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.

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.