Less about the world, more about me.

Tag: On Noveling (Page 1 of 2)

On Noveling: The Impatient Boredom

As I write this I am 13,000 words into the first draft of ‘Hidden Messages.’ It is going well. The wonderfully detailed plan is no longer wonderfully detailed. As I sat down to begin the first draft, I had an idea. It was, I’d like to say a twist but it’s more fundamental than that, the addition of an element that solved weaknesses I hadn’t realised existed. The moment it occurred to me I thought to ignore it. I had my plan, if I kept adding little things on a whim, I’d never begin, never mind finish. But second thought and third thought saw its necessity. Now I can’t imagine the story without that new idea being incorporated. What I didn’t do however is go back to the plan and alter it. Impatience took over. I wanted starting and I wasn’t going to wait for ever more preparations to be made.

I will pompously reference the adage about plans never surviving first contact with the enemy. The plan had gotten me this far. And when I hit a wall, and I surely will hit a wall, I will go back to that plan to find my route around or through it. But for now, I’m keeping that new element wholly in my head. I haven’t even gotten to it yet but I’m excited to discover how it looks and feels as I write it. I think, and don’t forget this is before I’ve written any of it, it makes the story more cinematic. I never make a conscious decision to make a story cinematic or otherwise, but I will wonder about this quality as I write it. When I finished ‘The Bucket’ the only other medium I could imagine it in, was some sort of play. ‘Blue Eyeshadow’ is perhaps a made for TV movie. This one though, I think has the bright visuals and large scope that would suit the big screen.

This isn’t an entirely redundant and self-indulgent form of escapism. I’m not writing a movie. I’m writing a novel that I hope will appeal to the cinematic part of our brain. I want it to be easy for the reader to picture the scene, as it were. The next novel won’t be cinematic, it will have a different appeal. Knowing what I am hoping to produce is as important as knowing what I am trying to write.

For now, I am enjoying myself. I am having to invent some scenes on the hop as I alter the plan in anticipation of the new element (possibly elements) to come and this is doing my confidence a lot good. It’s necessarily slowing me down but it is a heady feeling, spinning something out of nothing. While I write purely for the money and acclaim, it is just so wonderful to invent. To create. To shape. I know that even if no one reads this one, I will write the next one. And the one after that. The act of creating is addictive.

I am going to take a break from blogging the novel though. I have another 60,000 words or so to throw at the page, before phase two begins. I am in that exciting and boring, glorious a tedious phase of telling myself the story. And it’s going well. I wish I could hurry it up a bit, but there are about two months of this slog to get through. It is a weird thing, my confidence in the story is so high at the moment I just want it all down on paper so I can polish it. But I can only go as fast as I can go, a thousand words a day. The only thing of note I will be working on is seeing if I can somehow increase my daily word rate. When I reach the half way point, approximately, 35,00 words I’ll blog again.

Blogging about this process has thus far been a great fillip for my confidence as well as a source of motivation. So, thank you reading and see you in 22,000 words time.

Previous: There Be Progress Here

On Noveling: There Be Progress Here

I’m actually writing a novel. Almost seven thousand words in a week and I’ve yet to experience a crisis. This obviously won’t last but opening a document that already contains thousands of words creates a sort of momentum. It’s better than the pages of notes. Better than the number of words you had the day before. And it is so much better than the blank page. It creates in one’s head the idea that you’ve already written twenty or thirty thousand words, it’d be a crime to give up now. Though I say that as someone who has on three occasions abandoned projects that had passed the twenty-thousand-word mark. But not this time.

This time I am working to a plan. I know what needs writing and where everything is and must go. It is a relief, it is a chore and it is fun. The only things getting in my way at the moment are; the little insidious doubts at the back of my mind telling me I’m an imposter, having to make a living, the weather, the dog, eating, reading, watching TV, the news, grocery shopping, Twitter, my little pieces of activism, thoughts about the next novel, existential angst and cutting the bloody lawn. But other than that, I’m OK.

My routine is a surprise to me. A recent IOS upgrade added a thing that encourages we iPhone zombies to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. And if it’s on my Apple product then it must be good and wholesome. I have it set up so that it tells me to be in bed for 12.35 and to get up at 7.35. It has succeeded in producing something my mother so consistently failed to shape, a human being capable of aping adult behaviour. My phone tells me at 11.55 that I should consider getting ready for bed. I do this, because it is my iPhone telling me to do it. Then it tells me that I really should get up or when I check my app the statistics showing my sleep patterns will be out of whack. A simply terrifying prospect.

So, I do what my phone tells me to do. Sometimes Arwen gets up too, so I have to feed her then I have my porridge while watching whatever U.S. twenty-two-minute-long comedy show I’ve recorded. Breakfast eaten I write a thousand words. It’s probably only 9.30 at this point and I’m done for the day. No matter how hard I try I cannot sit down to write fiction again until the next morning. I can blog, but not fiction. It’s irritating, but it works. Perhaps in the future I will be able to increase the writing to two hours and two thousand words, but for now what I’m doing is working and I don’t intend poking it with a stick.

The most important thing I’ve learned, during this project, is that to create wonder and fantasy, one must be as boring and predictable as possible in one’s habits. This is not at all what I expected.

Previous: World Building

On Noveling: World Building

Well I finally finished the planning portion of ‘Hidden Messages’ and have begun the actual writing part. And it is going well. While it was frustrating to plan in such detail, I’m glad for every hour spent in that process. The amount of unnecessary time and words it is going to save me (wait for the blog post where I discover the planning was a waste of time, that’ll be a doozy) will, in my estimation, be enormous.

So, now I can write a little bit about one of my favourite components of novel writing, World Building. I like writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, so World Building is something I either get good at or just don’t bother writing. I think however, even if I wasn’t determined to be a writer, I’d still indulge in World Building. Ever since reading ‘Lord of the Rings’ I’ve imagined other Worlds. I’ve populated them, given them cultures and religions, and then made things as difficult as possible for them, just to see what happened.

Good sinister fun, but daunting to transmit with words. When I began writing I had two ways to deal with how intimidating and technically challenging this was. In ‘The Easers’ I imagined a very small World and told the story within that small space. In ‘The Bucket’ I told a very small story, within a much larger World. The World of ‘The Bucket’ is one that is almost fully realised inside my head, but at the time of writing ‘The Bucket, I didn’t feel able to visit it with tens of thousands of words. Thus, the brief visit, in the dark, that was Captain Yilda’s time in the dungeon.

Even ‘Hidden Messages’ is not a World wholly spun from my imagination. There are aliens but not as one might imagine, and that’s all I’m saying about that. The novel I will write after this is set in Kerry but the one after that, Gandalf willing, will be a full length novel set in Captain Yilda’s World. And the reason I’ve put it so far into the future is because I need to get a lot better at World Building.

There are two aspects to World Building. The first is all about inventing to the full extent of your imagination. And then imposing rules, consistency and a relatable logic on the World you’ve invented. It’s fun. And depending on your particular interests you’ll either concentrate on languages (Tolkien) or politics, cultures, relationships, economics, military conflict and magical systems etc. But no matter what gets you going the most, all the sociological, anthropological, geological and a dozen other ‘ogicals’ have to be accounted for. I bloody love it.

The second aspect, however, is where the writing skill comes into play. In planning your novel, you have to decide what is the barest of barest minimum of information the reader will require to understand the World in which your story is being told. Just think Tolkien, then do the opposite. Anyway, if your novel is a huge success you will get silly money to write books that contains all the World Building stuff you had to leave out. Console yourself with that. Until then, minimum of information necessary is the key. And even then, it is a lot of information to have to relay.

I recently read, ‘The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet’ by Becky Chambers and I was thinking about ‘Hidden Messages’ a lot at the time. I found myself examining her World Building. It was flawless. It was seamless. It was smooth and sneaky and surreptitious and it was delicious. Alien Worlds, future humans, alien species, interstellar conflicts, technology, economies and cultures all drip fed, while the reader is getting on with the story.

That’s the skill, insinuating your bloody enormous info-dump into a story, while avoiding the dreaded ‘e’ word. For exposition is death. Yes, Tolkien expositioned like it was 1999, but that was Tolkien. Even Terry Pratchett didn’t expect his readers to endure exposition and he was writing about the Discworld. We did end up buying the maps, cookbooks, atlases and encyclopaedias though.

And to make it even more difficult, you need to avoid exposition while also finding a way to pack the necessary information into the opening few paragraphs, pages and chapters. You have to find a way to situate the reader in the World you’ve invented without overloading them with information, because otherwise they will simply leave.

Most importantly, however, it’s fun. I’m surprised that I think so, but it is. In ‘Hidden Messages’ there is so much I know about the World that is informing the story but you’ll never see it. I, as the writer, get to decide that and then live or die by those decisions. It’s heady stuff to be honest.

So, that’s my take on World Building. I hope you enjoyed it. I have no idea what I’ll wrote about next week. Hopefully it won’t be a whiny 500 hundred words on why I can’t write novels. But it is a possibility.

PS Just in case you’re wondering, I love Tolkien. I write because of Tolkien. It’s just that he did everything wrong.

Previous: Want to Write Now                    Next: There Be Progress Here

On Noveling: Want To Write This Now

The more I learn about writing a novel, the more I realise I don’t know. And the more I realise I don’t know, the more vulnerable I am to trying to know more instead of writing more. Which is leading me to the added problem of knowing so much about the novel I have yet to write, that it may no longer interest me.

This is where I’m heading. Though I do not say this as an expression of regret. While frustrating, it is also proving to be fascinating. My story, ‘Hidden Messages’ is now almost entirely clear to me. I have written three thousand words of plans and summaries. It’s coherent, structured and I think it has the potential to hold the attention of the reader.

The problem is, the more I delve into it, the more I understand how it must follow a certain path. The more I feel bogged down in, if you will, editing before the fact. I am seeking to hone it to perfect sharpness, before forging it.

And I say this again, this is not a source of regret. I wish I had undertaken this process before writing my previous novel. I think it would’ve been a better novel for it. I may have saved myself a year of plodding and dead ends. Or, and this is what concerns me about ‘Hidden Messages’ it may have remained unwritten as I tried to perfect it before writing it.

I’ll say this for the third time, though it screams of too much protesting, I do not regret this. I don’t regret it for three reasons. The first reason being that if and when I write this novel, it will be a novel. It will be a novel that from the first draft to the last, will require less hacking at than the application of polish. The terror of the rewrite need not sap my resolve.

Secondly, the novel I write after this will be better. I already know its name. I already know the characters. And even though it will be more complex than this one, armed with what I’ve already learned, I know how best to grapple with it. Precipitous pitfalls are replaced by scalable precipices.

Lastly and most importantly, I feel like a writer again. For a long time, I felt like an imposter whenever I saw my Twitter profile. Or worse, when anyone asked how the writing was going. I hadn’t realised I was not fully recovered from the disappointment of my previous novel.

I’d always regarded myself as thick-skinned. I’m not. I crave success and recognition. When that didn’t happen, I took it personally. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I didn’t realise the bang my ego and confidence had taken. I couldn’t understand why I was finding writing a second novel so difficult.

Intellectually, I knew rejection is nine-tenths of the writing experience but I had no defences against it. The only downside to being a cocky and self-entitled man, I suppose. I know that if and when ‘Hidden Messages’ fails to bring me status and riches I’ll be crushed. But I’ll know it is happening. I’ll be prepared. I’ll have already begun novel three. I have to do this because I already know what novels, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten are. And the only thing, right now, that’s preventing me from writing them is writing this one.

Previous: Still Not About World Building

On Noveling: Still Not About World Building

I missed last week. Stuff got in the way. And again, I won’t be discussing World Building. Two things happened in the development of this novel (still called Hidden Messages for now), that I want to talk about today.

The first is software. As I’ve mentioned I am plotting this novel in great detail before writing it. To that end, I wondered if there were resources out there that could help. There are by the way. It’s an entire industry. And I’m sure some of it is great and some of it is parasitic nonsense, but my research narrowed it down to two products that seemed useful and legit. There’s the Marshall Plan by Evan Marshall and The Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson. I opted for the latter. It was a toss-up and even if I discover I love The Snowflake Method I intend investing in The Marshall Plan at a later date, just to satisfy my curiosity.

I spent $50 on the Snowflake software. It’s a straightforward process and even I, with my antediluvian knowledge of technology, was able to install and begin to use it in under a minute. The method is also very straightforward. Begin with a sentence that describes your novel, then a paragraph that hits the crisis points. Then describe the characters in ever increasing detail. Progressing to ever more detail about what happens.

Early days, but I’m enjoying it. I’m being forced to really think in a detailed and structured manner about the story. About how it will develop, what the characters want, what motivates them and how to turn all this into a coherent novel. Of course, this may all turn out to be an elaborate ploy to justify my procrastination. You and I both shall know the truth of this in the next few months. More anon.

The other interesting, if only tangentially connected, novel related thing to happen was therapy. We were discussing writing. More specifically the difference between blogging and noveling. I largely blog to explore my own thoughts on a topic. There are times when I sit down to blog on a particular topic and discover that my opinion doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. It’s one of the things I love most about blogging.

Noveling however is my desire to tells stories that reflect those values I regard as fundamental to me. My settled values as it were. What makes noveling such an interesting challenge, other than the technical demands, is making sure those values are buried so deep they don’t get in the way of the story. I may never achieve that but I am enjoying trying.

Next week I just might get to World Building.

Previous: Even More Plotting                   Next: Want To Write This One Now

On Noveling: Even More Plotting

Last week I suggested I might look at World Building in this post. I won’t be. It has been an interesting week in the plotting arena. So interesting I have to write about plotting some more. As you may recall I decided to sit down and plot this novel out. I did that. Or more accurately, I plotted the first chapter in exquisite detail. The First Act in some detail. The Second Act in a very broad way and the Third Act was hand wavy in the extreme.

With this preparatory and revelatory work done, I sat down to write the first chapter. It was projected to be approximately 5000 words long. I wrote 3000 in two days. It just flowed. I hadn’t written so much and so smoothly in years. Then it stopped. My mood began to dip. I began to eat the wrong things and stay up late and generally be not very useful.

This morning it clicked. I still hadn’t worked out what the antagonist’s motivation was. I had several vague ideas, but nothing that would make sense and hold the story together. I was essentially writing a story that wasn’t a story. Its motivation (yes, I said, its) came to me this morning. I’d, apparently, been puzzling it out as I ate pizzas and chocolate. Probably not the kind of creative process my waistline can sustain.

But I am relieved. My mood has improved. I now have a story that works. It might turn out to be a shit story but at least it will be coherently shit.

Now I have to examine how my mood could dip so precipitously and then rebound. It’s unsettling. Interesting, but unsettling. I wonder how my therapist will react to it. And I have to accept that there’s a strong possibility that I’m post hoc ergo propter hoc-ing this. I hope not, because there is something romantic about wrestling with an artistic problem. Rather than the more prosaic, moody bollox explanation.

For the rest of the week I have to finish chapter one and plot the rest of the novel in detail. Really ensure there are no large holes that might scupper the whole thing. And hopefully next week I’ll finally get round to World Building.

Previous: More Plotting                   Next: Still Not About World Building

On Noveling: More Plotting

Well, it’s been a productive week on the noveling front. But not so much on the actual writing front. As I explained in my previous post, my intention was to carefully plot and plan my novel, ‘In Ten Thousand Years,’ so I’d know what I was doing every time I sat down to write. And in this week’s post I was going to share with you my progress and dazzle you with my tenuous grasp on the Three Act Structure and other things about noveling I like to think I know.

It turns out I’m bloody lucky I decided to do a bit of plotting, because the whole thing fell apart under the most cursory of examinations. The structure, the plot, the characters, all were utterly unsustainable within the narrative I’d initially envisaged. Even the title didn’t work. If I’d persisted in writing this novel as I’d originally half-arsedly planned, then my heart felt squeals, a month from now, would’ve made for a very depressing blog post indeed.

All that remained was the premise. And even that had to get a severe prodding. But it did stand up to my bitter prodding. So, I was left with a premise. A premise I like and consider worth persevering with. But could it be the basis of a novel?

I took a piece of paper (it was A4 printing paper and a clip board, let’s not get too romantic about this) and began to do a bit of mind mapping. I wrote down everything I knew about the worlds involved, the characters and their motivations. Then I began to connect them up. Looked at how they interacted and how they might interact in the future. Then I looked again at the premise. Is there something worthwhile that’ll animate my protagonist (do I even like him?) and are the obstacles interesting? Is my antagonist interesting? Is my antagonist sustainable?

How do I turn this mishmash of ideas into a coherent narrative? A narrative that conforms to the structure that novels demand? How many chapters? What’s the inciting incident and can I fit it into the right place? What are the first act, midpoint and second act crises? And can I World Build in an unobtrusive manner?

As I said, a busy week and still more to do. I’ve planned chapter one in some detail. Now I’m caught between wanting to write that chapter or continuing with planning the rest of the novel. The novel that is now called, ‘Hidden Messages.’ And don’t get too attached to that one either, it’ll probably go at some point.

So that’s my week of noveling. I don’t know yet what I’ll write about next week, probably won’t be plotting exactly. Might look at World Building though. Thanks for reading.

Previous: Plotting                    Next: Even More Plotting

On Noveling: Plotting

I’d planned to blog about ‘plotting’ this week but there’s been a change of plan. My blog, my plan, my plot, I’ll change them if I want to. Yes, this will be one of those moany posts I warned you about at the beginning of this series. Though I will attempt to find and take some positives from this week of getting very little done.

The people I hate most on this planet, after homeopaths that is, are writers who’ve managed to write novels during the brief patches of quiet in their busy lives. I hate them passionately. I don’t have a busy life but I still struggle to find those patches of quiet. That this is almost entirely my own fault does not lessen my hate. That discipline, that focus, are to me the preternatural qualities of an alien species.

What I should be feeling is a mix of inspiration and jealousy towards these aliens. I don’t. I just want to blog my sulk. And sulk, blogged, is a sulk shared and validated. As I’ve couched my strop in grammar and prose, I am making it into a thing that is entirely acceptable and worthy of empathy. OK, that’s not true, but it’s been a frustrating week and this flow of words is the most flowy I’ve been able to manage.

As I try to understand those weird bastards and their snatched spaces I’ve had to conclude certain things. They are innately better than me, and by that, I mean they have the ability to use their time like grown-ups. Or they know their story so well, they are almost dictating it rather than creating it on the hoof. Or a combination of both.

As I have written about recently, I am experiencing anxiety. I am already over the worst of that unpleasantness, but dealing with small things, like cutting the lawn, going to work, walking Arwen, putting my contacts in, are a little bit more stressful than they have a right to be. They distract and tire (and it’s tire not exhaust because moaning aside, I am a lot better than I was even two weeks ago). I’m managing to go to bed before midnight, most nights. I am getting up reasonably early, most mornings. I am eating the right things. But I’m not managing to sit in front of my computer most days. And I think I know why.

And fortunately, it ties in with what this blog post was supposed to be about, plotting. My process was to do the absolute minimal amount of prep work possible then just make shit up as I write. This is clearly not working for me. I think I have to plot this novel to death, before writing it. When I sit down to write, I need to already know what I’m going to write. It’s a method I’ve always resisted because I’ve assumed it’ll negate those lovely moments when unexpected things happen.

It’s a thrill that’s hard to describe. I’m writing a scene, I’ve an idea where it will and must go and suddenly I’ve written several paragraphs of something entirely different. It’s pure invention. It’s the closest I get to feeling like an artist. Except it isn’t very useful when trying to structure something that is at the very least sixty thousand words long. As much as I wish it wasn’t the case, there are right ways and wrong ways to write a novel, before one even gets into the territory of judging its quality.

I need to plot. I need to know that when I sit down to write, I already know what I’m going to write. How I retain those creative spurts? I’ll just have to work that out as I go along. So next week, will be about plotting. Hopefully.

Previous: The Characters                    Next: More Plotting

On Noveling: The Characters

Last week I wrote about naming my novel, ‘In Ten Thousand Years’. This week I’m going to describe how I create the characters that will inhabit it.

There are university courses, libraries and innumerable online resources that examine the process of character creation. I’ve looked at a fraction of a fraction of all that information. And even that tiny portion has taught me something important, characters matter. I know, shocker.

Without characters the reader has no one to care about. No one to empathise with. No one to hate. No one to make laugh or cry with. No one through whose eyes we can see the world and experience its vicissitudes. This means the characters have to do a lot of heavy lifting. Get the characters wrong, and by wrong, I mean characters that fail to feel real, then plot and theme are lost.

My novel, is all about the plot. I like the plot. It popped into my head almost fully formed and I really want people to care about the plot. So, I need characters that’ll grab the reader and make them want to turn the page.

The characters in this have taken me a bit longer to dream up. I wrote a few thousand words. These words were the opening scene and a scene that happens later on in the story. In doing so I discovered traits I wouldn’t have otherwise managed.

Some writers will invent and develop their characters before they even think about a first draft. While this approach doesn’t appeal to me, it highlights the importance of having fully realised characters from the beginning. And by fully realised I mean, name, appearance, age, gender, origin, family, species (if writing sci-fi or fantasy), sexuality, right or left handed, habits, idiosyncrasies, foibles, culture and a thousand other details that guide the writer and help convince the reader that this person is real, this person is behaving in a believable manner, this person’s choices reflect all that we know about the character, this person’s fate matters.

A biography of each character is vital. I dislike doing this because it’s a chore. Also, what if the plot requires something that I’ve already stipulated the character could not or would not do? You have three choices, change the character i.e. rewrite the character from the beginning. Change the plot i.e. rewrite the plot from the beginning. Or just hope your character has been so poorly rendered that the reader won’t care or notice the inconsistency. I get a little paranoid about giving the characters so much detail that I paint myself into a corner, but with proper planning, of both character and plot, this possibility will be greatly reduced. No matter how prepared the writer is, there is no protection from a sudden insight that changes everything.

I have two main characters and at the time of writing this, only one other minor character.

My protagonist is called Lord Ithell and antagonist, Series Three. When naming non-human characters, I use one of the several online name generators. I can usually find a name that fits within the first 100 suggestions. Thus, Ithell. Series Three was easy, it describes what it is. That took a lot of pressure off. The third character is called Auttarc. Again, that name is taken from a name generator. When using invented names one can go down the Tolkien route of inventing languages and creating names that fit and have history. Most mortals however just make them up, but they do at least try to have some kind of consistency.

These names are enough for now. The next task will be plotting, which will necessarily lead to more characters.

Previous: Choosing A Title                   Next: Next

On Noveling: Choosing a Title

I hate naming stuff. Anytime I write a blogpost I have to ask Paula for advice on the title. There’s a lot of expectation put on a title. It’s supposed to describe and attract, but using only a handful of words. Sometimes, just a single word. And to make it more complicated, one wants to exhibit a touch of class by avoiding ‘clickbait’ titles. That’s a lot of pressure.

As I write this I am still unsure what the title of my novel is going to be. It’s a science-fiction story set about 10 millennia into the future. So, do I call it ‘Ten Thousand Years’ or some variation on that? It has aliens. Do I call it, ‘First Contact’ and pretend I don’t know there’s a Star Trek film of that name?

Why am I even stressing about this? Because naming your novel is the single most important thing you’ll ever do. That you can change that title ten times a day, every day, until it’s actually published is irrelevant. The more you focus on the title the less time you have to worry about writing the damn thing. I get to spend hours wondering about something that will be one to four words in length. That is so much more manageable than 60 to 80 thousand words.

So yes, it is a colossal waste of time. My most successful story to date was called ‘The Bucket.’ The Bucket! I still cringe when I say it but I don’t think there can be a better title for that story. It’s just so prosaic. I know that whatever I call my new story today, is not what I need to call it tomorrow, but naming it does have a function.

When I began this project, I created a new folder on my laptop. I called it, ‘Writing Project.’ That does not draw the eye. It does not inspire. It will not excite. A name, a title, gives the novel a life. A separate (even if wholly dependent) existence. It’s a form of anthropomorphism. I’m visiting with this entity, feeding and molding it into the finished being it was always meant to be. When the really hard work begins, it is this degree of separation and obligation that will hopefully inspire me to continue.

And again, that doesn’t mean I won’t change the title in a heartbeat if I think of something better. But the separateness continues.

So, for today and possibly all this week, my work in progress is called, ‘In Ten Thousand Years.’ I will now change the name of the folder and begin to think of this being called, In Ten Thousand Years. It’s a bold title. Well, it’s longer than my usual. I’ve rarely gone beyond two words. You can imagine the misgivings I’m already trying to quell.

Next week I’ll write about the characters. Or more accurately, write about writing about the characters. There are really only two in this story so that shouldn’t be too difficult.

Previous: On Noveling                    Next: The Characters

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