NaNoWriMo Tip #11: Why the voice you choose matters.

Stand-out-of-crowd
Yesterday I read a comment from an author participating in National Novel Writing Month that made me wince: she was bemoaning the fact that she'd started her book in first person, but now realizing that third person worked better for the story, didn't want to go back and make the changes needed.

In my head, I was thinking, NOOOOOOOOOOO!

Trust me, it's worth the time to make the fix.

Been there, done that. Of my five published novels, four of them are written in first person: that is to say, one of the characters narrates the story, from his/her point-of-view, for the reader.

When it comes to fiction, this is not norm, for a very good reason: sometimes the story needs to be told from many points of view, or in “third person.”

True-Hollywood-Lies
Impossibly Tongue-Tied,
the one novel of mine which was written in third person, didn't start out that way. I spent two weeks and many pages before I figured out that what had worked so wonderfully for my first novel, True Hollywood Lies, would be the death of my second.

True Hollywood Lies is told from the point-of-view of its heroine, Hannah: all the other characters are seen through her eyes, their actions and motives scrutinzed through the mess of Hannah's emotional pain, which comes from the sudden demise of a father with whom she never got to reconcile their differences. He was a revered film star who'd had numerous wives and lovers. As a personal assistant to a red hot film star who reminds her too much of her dad, Hannah has to work hard not to be blinded by his charisma, at the expense of her own dreams and desires. 

 

CandidateThe Candidate takes place in Washington, D.C.,  but follows several characters, all of whom have personal agendas or traumatic plights that put them at cross purposes, and puts the nation in danger.. The hero, Ben, is desperate to find a presidential candidate who won't implode on him. The vice-president wants a slam-dunk into the White House, and will do anything to get it. And the mysterious love of Ben's life, Maddie is a pawn in everyone's game.

Of course, the goal is to make it so that the reader enjoys the twists and turns–and hopefully doesn't see what comes next. 

That's what makes the book so fun: lots of shenanigans happens before the explosive climax.

But had I kept slogging it out to make the story first person, the reader would not have gotten to enjoy all the fun leading up to the climax.

The best rule of thumb in choosing voice is this: Go with what works best for the reader. 

Even if you have to start over and replace all the “I”s with “She”s or “He”s.

The pay-off will be a wide open vista of opportunities for your characters. 

Their actions will speak volumes to your readers in the way that your first-person voice could never do.

(c) 2011 Josie Brown

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READ YESTERDAY'S TIP, HERE…

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I've got a question for you, and be honest: Have you ever started a story in the wrong voice, then had to change it? If so, how are were you into it, before you realized it?

Happy National Novel Writing Month,

— Josie

  

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NaNoWriMo Tip #10: When it comes to putting words on a page, better late than never.

Words

I've been very proud of myself for launching my National Novel Writing Month tips by noon Pacific Time.

Well, until yesterday.

Unfortunately, I launch later than anticipate.  I just couldn't help myself,  it had been a helluva day. I've been focusing on a project with a tight deadline, and time just got away from me–

Isn't that a good enough excuse for you? Please? PRETTY PLEASE?

No matter. The one I let down the most was myself. I'd made this commitment: one tip a day, 30 days.

Having broken the commitment, should I just give up?

Hell, no!

I need to get back on the horse–or in this case, back on my timetable.

Please  take my lesson to heart. Don't beat yourself up if you don't make your daily word count.

Instead, WRITE SOMETHING.

Anything.

No matter how tired you are.

No matter how late it is.

Even a simple paragraph shows that you're making the effort.

And who knows? That one paragraph may lead to a full page. Then another. And another.

And before you know it, you're about a quarter into your word count. Or more.

You can make the rest up the next day.

Yes. You. Can.

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Yesterday's NaNoWriMo Tip is here…

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I‘ve got a question for you, and be honest: Have you missed your daily word count? Or have you skipped a day altogether? Give me your best “the dog ate my homework” story…

 

— Josie

 

NaNoWriMo Tip #9: What to do when your story is boring.

Portrait of young businesswoman sleeping on computer at office
You're procrastinating.

You'd rather be flossing your teeth than making your word quota.

This isnot a good sign.

It means that your story is so boring that even you can't bear to be around it.

If you wake up to find that you've been drooling on your monitor, it's time to put on the brakes.

Yep, you heard me: I want you to start over.

Don't panic. I'm not talking about a complete re-write (hopefully). I'm just asking you to take the time to assess where you think your story went off track. It's better to do so now, only nine days into National Novel Writing Month, than on, say, Day 14 or 22 or 30, when rewrites will be even more extensive.

Besides the fact that my snores are louder than the tapping on my keyboard, here's how I know when it's time for a course correction:

Problem #1: I don't like my lead character.
Solution: Make him/her more lovable.
You can do this by adding a few scenes that show his/her softer side, demonstrates their insights. Or add a backstory scene. If you don't like your character, neither will your readers.

Problem #2: The plot is going nowhere.
Solution: Go back to your outline, and figure out what is missing.
The need for an outline allows you to build in the conflict where needed. Your story should be a page-turner: one that keeps your potential agent, and editor (and, eventually, readers) at the edge of their seats. Every chapter needs to keep us informed and engaged. Do the math: if a book is around 300 pages, and every chapter were, say, ten pages each, that means 30 chapters: each one building to a great climax.

If  your response to this is “But I don't have an outline,” consider this a tongue lashing. NO WONDER YOU'RE STUCK! Now, go back and read my Tip #2… 

Problem #3: I'm stuck on a plot technicality.
Solution: Do some research, then fix that plot point or dialogue that makes you sound like a phoney, even to yourself. 
It happens to the best of us. Not all of us are a doctor (or a lawyer or an indian shaman) but we're going to play one on the page, we better sound and act the role.

And, FYI: No, I am NOT backtracking off my advice in Tip #7 (Fixing your story in post-editing). I'm just trying to save you a whole lotta heartache.

Believe me, you can still make your daily word count. This fix is your above-and-beyond.  Extra homework, if you may.

SO GET ON IT. 

NOW.

(c) 2011 Josie Brown

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READ YESTERDAY'S TIP HERE…

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I've got a question for you, and be honest: Are you stuck? If so, what do you think is your problem? 

Your story is exciting–so just WRITE IT,

— Josie

 

My NaNoWriMo Tips: You can read them here, in order…

RockBottom RemaindersEvery day through November, I've been supporting those participating in National Novel Writing Month by launching posts on creative writing tips (usually by 12 noon PDT) that will help them reach their goal: writing 50,000 words in their novel.

Here are their links:

Tip #1: Treat writing a if it is your career.

Tip #2: Outline the plot of your story.

Tip #3: Don't give up!

Tip #4: Meet your word count first; then edit.

 

Enjoy,

Josie



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NaNoWriMo Tip #8: Why every story needs a beginning, a middle and an end.

15963

I make it a point to peruse readers' reviews: not just of my own novels, but those of best selling authors as well.

Doing so allows me to process what it is that readers look for, when plucking down precious dollars on what they hope is a satisfying read.

Ironically, most complaints stem from something that goes awry in the structure of the plot: say, a great beginning and end, but a sagging middle.

Or maybe it's the end that fizzles out.

The worst thing that can happen is when the book doesn't grab the reader from the start. Book reviewers may slog through in the hope that there is light (or a plot) at the end of the tunnel, but the average reader will toss it aside if there is no there, there.

You can't just presume that your wonderful characters are going to carry the book to the end. You have to give them SOMETHING TO DO. You have to give them real conflict and hard choices.

It's even better if those choices are wrong. This allows them to redeem themselves later in the book.

When I moved to California from Georgia, I thought it was cute that so many of the folks I met out here were seeking a “higher consciousness.” Usually that meant following some guru who handed out mantras like M&Ms, to be chanted for hours on end.

If his accent made it hard for the acolytes to get it right, they'd write down what they thought they'd heard, then compare notes–

Only to discover that while Fred was chanting “Aw wah no dah cal ah”, Barney had been mumbling “Aw no dah wah cal ah”….

Go figure.

If you don't understand the goal, no amount of gibberish is going to get you where you want to be.

I'm going to make it simple for you. Throughout this 30-day process, repeat this mantra:

Beginning, middle, end. Beginning middle, end. Beginning, middle, end…

To get there:

Your beginning must make your reader feel for your hero/heroine.

Your middle must be filled with twists, turns and dilemmas; it must ratchet up the action on every page.

Your ending can't be a cliffhanger. It must satisfy your readers' need to know that the journey meant something….

Even if they don't want it to end.

Because if they want to stick around for more, they will read your next book, too.

(c) 2011 Josie Brown. All rights reserved.

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READ YESTERDAY'S TIP, HERE…

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I've got a question for you, and be honest: does your story have a soggy middle? If so, what will you do to fix it?

Mantra this during National Novel Writing Month,

— Josie

NaNoWriMo Tip #7: Chapter doesn’t work? Fix it in “post.”

Microphone ready to present at a book store

Both my husband and I have broadcast backgrounds. One very important lesson we learned in those previous gigs serves us well when we're editing text articles or, in the case of National Novel Writing Month, novels:

Should you feel something isn't working on your project, you can always fix it later.

Broadcast producers can always rely on post-production: the time spent in the production booth, editing the footage shot or recorded for the project. If, while shooting the segment, what you're getting on camera runs too long (exposition; needless scenes, etc), or the subject stutters or talks too much (dialogue) — you rarely say “Cut” and start over. Instead, you'd wait until you were in the studio and saw the raw footage to determine which scenes needed to be trimmed.

The same goes for your manuscript. You job over the next few weeks is to put the story on the page. Afterward, you'll go through it page by page, chapter by chapter. If something reads false, go ahead and chop and dice it, until it reads to your satisfaction.

This won't happen in second draft either. You'll go through several drafts before you're truly pleased with your work.

Even after it sells to a publishing house (YES IT WILL SELL; YOU MUST BELIEVE THAT) you'll get notes back from your editor on how a scene or character should be tweaked. Then it will go through copy edits, where someone with a better grasp than you of grammar and syntax will take a shot at it, as well.

Because when it's ready for its public debut, your readers deserve the best story possible.

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READ YESTERDAY'S  TIP, HERE…

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I've got a question for you, and be honest: How many times do you read a chapter before you write the next one?

— Josie

NaNoWriMo Tip #6: When your “backstory” should be the story.

harry-potter-2
During National Novel Writing Month, many an aspiring novelist will start with a great character. He will know his hero backwards and forward, as if he is his very best friend.

He'll describe how the hero looks, down to the cleft in his chin. He'll know about his childhood, his teen angst, his tribulations and his desires.

But now that it's time to give his hero something to do, the writer stalls out.

Why does this happen?

Because in this case, the backstory is the story.

So why not move it front and center?

If you can answer yes to these four questions, then the Muse is trying to tell you (HELLOOOOO!) that the better book to write starts where your hero first intrigued you:

1. When describing your book to others, do you find yourself spending more time describing your hero's past, but get stuck on telling what will happen to him in the book?

2. Is half of what you wrote in your synopsis his backstory?

3. Did it take all of Chapter One to describe your character before you realized you had nowhere to go with Chapter Two?

4. Do you find yourself rewriting the details of your hero's past, because it's more interesting than considering his future?

Take a broad hint: There is gold in the hills of his backstory.

Harry Potter is a perfect example of this. Can you imagine if J.K. Rowling had started her epic story with, say, Book 6 The Half-Blood Prince — when Harry was already at Hogwarts and just realizing his true role in a world turning darker, more sinister? Surely this book in the series and the seventh, could  have been tweaked to stand-alone…

But consider how much was gained by knowing so much more of Harry's backstory.

That's because it was never just his backstory. It was the story.

Bottom line: start at the real beginning: when you first realized that your hero intrigued you.

Maybe it was when he did that old-soul thing at age three. Or when he had his first kiss. Or when he accidently drove his parent's car into the lake.

Not all stories were meant to start where we want them to begin. Sometimes they start earlier, or later.

If you start your story at a point that is most interesting in your character's life, your readers will be sucked along on his journey, too.

So take them along for the ride.

It ain't the prequel. It's the beginning of a wonderful friendship between your hero and your reader.

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READ YESTERDAY'S TIP HERE…

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I've got a question for you: Which character's backstory would you have liked to have read about, as a book?

For me, it is the character of Ethan Gage, in the wonderful historical suspense series by William Dietrich. We know that Ethan once studied under Benjamin Franklin. it would be a hoot to see his antics stateside, before we're introduced to him in Napoleon's Pyramids.

— Josie

NaNoWriMo Tip #5: Show, don’t tell.

whos-afraid-of-virginia-woolf

Because your goal each day of National Novel Writing Month is a word count, it's very easy to fall into a common trap: writing long passages of narration or exposition.

In other words, telling your readers, either via a narrator or the omnipotent third person, what is happening to your characters.

Do yourself a favor and FIGHT this temptation.

Why? Because what you're doing is “telling,” not “showing,” your readers.

Instead, craft your scenes with dialogue. It is much more interesting to your readers to have your characters talk to each other.

No doubt, narration or exposition is also important: for adding atmosphere, for setting up your scenes, for describing where the scenes take place, or how the characters look or feel.

And it utilizes takes more words than dialogue.

But if your characters don't verbalize their thoughts to each other, they aren't interacting normally.

For the majority of us, telepathy isn't an option: all the more reason your characters need to open their mouths to express their feelings.

If you're having a hard time moving from tell to show, pretend you're writing a play. What dialogue would you add to each scene?

Snappy dialogue. Snarky asides. Anger. Heartfelt revelations. All of these expressed emotions make scenes come alive, and make your readers laugh with — or more importantly, fall in love with — your characters.

This NaNoWriMo first draft may not be on par with Arthur Miller or Edward Albee or William Shakespeare, but it will go a long way to being completed if it engages readers.

Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? Certainly not you!

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HERE'S YESTERDAY'S TIP…

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NaNoWriMo Tip #4: Meet your word count first; edit it later.

SpaghettiOne analogy about the tips you often hear regarding National Novel Writing Month is to imagine your your sentences as strands of spaghetti that you toss onto the wall of your manuscript.

As with any wall that gets covered with wet noodles and tomato sauce, at some point it either looks like a mess—

Or, like a work of art.

After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Remember: you are your own Jackson Pollock. This project is just the first of your many masterpieces.

You'll have a natural inclination to go back, re-read it, and edit what you wrote.

Don't.

Why? Because the whole purpose of NaNoWriMo is to put as many words on the page as you can in these precious thirty days.

If you're spending an hour — or worse yet, a full day — honing a specific page (or paragraph, or sentence) you will NEVER make your word count. The sheer weight of writing — and endless re-writing — are like ankle weights strapped onto a marathon runner: well before you reach the finish line, you will collapse in exhaustion.

Right now, you have only one goal: those 50,000 words, which is about two-thirds or half a standard manuscript submitted for publication, depending on the book.

After your thirtieth day, having reached your 50,000 words, most definitely you should re-read your story.

And re-read it again. And again.

And rewrite it. Continually.

Take note of misspellings, phrasing that is awkward, scenes that are deadly, and characters who don't move the plot forward.

The time you take to reshape your manuscript is what makes it a masterpiece, not how many words it is, or that you even finished it.

Your characters have to be engaging.

Your plot has to challenge them, give them moral dilemmas.

Your story has to be satisfying to your reader.

But your first step is to move that story from your head to the page.

Because ultimately, others want to read your masterpiece, too.

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READ YESTERDAY'S TIP HERE…

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Okay, now, tell the truth: Are you meeting your word count? And tell me why, or why not…

— Josie

 

NaNoWriMo Tip #3: Don’t give up.

Alien
Despite the fact that it is only Day 3 of National Novel Writing Month, I'm willing to bet that, before the clock strikes midnight tonight, one-tenth of everyone who began with high hopes of meeting their writing goals each day will have missed today's deadline…

And by tomorrow evening, they will have completely given up the ghost on the ideal of writing their book.

Don't let that person be you.

The only one who can defeat you from finishing your novel, then pitching it to an agent who sees its merit and wants to present it to publishers is YOU.

Yes, you heard me: you are your Boogie Man.

Your voice is the one whispering those niggling doubts that anyone will love your characters as much as you do.

No one taunts you more about your quirky sentence structure.

Only you think that your dialogue sucks, and that your plot has nowhere to go.

Do you see a pattern here?

Defeat comes from within.

Well, guess what? So does faith.

If you don't believe wholeheartedly in your book, no agent will, either.

If an agent never sees it, neither will any pub house editor.

And The Book That Never Was will be your greatest personal defeat.

It doesn't have to be.

Writing a book is not easy. Drawing from deep within that fantasy world within your brain and pouring it all out on (digital) paper is a skill that is honed one sentence at a time, and many drafts later.

In time, you will weave those sentences into the tapestry of your great story: one with tightly-woven plot threads that will awe all who have the chance to read it: first your critique partners, then the right agent, then an editor who is just excited about it as you —

And finally, a legion of fans, all of whom will be hungry to read your next book.

My first novel was sold as part of a two-book deal. When I broke this wonderful news to my sister, she was very excited for me, for all of about twenty seconds. Then, in a hushed voice, she asked: “But–they can't make you write another one…can they?”

Make me? Write another book?

Hell yeah, twist my arm…

Because it's what I do.

Whether anyone else believes I can do it or not, I write.

Hey, trust me: I have my own Boogie Man.

He fills me with doubts that the muse will some day kick me to the curb.

He tries to convince me that I'll lose my ability to tweak some real-life situation into a great “what if.”

And that, one day, I'll just not care; that I will give up the need to write, to practice my art.

His stale breath has been wheedling doubts in my ear through three agents, four pub houses, and at least a dozen unsold manuscripts.

In fact, he was there last night, taunting me about a book proposal that went out just yesterday. He wants me to believe that it will be laughed out of every publishing house it's been sent to…

Well, he's wrong.

I may not have a magic force field to keep him out of my life, but I have a silver bullet that stops him dead in his tracks, every time:

I believe in my book.

Just like I've believed in all my books, even when others didn't.

I've now got a body of work to prove it. My books have found avid, appreciative audiences.

Yours will, too.

How about you?  Do you believe in your story, your characters, about your vision of a life as a writer?

Then start writing it. Again.

Put those words down on the page. Set a daily goal for yourself, and meet it. Trust me, you won't be writing REDRUM REDRUM REDRUM over and over.

To paraphase Winston Groom, author of  Forrest Gump, writing is a bowl of cherries.

Now, in a paraphrasical mashup of Mr. Groom and Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather:

Drop the Boogie Man. Take the bowl of cherries.

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Here's yesterday's  Tip #2…

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— Josie

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo Tip #2: Outline the plot of your story.

Journey-dreamstime_m_58653986

I am forever amazed at authors who tell me that they write their books without first outlining the plot of their stories.

Usually the conversation goes something like this:

Would Be Author: “Plotting? NOOOOO! I'd never do that! I'd be crushing my muse! My characters take me on their journey, not the other way around….”

Me: “Yeah, right, whatever….Um, how long have you been working on that book?”

Would Be Author, after a long silence: “Well, let's see…I started it in the third year of Obama's second term in office…”

You get my drift.

Dear NaNo Newbie: I never want to have that same conversation with you.

I never want to see the pain in your eyes when you hear that NaNo Pal Such-and-Such just finished his novel/got an agent/sold his book to Random House. Why? Because I know you'll be thinking, “That could have been me, had I only (a) gotten beyond the first chapter (b) figured out where my story was going (c) hadn't run out of steam….”

By the way, “steam” is a euphenism for “plot.”

Which gets us back to the iceberg at the bottom of this tip: Create an outline for your story — so that you actually have a plot.

Non-plotters are what we scribes call a “pantser”: someone who writes by the seat of their pants.

Even published authors do it. Many of my writer pals, in fact (Hey! Yeah, YOU! You know who you are…)

They are the ones who (a) work 10 hours a day for the same 3,000 words it takes a plotter to do in, say 4 hours, or (b) turn in their manuscripts after their editors deadlines, and yet (c) still stubbornly insist it's the only way they can write….

WRONG.

Writing is a discipline, and plotting is the foundation in which your wonderful book will be built.

Don't get halfway through it, then kick yourself because it needs a character who should have entered 40 pages earlier, or because you have to substitute more action in place of all that middle-of-the-book navel gazing…

Admit it: YOU were navel-gazing, too…weren't you?

That's because you got lost in the wilderness of your wonderful mind…

The breadcrumbs are your plot.

You will still see all those wonderful characters on the way to your final destination, but your novel's outline is the map that takes you there.

Think of it as your GPS system, that tells you the next turn—the next waypoint— on your journey, to your final destination: YOUR NOVEL.

This outline will route you through many twists and turns. Along the way, you'll write in many interesting characters that actually DO something in the story which moves the plot forward: up some very challenging plot hills, and down into scary abysses–

All the while allowing the reader to care–no, to LOVE–your hero or heroine.

Bottom line: give your story a great beginning, and page-turning middle, and a satisfying ending.

Think 30 chapters (estimate) in 300 pages (again, nothing written in stone) —

And write something on each page — in each chapter — to make readers want more of your hero(ine).

You may argue, “But doing an outline confines you to those plot points!”

I disagree!

Your outline is the path that takes you from Point A (your first word) to Point Z (The End). Along the way, feel free to stop and smell the roses you find there, be they a character who comes to you out of the blue, or an incident that allows you to meander in a field along your way to your final destination–

The completion of your book.

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READ YESTERDAY'S TIP, HERE…

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Okay, now, tell the truth: Do you plot, or pants? And tell me why…

— Josie

 

 

NaNoWriMo Tip #1: Treat writing as if it’s your career.

 

Writing Clarity text made in the office close-up on laptop computer keyboard. Business concept for Clarity Message Workshop on the black background with copy space

My first tip: Treat writing as a career.

Why? Because those of us who call ourselves writers don't see it as a hobby.

It is how we spend the bulk of our work day.

It is our primary source of income.

It is a way of life.

As such, the term “avocation” fits it well. But so does the word “vocation.”

That's because writing is also our chosen career.

It can be yours, too — if you choose to make it such.

Fate (zeitgeist, fairy dust, whatever) has a lot to do with any writer's success. But so does determination. That thing called inspiration happens to everyone–but not everyone puts in the hard work to take a high concept and develop it into a full-length story that plays out page after page, and keeps readers intrigued until the very last sentence.

I truly believe that those of us who take the time and make the effort can be published.

I believe that person is YOU.

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TOMORROW, I'LL HAVE ANOTHER TIP FOR YOU…

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If you think so, too, comment below as to why. What drives you to write?

 

— Josie


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