to the nearest television. Do NOT watch TV on your computer (sorry Hulu fans). Watch an actual TV. Don’t read, because that keeps your mind in the whole literary mode. Dumb yourself down and watch some good old-fashioned television.

Watch whatever you like – it doesn’t matter. Let what you are watching seep into your mind and consume it. Suffering from writer’s block is the only time when it’s excusable to become a zombie television-watcher. If you’re lucky, what you’re watching will inspire you. You can’t copy it, obviously; that would be plagiarism. But let what you’re seeing expand your mind. It’ll free you and relax you; when that happens, ideas will start to seep in. Write your ideas down, but don’t write the full-on story just let. Allow yourself to mull it over in your brain. If you’re so addicted to the idea that you can’t leave it alone, you’re ready to get back to the business of writing.

The Other Type of Writer

On the opposite end of the workaholic writer, we have the mellow one, the type of writer who piddles around the house all day making tea (or coffee) until finally, an idea strikes them and they write. Still, this type of writer can also suffer writer’s block. And still yet, this type of writer can also overcome it; however, the way they are most likely to overcome it is rather different from the former example.

The mellow type of writer who happens to be a writer’s block sufferer does best when they put their butt in gear and get to work. This type of writer is too relaxed and need’s a good kick in the pants to get their ideas rolling. A mellow writer needs to actively search for ideas to unlock their brain. They need to get online and look at pictures, videos, read fanfics even – anything that makes them think and sparks an idea.

The Main Point in Beating Writer’s Block

The best remedy for overcoming writer’s block is to get ideas flowing and get yourself into a state of mind where you are capable of writing them down coherently. Play around with each method, or you can even invent your own. Find out what works for you and you’ll be saying adios to writer’s block woe in no time.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Interview with Living a Life of Writing's Rebecca Emrich

Rebecca Emrich of Living a Life of Writing is a good friend of mine; she's also a talented writer and a phenomenal blogger. I asked her if it would be alright to conduct an interview with her, as I think writers can learn by her example; she kindly obliged bringing with her some valuable insights about her personal experiences in the world of writing.

C.E.: I know that you're an avid and dedicated writer, but you also have a blog dedicated to Transylvania. What was your inspiration for writing Things About Transylvania?

R.E.: I am writing a book on the effects of the Second World War on the people of Transylvania, and more specifically the Saxons of the land. When I would tell people this, I would be met with blank stares -- or worse still: is that where Dracula is from? ( For the record: no he's not; in fact [Dracula] doesn't exist, but a man like him by the name of Vlad Tepes was born there.)

C.E.: As any reader of Living a Life of Writing knows, you regularly update with unique, interesting, and intriguing posts and content. How do you do it? How do you manage to stay so motivated? What's your secret?

R.E.: Ha ha! Nothing really. When I first started, I didn't get many readers and that was hard. But I decided that I needed to write and this was a way to prove myself; in fact it was a comment that ended up on my blog -- [a] rather nasty [comment] I might add -- that made me decide to find a better way. I played around with it until I found what works for me and my readers. I do series, and I write them up ahead of time, revising depending on the comments made by people.

C.E.: It seems from reading your posts that you write with a mixture of experience, research, and an intense passion for writing. How do you manage your time so efficiently? And what inspires you most when you're writing new posts for your blogs?

R.E.: I write with a mix of "error" experience, as I call it, one that comes from making mistakes looking back and fixing them; but also looking at what works and not changing it. I love writing, and after a fashion, I am a people person and a teacher at heart; and if one person becomes a better writer because they read something from my blog -- that is great. I also want to be able to write a couple of novels. Needless to say, I have a routine that doesn't change much from day to day. A big time board [also] helps.

C.E.: I know that you're working on a nonfiction project. What can you tell us about that?

R.E.: See my answer [to the first question]. But it comes from a interest in history, and in writing [down] oral history. I have interviewed men from Transylvania who were a part of the Second World War, or [I have interviewed] their families if they are dead.

I am focusing on the Russian Front, an area of the war not spoken about here in North America. These men have a mix of fear and trepidation; [...] I'm not writing about the war per se, but the effect of the war on them (the people). There was an effect of lost land and life, but also of shame and defeat. The men are [of] German origin and are speaking out for the first time. This is the first in a series, as the next book focuses on the women.

C.E.: What's your favorite aspect of writing, and what's your favorite genre to write in?

R.E.: [...]My favorite aspect is -- believe it or not -- the editing; the [aspect of] getting something better than the first draft splat.

My two favorite genres historical fiction and fantasy.

C.E.: If you could live in any time period in history, when/where would you live and why?

R.E.: 1960s. I love the era, and it was, perhaps, the last time when people were a bit more innocent.

C.E.: What do you want the world to know about you?

R.E.: I love writing, and I have a passion for Motown.

C.E.: What's your best advice for someone who's just beginning to write?

R.E.: Write EVERY day for fifteen minutes -- if not more; but [definitely write] every day. Not on a blog, but on your book or article or whatever.

C.E.: What are your long term goals in writing?

R.E.: To publish several books in both fiction and non-fiction.

C.E.: Where do you see yourself in five years, professionally?

R.E.: Hm, good question! [I would like to see myself] have a million dollars from my books. But, most important, [I would like to] be respected by the writing community.

I really enjoyed interviewing Rebecca. I've been a loyal reader of her blogs for many moons now. From where I'm standing, Rebecca is a rising star. I can definitely see her going places. This is a writer to watch out for, folks.

Monday, August 24, 2009

How to Start a Novel: Getting Started and World-Building

Beginning writers are often daunted by the task of starting their first novel; however, it's a lot easier than you might think. The key, as with all writing, is to keep it simple. By taking an uncomplicated approach, you keep your ideas clean and fluid. Later on, you can further complicate your novel and enrich it by adding more detailed plots and other devices to help it come alive more fully.

Getting Started

The very first thing you need to do is have an initial concept. Often, the idea will just pop into your head. It will come suddenly, an epiphany, and you'll say "Hey, I need to write this down!"

Unfortunately, however, that's not always the case. Some writers go into writing knowing they want to write, but haven't yet found their story.

Find Your Story

Think of what inspires you. What are you interested in? What moves you so much that you would spend hours upon hours (perhaps even years) writing it?

Say science fiction is your passion. That's a great start. Expand on that concept. What about sci-fi do you like? What's your niche? Is it the aliens? Is it the fantastical worlds? Do you like casual sci-fi or hardcore and uber-technical sci-fi? What's your bag? Figure it out and move on to the next step.

Building Your World

This part actually requires some thinking. The easiest world to write in is in the real world -- particularly in a setting that you're familiar with, such as your home state or city. Going along with our sci-fi example, however, that takes a bit more effort. Even if your sci-fi story is set on earth in the present day, you're still going to have to roll up your sleeves and do some world building.

Drawing From Human Culture While World-Building

An example of soft or casual sci-fi is the television show Battlestar Galactica. It's more character-driven, and all of the aliens are human beings. With Battlestar Galactica, the world building is more cultural-based, since it's a character-driven drama.

Battlestar Galactica (2003) borrows a lot from ancient Greece. Kara Thrace, Galen Tyrol, and Hera Agathon all have ancient Greek elements to their names. More than that, their culture is more Greek. The humans of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol are polytheists. They worship the Olympian gods, and in the show, there are even the smallest hints of ancient Greek cult worship (such as devotion to the goddess Aphrodite).

Aside of the Greek elements, there are other less specific and slightly pagan elements in the show. For instance, women are equal to men on the show. Instead of being call Miss or Madame, they are referred to as Sir. There is no indication whatsoever that woman play less of a role than men on the show. Furthermore, the polytheistic holy people on the show tend to be female, which hearkens back to ancient pagan priestesses and shamankas (female shamans).

You're probably asking: Why are you talking about a TV show on a writing blog? The answer is: it's a good example of using Earth culture to help build a science fiction world.

Obviously you can't (legally) copy Battlestar Galactica. Instead, you can learn from what worked for them. Borrow from Earth Culture what works for you and your story. For instance, the culture on your alien world might be imperialistic like the old British Empire, or they might be nomads like the Roma people (commonly and incorrectly referred to as "gypsies").

Culture plays an important role in speculative fiction. Aside of sci-fi, world building is an important aspect of fantasy and alternate history as well. Even if the stories are set on Earth, something about them is different than present day Earth (or else they wouldn't be speculative fiction).

Drawing on Personal Experience During World Building

For novels that are more real-world based, such as literary or romance pieces, it's often useful to draw on personal experience. You don't have to copy your life on the page; instead, take bits and pieces and shape it into something that's relevant to your story. For instance, you grew up on a farm. Maybe your main character lives on a farm. Since you grew up on a farm, you know all about the life of farmers and of people who live out in the country, and you can use it to your advantage.

Research for World Building

The most important genre to research during world building is historical fiction. Whether it be accurate period dramas, semi-fictional biographies, or alternate histories, it's still important to know how people lived at the time.

One of my favorite websites to look at while writing historical fiction is La Couturière Parisienne. This website takes a very detailed look at the history of fashion. Why is this relevant to world building, you ask? Well, it's because, young grasshopper, it's very important to know what clothes your characters wear!

Say your story is set in France and the year is 1722. The wealthy women might wear a silken gown with the then-fashionable contouche with Watteau pleats. Wealthy men wore powdered wigs of a fashionable quality (meaning they were neat, polished and of a high grade of hair and in the newest style). On the other hand, poor women would wear a dress made of linen (or some other rougher, cheaper fabric) in a style that might've been slightly out-of-date. A poor man would wear rough wool or linen clothes and, most likely, wouldn't be able to afford a fancy wig.

The Bottom Line

Know your world! I can't stress it enough. In fantasy and sci-fi, it's important to build an interestingly unique world that's all your own. Your world relates heavily to your characters and your plot, which I'll discuss in the coming articles.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sinking/Stinking Plots

One of the worst feelings for a writer is to write a story, read it, and realize the plot is pointless and nothing compelling happens. Usually, writers give up on stories like this. Sometimes it's for the best; more often than not, it's actually for the worst -- especially if you've created wonderfully crafted characters.

You Can Save Your Story

Yes, it's actually quite simple. You really can save it.

For a novel length work, it's important to come up with your overall theme. What is the theme of your story? A common theme in literature is coming of age. It's overused, but let's use it as an example anyway.

Say you have a main character -- we'll call him Bart. Bart is an underachieving loser who never gets the girl, and everything always goes terrible for Bart. That is your setup.

Now think of an ending. For example: Bart gets the girl he's been pining for since junior high. (Cliché, I know but go with it -- it's an example, after all.)

Your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to take Bart from Point A to Point Z. There has to be things that happen in the middle that helps Bart realize his goal. It's your job, as a writer, to plot the novel from beginning to end. The easiest way to do this is to think of specific points that happen along the way, like pitstops on a long journey, that are meaningful in terms of Bart reaching his goal. For instance, perhaps Bart's older brother teaches him how to successfully ask a girl out on a date. That's something that you could use to help Bart reach his goal.

But, as with all good stories, there also has to be roadblocks. Something has to make it difficult for Bart to reach his goal. For instance, the girl of his dreams could be engaged or something of that nature. Since she's engaged, Bart thinks he doesn't have a shot and loses all hope. It's something that stops Bart dead in his tracks and makes him feel as though, once more, he is a loser.

With tension and conflict comes resolution, and that's what ties your story into a neat little bow. Resolution doesn't always mean a happy ending. Instead of getting the girl of his dreams, Bart might realize that the girl he's been obsessing over for ten years is happy with her fiance and he decides to move on. But, with the confidence he's gained over the course of his journey, all sorts of new events are close on the horizon.

But seriously folks -- with plots, it's sink or swim. You, as a writer, can and will swim if you just sit and think your way out of any stinking plot.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mod Hat Post I

On my other blogs, I've highly enjoyed inviting guest bloggers to submit to my blog. I love hearing what other people have to say about writing. If you're interested in guest blogging, drop me a comment or email and let me know! I'd be happy to return the favor.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tick Tock

Writers are unique creatures. For some reason, nature has bestowed upon us the ability to scribble words on paper that make sense. More than that, we are given the ability to tell stories that make people think, feel, and just generally react.

We all write for different reasons; the most common, however, is that if we don't spit out what we've got to say, we feel as though we're suffocating.

So, my question is: what makes you, as a writer, tick? Why do you write what you write?

To answer my own question, I would say what I said a few sentences before this one: I just have to. Writing has always been such a big part of me, I'm compelled to do it. If I get a story idea, I write it down. I always love to explore new ideas, places, and people through my writing and it never gets dull (well, for me, at least).

So, what about the rest of you? What makes you tick?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Characters: Fun Ways to Create Them Part II

Last post, we covered a more visual approach. This time, we'll go for a written one.

You know those annoying MySpace or Facebook surveys that people post in their bulletins and notes? You know, the ones that ask things like "If you could be any color of the rainbow, what would you be?" Well, believe it or not, they can actually be useful when creating a character. It's kind of like a character sheet or something only in Myspace Survey form.

To make it easier on you, I will just post some questions for you to answer. The catch? Answer it using your character's voice. Let them speak through you. This is kind of an intermediate character exercise because it assumes you already know what your character looks like and a few of the basics. However, the exercise prompts you to think of more detailed things that you haven't thought about yet.

Again: answer in your character's voice. I cannot stress this enough, because it's the whole point of the exercise.

The Survey

Full name:
Nickname (if applicable):
Birth date:
Hair color:
Hair Style:
Eye Color:
Skin color:
Blood Type:
Body type/build:
Distinguishing features:
Tattoos, piercings, scars:
Favorite TV show:
Favorite Movie:
Favorite Song:
Favorite Musical Artist:
Favorite Food:
Favorite day of the week:
Who are your parents?:
Who are your grandparents?:
Do you have any siblings?:
Any other family members?:
Spouse/partner/casual romantic affair/crush?:
School (present or previous):
Biggest fear:
Biggest hope:
Worst memory:
Best memory:
Craziest dream:
Where do you see yourself in five years?:
What would you do if your biggest fear happened right now?:
Are you good under pressure?:
Any annoying habits?:
In your own words, why are you important?:
Where were you last night and why were you there?:
Weapon of choice?:
Leader or follower?:
What do you want more than anything in the world at this very second?:
When you look back on your life, what is your biggest regret?

Unlike when on MySpace, your character has to tell the truth. Nothing is too detailed. Nothing is too sacred. Fill it out as in-depth as you possible can. You can even add anecdotes from your characters P.O.V. about past events which further explain their answers. Don't just write one or two word answers. Save it, so you can refer to it later. Also, add any more questions you feel needs to be answered for your specific piece.

Most importantly? Have fun. Let that show through while you're answering the questions. Let your character speak. After all, that might tell you something you need to know.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Chracters: Fun Ways to Create Them Part I

One of my favorite aspects of writing is character creation. There's nothing like breathing life into your fiction by pouring your thoughts and feelings into a character so that they might touch your readers and tell them a story.

For those who have hit some snags in creating their characters, there's still hope. Not everyone creates characters in the same way. One of the great things about character creation is that you can come at it from any angle you like. Do what works best for you, add to the method, and perfect it from there.

Anyone like playing The Sims series? Me too! Bet you never thought you could use the Sims as a character creation tool, did you?

It's quite easy. It's recommended that you use either Sims 2 or Sims 3, because of the fact that they are more versatile, and have better customization, as well as better (more realistic) Sim-building.

When using the Sim Method (I've named it), it's very important you don't use some downloaded Sim somebody else already made. Instead, use the base Sims in Create-a-Sim (or bodyshope, if you're using TS2). Shape and mold their faces until they are your character's face. I recommend using custom content for your Sim's skin, hair, makeup, clothes, accessories, etc, because they are more realistic, there's more variety, and they're just all around better. (Need custom content for TS2 or TS3? Check out Mod the Sims. They've got literally tens of thousands of safe, FREE content ready to be downloaded.)

Turn the Sim into your character. Give them the eye color, the hair color, etc. Make the Sim wear clothes your character would wear. Give them the family your character has. If you're using TS3, give your character-Sim the favorites and personality traits your character has.

Now we get to play!

Move your character-Sim into a home and have fun. Create other characters from your novel and plop them into the neighborhood. Let your hero/heroine interact with the other characters ONLY the way they would in the novel. Create situations you can use for your novel. Just have fun -- the key is to ONLY let your character-Sims interact the way they would in the novel.

The reason this method is so effective is because it puts your character in front of you visually. It allows you to to see them, so that you can visually see the descriptions you need (like the exact color of their eyes, the shape of their nose, etc). Also, it allows you to test out certain scenarios without writing them down.

But there is writing involved. The next step is to write down what you've learned from your character-Sims. Use it. More importantly, have fun with it -- it'll really show through on your finished novel product.

Let me know if you try this method. I would love to hear your thoughts! I know I have fun with it.

Sticky Situations

Now that I have my prettiful layout all settled, I've come to you to today to talk about sticky situations. Can they really be sticky enough?

As writers, we all know that plots are a very important aspect of writing. Without a plot, all you have is characters wandering around aimlessly. One of the worst feelings in the world is to write your first draft and realize: there's just not enough going on here; the situations aren't sticky enough.

Say your heroine gets kidnapped. Well, yeah. That happens -- especially in entertainment media. And yes, in theory, that is a sticky situation, but it's just not sticky enough -- not by a long shot. Mainly, you need to tell your readers why being kidnapped is a sticky situation other than "well, being kidnapped is really, REALLY bad". Frankly, that just won't cut it.

The key to making a sticky situation stickier is to show your readers WHY it's so bad other than saying the previous "it's really bad" shtick. There has to be something else going on in there. There's got to be something physical or psychological that makes the sticky situation VERY VERY BAD.

Lets call our heroine Ruth. Ruth is kidnapped by the (very) bad guys. To add further tension to the situation, we give her REASONS why being kidnapped is so bad. These can be big, like they're taking her out of the country and she'll never see her family again. Or they could be small (depending on how you look at it), like she'll be late picking up her son for school; or when they kidnapped her, she dropped her purse. She has really bad asthma and her inhaler was in that purse. A small little addition like that really adds tension. After all, even though the kidnappers haven't expressed a desire to kill her, she might very well die as the shock of it has caused an asthma attack. Boom! She's in mortal peril and all you had to do was add one little fact; now the reader will wonder what will happen to Ruth and keep turning the page.

And that's the key! You want them to turn the page. You want your reader to keep reading at least until the danger is (for the moment) over (like at the end of the chapter or something).

Now let's look at another character. We'll call him John. In your story, you mentioned that John left his cellphone in his girlfriend's car, but you didn't elaborate further. That's boring story-telling when you casually mention something that's pointless. It makes the reader all like "wtf, mate?". Since you chose to mention he left his cellphone in his girl's car, you're now obligated, as the writer, to tell the reader WHY it's important.

Consider this: John left his cellphone in his girlfriend's car. Reasons that's a significant thing could be because the text inbox is full of incriminating texts linking his brother, Willy the Squid, to horrendous murders or perhaps John's car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Without a cellphone, he can't call for help, and he's stuck until finally, at dusk, some strange stranger comes and offers to give him a lift to the nearest payphone for a "price".

When writing a tense part of the story, it's important not to mention things unless they're relevant to that specific part of the story. And that leads back to what I really wanted to talk about: when writing, it's always possible to make sticky situations stickier. It adds to the story and lends depth to the characters. When their bad times are really bad, readers will feel more sympathetic to them. A reader's sympathy is what every writer must strive to attain.


Welcome to cogito ergo scribit! This will be the home to my new "general" writing blog. If you're interested in prompts, check out my Prompt Romp.

More will follow in due course, but here, I plan to write about everything about writing that I can't/won't put on Prompt Romp.

Until then, adieu.