Topic: Welcome to PSL: Hatate's Writer's Lounge ~ Rules, info and general discussion!  (Read 36279 times)

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Alfred F. Jones

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I just realized Sakana spelled fiction as "ficiton" in the OP and edited it accordingly.

Anyway, I have had something on my mind lately that I think some other writers would find interesting: The use of deus ex machina in literature. The idea of a god or a king or some other higher power swooping in at the last  minute to save the day is widely regarded as a cheap way to get a happy ending, but I think there is a place in literature for it. However, this then raises the question as to how to make it not seem like it's forced. Foreshadowing? How about making it a major structural trope of the story's framework (for example, having multiple gods running around in the story as characters)? Or something else entirely?

What do you guys think? Is there a place for deus ex machina in literature or should we scrap it for good? If there is a place for it, how can we make it not seem lame? Or is the lameness part of the appeal?

capt. h

  • Only sane townie
A deus ex machina ( /ˈdeɪ.əs ɛks ˈmɑːkiːnə/ or /ˈdiːəs ɛks ˈmækɨnə/ day-əs eks mah-kee-nə;[1] Latin: "god out of the machine"; plural: dei ex machina) is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.

Deus Ex Machina is very common in video games. Legend of Zelda introduces new powerups to solve otherwise unsolvable puzzles once or twice a dungeon.

Generally, I think the gods should only descend to solve problems in stories about gods. I also think that solving seemlingly unsovable problems with a contrived plot element out of nowhere is a sign of bad writing.

Dead Princess Sakana

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If there is a place for it, how can we make it not seem lame? Or is the lameness part of the appeal?
Well, one thought that comes to mind for me with this is "Make it so awesome it outweighs the lameness of using it at all".
In regards to Deus Ex Machina in books I have to think of stuff like Eowyn's slaying of the Wraith-King in Lord of the Rings. Pretty much out of nowhere (as far as I recall, feel free to correct me since it's been a  while) comes the "No man can slay me!" "Well, I'm a woman! *stab*" "Fffuuuuuu".
The whole scene is just so epic that you forgive it the lameness of using something noone could expect at all.

I don't think it has to be necessarily "contrived", but it certainly is important that it somehow fits into the world, and ideally involves stuff and characters that were seen earlier in the story. Introducing something completely out of the blue for the sole purpose of deus ex machina is what makes it a lame copout for me usually.

But in general? I can't remember a single action- or adventure-oriented story that did not at some point pull a minor or major deus ex machina to get characters out of a predicament or win a battle. It's part of the appeal. A completely predictable story is not fun, you need moments of unexpectedness tho keep things interesting.
When your readers go "Whoooooah! That was cool! I'd never have thought of that!" at a deus ex machina, you did it right. If they go "Errrr.... what? How does that even...", you did it wrong.
That's how I see it anyway :3

Hello Purvis

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Deus Ex Machina is kinda weird, because it various from story type to story type. For instance. it's one thing for Zeus to descend from the heavens and do things in a story based in mythological Greece. Especially since this is Zeus's equivalent of foreplay and you're about to be placed into face down position. However, it's another thing when this happens in your Neuromancer fanfiction; although this really could only improve Neuromancer when you look at it objectively.  Conversely, it's one thing to stick a card into a weird edifice, punch in some runes, and get cash to come out of it in a story set in 2007 New York. It's a bit different when you have Charles "The Hammer" Martel doing the same thing before riding out to meet the Moors.  Though I suppose that's not Deus Ex Machina, but it demanded to be written.

Overall, it comes down to a couple of factors. One is how unexpected it is. When Zeus comes out of nowhere and banishes the antagonist to the cupboard for sloppy seconds, it's one thing when it literally does come out of nowhere.  But it's another thing if you're story has dropped hints here and there that maybe the big guy might just swoop down and sweep up all and sundry into whatever bordello he has in mind. I suppose it's the Chekhov's Gun deal, really; it's fair game if you leave the possibility open that X event can happen. This will lead to a fun game of hide the tip off, though, as you try to make it not obvious but also not too subtle. Here's a kinda example Imma gonna steal from an old writing textbook of mine.

Quote
Sally stood atop the parking garage, staring at the clouded night sky. The wind blew chill over the the pavement and sounds of L.A. traffic echoed between the skyscrapers.  "Oh god, I hope Zeus doesn't show up," she mutters to herself. "I don't think I could take that kind of abuse..."  Footsteps echo against the pavement; Sally gasps in surprise and whirls around! And there he was, dressed in a muted orange suit this time, beard immaculately trimmed as always. He gives a small, sad kind of smile as he approaches.

"You know," he says, "you shouldn't have said that. It's like saying Beetlejuice. So tell me, have you been swimming late-" the rest of his words were lost to a loud scream, as Sally grabs the man by the collar, lifts him over hear head, and tosses him over the edge.

Now some of you might be thinking, "What the fuck? How'd she do that?"  And on it's face, you'd be right to think it. But, let's say Sally was a professional body builder and also a fifth dan in judo? Now it suddenly seems plausible. It all comes down to how you set up your stuff. Though technically, this isn't Deus Ex Machina, but it's largely the same thing.

The other question is: How much does it screw up the story? Does it resolve everything? Does it create more problems then it starts? Why is it even there to begin with?  And for that, it's hard to come up with quick pithy examples.

Iced Fairy

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I think most writers would agree Deus Ex Machina's best used at the beginning or middle of a tale, where it can be used to bring an unexpected element into the story in a very dramatic fashion.  However while putting it in at the end is more tricky, it's still a useful tool to keep around.

I'm not sure if a foreshadowed event counts, but if so a good amount of foreshadow can turn Deus Ex into a huge payoff.  For example Issola when the main character gets, via very convoluted means, the item he needs to survive the fight he's in (Godslayer) it doesn't seem terrible, because the author has been foreshadowing this event for at least eight books.  The moment he puts it all together you go "Oh...."  It turns into a huge payoff for the reader.

If your story is emphasizing how powerless the main character is, or how randomly kind and cruel the universe can be, then having an ending completely unrelated to the main characters actions is perfectly fitting.  It's the perfect capstone.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail similarly has a great Deus Ex.  When your comedy is about semi random slapstick jokes you can get away with it.  Everything can be forgiven if it's funny.

And lastly Deus Ex can work if it turns out to be not that contrived after all.  No one expects the police to kick in the door during your hero's final confrontation with the time traveling Sorcerer, but you know, maybe the neighbors called 911 when you started shooting his zombie minions.  Or to use a real example, in one of the Birds of Prey books, Black Canary got herself in a very tough situation that she couldn't get out of.  So Oracle called in Superman who took all of three panels to KO the guy.  Because they can do that, even though the genre conventions lead the reader to forget that.

So yeah, an important tool, but one that needs to be used deliberately.

Alfred F. Jones

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Alfred F. Jones

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  • y de la lucha que hizo por Madrid
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  • Nickname: Sakura Rurouni
I feel like a double post tonight!

All right, so, I found this a few nights ago. http://eos.kokugakuin.ac.jp/modules/xwords/

It's an encyclopaedia of Shinto. It is super useful. (Almost too useful, as Iced put it to me.) I will post it here that it may be a good online resource for fic research.

Apart from obvious answers like TouhouWiki and Wikipedia, what other online resources do you folks use to do your research?

Iced Fairy

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Apart from obvious answers like TouhouWiki and Wikipedia, what other online resources do you folks use to do your research?
Hm...  I can't really think of online sites.  I mean beyond standard google abuse that is.

I will state that I draw a lot from nature and non ZUN demonology for my characterizations.  For magicians I use a lot of MAGE, for the demons I abuse western demonology.  Crow and wolf tengu get societal quirks from their brethren, though I always try to make sure the human side also stays prominent.  Giving yourself an area to search really helps in those matters.

As an aside I find myself using Lone Wolf and Cub again for pseudo-historical reference.  The little bits about face and fealty can be useful when working with the older more traditional characters.  Though as youkai most of them break those taboos.

Aya Squawkermaru

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I feel like a double post tonight!

All right, so, I found this a few nights ago. http://eos.kokugakuin.ac.jp/modules/xwords/

It's an encyclopaedia of Shinto. It is super useful. (Almost too useful, as Iced put it to me.) I will post it here that it may be a good online resource for fic research.

Apart from obvious answers like TouhouWiki and Wikipedia, what other online resources do you folks use to do your research?

:3 This pleases me. Mythology is one of my favorite things ever, and difficulty in finding information about Shinto Mythology has always annoyed me. Thank you~

Anyway, if I recall correctly, when I was writing the story about Elly (oh man, because that would totally ever have gotten finished :P) I mostly just drew on the wiki, though Terry Pratchett's concept of a Death character probably influenced it in some way, too.

Alfred F. Jones

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I found a thing: http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/forums/helpful-resources-sites/threads/27468

It's an interesting challenge indeed, but a tough one. I don't quite agree with everything he says, but I like the idea of it and I'll see if I can't give it a shot.

Tengukami

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He's right, though, as maddening as that challenge could be. It's the difference between telling and showing, one of the keys to good writing.

Fan Fiction
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"Human history and growth are both linked closely to strife. Without conflict, humanity would have no impetus for growth. When humans are satisfied with their present condition, they may as well give up on life."

Iced Fairy

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  • *
  • I will set you on fire k'?
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Hm...  I hate his examples, but it's an interesting tweak.  Something for when I'm not on a deadline or trying to write in a foreign style.

But this....
Quote
For example: Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take…”
A better break-down might be: “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57. You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus. No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap. The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late. Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”
This rubs me the wrong way.  It's like the Powerthirst announcer screaming about how wordy and dramatic and AWESOME your writing will become.  He should have stuck to simple examples, not over dramatized to make his point.  It feeds into so many other bad habits of fanfiction writers.

Tengukami

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Really? Because that read like exactly the sort of thing that goes through my head when I'm super late, waiting for the bus, and the bus itself is late.

Fan Fiction
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"Human history and growth are both linked closely to strife. Without conflict, humanity would have no impetus for growth. When humans are satisfied with their present condition, they may as well give up on life."

nintendonut888

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Ooh, that's good advice. Already I'm skimming through parts of my writing I felt lacking and rewriting with this in mind. The examples given were rather stuffy and overdone, but the idea itself is sound.
nintendonut888: Hey Baity. I beat the high score for Sanae B hard on the score.dat you sent me. X3
Baity: For a moment, I thought you broke 1.1billion. Upon looking at my score.dat, I can assume that you destroyed the score that is my failed (first!) 1cc attempt on my first day of playing. Congratulations.

[19:42] <Sapz> I think that's the only time I've ever seen a suicide bullet shoot its own suicide bullet

Iced Fairy

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Well first the description has it that the bus isn't late yet.

Second the original sentence has him worrying about how long the trip would take.  The new version has the guy wildly speculating about why the bus isn't there early.  This is a massive change in intent and tone to my mind.

Third, Iceland must not have traffic, because that is in no way shape or form what I'd be thinking if the bus around here wasn't early. :P

But my biggest problem comes from the fact that his advice has no direction.  This is the biggest problem with people, professional and otherwise that try to teach English and writing.  They give you a style and then never clue you in on when to apply it.  The guy took a simple sentence and made it UNCOMFORTABLY DRAMATIC.  Which is great if you wanted to make the thing big and dramatic, but a huge waste if it's supposed to be something small and subtle.  Why not show how it's supposed to be used in simple sentences?  Why not explain where the technique is best used?

The reason I despise most writing advice is they hand you a single tool, treat it like a silver bullet, then walk away.  It's a real pain because then you have to guess where and when to use it.  Which means more often then not it gets tossed into the "I'll handle it later" pool.

capt. h

  • Only sane townie
Hm... I actually never thought about when a style is appropriate and when it isn't. That would be useful to know.

Alfred F. Jones

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Aaah, thank you, Iced. I was wondering how exactly to put it when I said "I don't quite agree with everything it says", and you hit the nail on the head.

This rubs me the wrong way.  It's like the Powerthirst announcer screaming about how wordy and dramatic and AWESOME your writing will become.  He should have stuck to simple examples, not over dramatized to make his point.  It feeds into so many other bad habits of fanfiction writers.
Yes, exactly; I can see this being useful when I want to drag out a scene, but not much else. That said, I still think that writers who rely too much on thought verbs will be the ones who benefit from this challenge most.

Tengukami

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Why not show how it's supposed to be used in simple sentences?  Why not explain where the technique is best used?

Because it's Chuck Palahniuk. Have you read him? It's sorta his thing to have this fast-paced, clangy style. This is the guy who wrote Fight Club, after all.

I'm also not seeing where he said this was some magic bullet; like the one and only answer to making writing better. It's a tool, plain and simple. And in this case - showing instead of telling - he's absolutely right. His examples are a bit overwrought, but generally speaking yes, a writer should be painting a picture of what's going on rather than simply telling the reader what's going on inside a character. Compare "Jack furrowed his brow, cleared his throat and began to tap his left finger on the counter, casting a glance out the window from time to time while his coffee remained untouched." to "Jack sat nervously in the diner booth." Showing instead of telling is a pretty basic tool, and Palahniuk's challenge to avoid "thinking" verbs is another take on that.

Fan Fiction
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"Human history and growth are both linked closely to strife. Without conflict, humanity would have no impetus for growth. When humans are satisfied with their present condition, they may as well give up on life."

Achariyth

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I get what he's saying; thought bubbles are something to be avoided.  But did he have to make his prose so purple? And, worse as a writer, skimmable.  Those are writing sins in themselves.

Basically, what I saw the advice boil down to is the same advice that I find myself repeating ad nauseum to other writers, and kicking myself when I break it:

1)  Show, don't tell.

2) Avoid the passive voice

Only I expect more people to listen to him.  Bestselling author and all...

Iced Fairy

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Now that I'm not in as much of a gnaw at problems point, I will say I intend to try the challenge using my own style.  At least as soon as I'm not copying someone else's style.  It's good general advice.  I just hate the way he presented it.   :V

Forte Blackadder

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Hi, I just want to ask... How do you motivate yourself? How do you overcome the stress of real work or stuffs that hit you so badly you lose everything?
I had an idea on my current fanfic, Sakuya's adventure, where I mix Diablo 3 with Touhou. I've got the outline, I got the head, the body, and the end of the fic very clearly. But when I put my pen down, words didn't flow. I was like, ok, I got this, it's good and clear. I know exactly what I'll write. Then I can't. I just can't touch that feeling that allowed me to write endlessly like before.

It's really frustrating to me. I even tried to write the next chapter in other character's perspective, you know, to bring up something fresh. But still, I had to stop after 6 sentences. I saw that path, I saw the end of the tunnel, but I couldn't walk. I couldn't finish, I couldn't even start! I'd wish someone to delete that topic, but why? I have it here, from act I to act IV and even 5 extra chapters for each class. But I can't place them together... damn it.
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Iced Fairy

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Since the WWC is on style and I was one of the participants in the summer contest it was based on, I figured I'd toss a few words down about copying others styles.

First, even if you aren't doing the WWC try it once or twice.  Pick an established (not fanfiction) writer and try to write like them.  It's a very useful exercise for improving your skills.  Write a short story.  Or just a paragraph or three.

Now of course the question is: how to do this?  My suggestion: don't get caught up in things like word choice and sentence length.  Those will just get you out of writing mode.  You want to focus on the flow and structure of the work.  What emotions does the author try to convey?  How does the work feel?  Take the following two paragraphs.

Quote
August 5th, 1983, London.  14:00 local time.  The ship arrived at port without incident despite the rain.

Quote
The slowly dripping summer rain had rendered the whole city of London a soggy wretched mess when the ship slowly came to rest at the docks.  The afternoon shift paid it little heed.  The damn great boat wasn't their problem, and anything that wasn't their problem wasn't worth leaving the nice warehouse they'd appropriated as a shield from the elements.

When you read those sentences they sounded different in your head right?  The voice you assigned the work was unique because of how they were written.  When you write your first draft try to think in that voice.  That is the best way to handle style when writing in my mind.  You can go over word choice and paragraph length when you edit your work.

Teewee

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Morals in stories not aimed at little kids
« Reply #52 on: September 06, 2012, 07:38:17 pm »
Since this is the Writing Forum, I figured thats where this topic should go, what with this mainly concerning an aspect of plots. I hope I did something right, here ^^; Anyway,

I’ve been reading/playing a lot of stories made for those over 10 years of age, and noticed that they have messages or morals of some kind. I find them pretty interesting, though I don’t really take them to heart. For example, theres that whole “people are often unpleasable” message in (part of) Persona 3. It’s a message I took to heart not because of what any fiction told me, but from my own experiences with people in real life beforehand. It was a funny moment, thinking on it… a video game preaching something I already learned in real life. But, thats a biiit besides the point.

The point is…what’s the point? Of there being messages and such in fiction like this, I mean. I used to be told time and time again that you shouldn’t take messages or morals from fiction to heart or even seriously, which I assumed was common knowledge. Maybe I just reached the wrong conclusion, but…

What do you guys think of all this?

<Ruro> This is the kind of topic that'd fit right in the writing discussion thread, so merg'd
Edit: oh, ok Ruro. Thanks!
« Last Edit: September 06, 2012, 09:22:45 pm by TERMspeon »

Alfred F. Jones

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The point is…what’s the point? Of there being messages and such in fiction like this, I mean. I used to be told time and time again that you shouldn’t take messages or morals from fiction to heart or even seriously, which I assumed was common knowledge. Maybe I just reached the wrong conclusion, but…
Whaaaaa? How did you come to that conclusion? You shouldn't take morals from fiction at face value, sure-- better advice would be to digest the story, evaluate the morals it teaches alongside your own, and take what's useful. But in a LOT of classic tales, like myth or folklore (especially folk tales), passing along a message or a moral is the whole point. Whether it's done well or in too heavy-handed a manner is up for debate, but entire genres of fiction have made a point of making sure there's a moral message to be picked up on. And even in stories where a moral agenda of any kind is less explicit, you can still pick up on messages they've embedded into the story (even unintentional ones).

Teewee

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I figured it was common knowledge since what I consider to be "normal" people told me that, but judging by your reaction it seems thats not the case, perhaps.   ??? Also, what do you mean by "digesting" the story? And about everything else you said...I have a hard time believing it. Maybe it's my xenophobic upbringing. :/

Conqueror

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Fiction presented without a theme/message is usually there just for the plain entertainment value. That said, many storytellers have something they want to say that they try to pass on in their works (take anything you've read in literature class for instance), however insignificant the point. For some people the message is the main point of the yarn; for others it's part of their world view and it naturally implants itself into the story. In any case it's usually the difference between a good page-turner that you'll forget in a year or so and a story that will provide you with something to think about long after you've finished the book, and perhaps one that you'll remember for much longer because of the impact it had on your thinking.

Not that you have to listen to whatever stories have to say (always good to take anything in with a grain of salt, plus fiction is fiction etc), but there's some interesting/thought-provoking stuff out there, and it would be a shame to blanketly dismiss it all.
« Last Edit: September 07, 2012, 11:00:36 pm by Conqueror »


On tue un homme, on est un assassin. On tue des millions d'hommes, on est un conquérant. On les tue tous, on est un dieu.
Every saint has a past and every sinner a future.

Tengukami

  • Breaking news. Any season.
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Fiction, or any art, which tries to convey a message does so because the artist wants to illustrate a message. Instead of simply saying "going from teenager to adult is a bittersweet and often depressing experience", JD Salinger wrote Catcher In The Rye, for example. The validity of the message is a matter of personal choice; how well the artist illustrates that message is a separate matter altogether.

Fan Fiction
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"Human history and growth are both linked closely to strife. Without conflict, humanity would have no impetus for growth. When humans are satisfied with their present condition, they may as well give up on life."

Iced Fairy

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Re: Morals in stories not aimed at little kids
« Reply #57 on: September 08, 2012, 04:18:10 am »
I’ve been reading/playing a lot of stories made for those over 10 years of age, and noticed that they have messages or morals of some kind. I find them pretty interesting, though I don’t really take them to heart. For example, theres that whole “people are often unpleasable” message in (part of) Persona 3. It’s a message I took to heart not because of what any fiction told me, but from my own experiences with people in real life beforehand.
You think you aren't taking them to heart, but chances are that you actually are.  Possibly not the obvious messages, but the little social clues that make up the heart of a message.  After all you are already altered subconsciously every day by minor social interactions around you.  Why would fiction be any different?

As for not taking messages or morals from fiction to heart?  That's in fact the opposite of common knowledge I'd say.  Even those groups who reject fiction in favor of their own "true story" consider the messages and morals in fiction to be a danger to their personal views.  Because even a very close minded person can occasionally be touched by a spark of inspiration. 

Teewee

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Thanks, for the replies, guys! I think I see what each of you mean, and I think they're valid opinions. I'd add more, but I don't know how to express it in words ^^;

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I'm trying to remember the name of a story on here that catalogued Parsee's descent from normal human to incredibly bitter youkai and I cannot remember the name of it for my life.

Help a brother out here?
 

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