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.

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.