1. TheoremAlpha
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    TheoremAlpha Member

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    How Do You Create Your Main Characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by TheoremAlpha, Jan 21, 2016.

    In my own personal experience, I tend to just simply base characters off of real life people that I know. Because I am familiar with their speech patterns, behavior, and writing a scene is much more natural when I actually know the person whose speaking.

    I also often tend to model my main character off of idealized versions of myself, because I'm narcissistic like that.

    How do you typically create your characters?
    Looking for more perspective as I'm trying to make an MC VERY different from what I know.
     
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  2. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I have a lot of characters that I like to say are basically me in a hat (though now I'm thinking about it that doesn't work because I wear tons of hats). Writing's always been sort of a therapeutic thing for me so plenty of my MCs end up sort of built around something that I'm dealing with at the time.

    But a lot of them also start as concepts. I'm probably the least parentally-inclined person on the planet so at one point I decided to challenge myself and figure out how to write a mom as a main. Being a parent isn't the point of her character, but it is integral and does set her apart from the rest of the cast. One character started out as the concept "a doctor who's terminally ill". One's "a perpetually stoned hitman". I also like working off archetypes, like designing a character to be a messiah figure, but I really like messing with archetypes, too - the messiah's a liar and she teaches her followers too well and they ultimately turn against her for not living up to her own ideals.

    I know 'what if' is pretty cliche but I really do develop a lot of main character by going "what if there was a person who was like this, but also like this / but also in this situation" and they grow from there.

    It's also fun to develop characters in batches by thinking of dynamics and sort of filling in the characters as individuals as you go. My favorite is a trio in a setting with superpowered mutants, who I wanted to be really formidable together but mostly useless on their own. So I came up with complimentary abilities and worked back: how did having these abilities affect how they grew up and navigated the world? Two of them were siblings, so what was the dynamic like before they found the third, and what was it like for her to be alone? And where can they go from the original dynamic, both together and as individuals? I just wanted a group who was reliant on each other to survive in an interesting way and it actually ended up producing one of my favorite characters full stop.
     
  3. TheoremAlpha
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    TheoremAlpha Member

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    I might have to try that. Typically I tend to stick to creating characters by which I have some relation. It's always been very hard for me to think in fantastical ways, and just create absolute fiction by which I am out of my depth.
    Was never quite able to just create out of the box like that, something I admire and wish I could do XD.

    Always has to be grounded in realism for me to meaningfully create it.
    Something I'm trying to work on XD.

    Thanks for the input mate :D
     
  4. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    I like to work in patterns and variance. In one story, I created seven characters who each had a slightly different concept of gender, and the rest came from figuring out what sort of person would think that way. In another, I made three characters who were devoted to ideologies such that one other character's ideology seemed repugnant to them, even as they drew each other in on personal grounds and positively influenced each other (technology-loving anarchist loves/hates benevolent authoritarian loves/hates primitivist social Darwinist loves/hates technology-loving anarchist.)

    From there, I broadly outline overall plot beats and some interesting scenes--how would these characters interact and progress the plot?--and if it becomes apparent that they don't combine well or couldn't have a functional plot, I make changes and retry. I'm not above making changes even late in development if I've really hit a wall.
     
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  5. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    For me it is instinct. I picture a vague impression, usually in response to a situation and then build backwards off of that. Like I may start with this big moment of and then work backwards building to that moment. Because to me, a story is usually about one moment. One moment so freaking amazing you can watch it on a loop. And one reason that moment is so awesome is because of how well you built to it. So starting with that moment and then the story just explaining why it is a big moment and how you got their is a fine approach in my opinion.
     
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  6. Jeff Countryman
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    Jeff Countryman Living the dream Supporter

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    This is the crux of your problem - you are too close to be objective enough to create a dynamic character and thus, they will always seem "cardboard". The issue is generally because you 'see/hear/know' a person a certain way and ONLY in that way; and never consider the OPPOSITE which sets up the conflict in the character. Think of each characteristic and its exact opposite (for example, Sally's speech is refined in your mind. The opposite would be gruff. Would Sally still be your friend if her speech was gruff? Did Sally work to change her speech from gruff to refined for some reason what you're not aware of? Does Sally struggle internally between the two - she wants to sound gruff to attract someone you don't know, or wants to refine her speech further because she has royal connections?).

    Personally, I'm basing a character off a random picture of a sexy male doctor I found on the internet years ago. As weird things happen in my life, the guy and I eventually met and have become friends. It was only in the past few months I told him about the picture and the character. He was flattered and asked to read what I had written. I handed it over with a knowing grin. LOL. He couldn't picture himself at all as the character; looks, voice, mannerisms, or lifestyle. He is, and always will be narcissistic and loves having his pic taken and splashed all over the internet, but he did recognize the need to create a 'character' rather than him. With a less-flattered voice, he asked me if I might consider writing his biography :)
     
  7. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Write your character as a person is what I do. Start with an interesting concept and then develop the rest. Think about what each aspect means and how the aspects interact. Aspects include common emotions, strengths, weakness, beliefs, desires, relationship, habits, mannerism, taste, background and future. I recommend having many aspects, especially if they are a main character, who will be featured a lot so need a lot to them. Then, once you're getting somewhere, think about who the person is as a whole. What is this developing being? Classify them in different ways and from different perspectives. By the time you're really done, and you've got a plot developing for this character, you should find yourself proud of your character, again, especially if they're a main character. I recommend playing with the character. Expose their diversity of character. Perhaps put them in situations they aren't used to and see how they change a little, that usually happens sooner or later.
     
  8. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    It's totally ok to write characters as 'Me but blank'. Yeah, you need to make it a bit more complex than that, give each one some real life outside that but whichever way you look at it; every character will be a facet of yourself somehow. Maybe not obviously. But you only have your personal thoughts and feelings to write from and even when you are really making an effort to put yourself in your characters head it's still you being put there. There's things that you'd never think of because, well, that's just not you. All my characters are weird, damaged, lonely people with complex long term problems because that's what I know. And yeah, they (hopefully) all feel like real individuals with unique feelings and attitudes and outlooks but, well, that's just a better looking hat.

    When I'm making characters I don't think or plan or anything. I have some very big idea of what the character is going to be doing (like run a cult or pretend they have cancer) and from there I just write and figure out why exactly they are going to do that as I go. That was never really a choice, that was just how felt right when I started writing. But with a couple of completed books now (beta readers always wanted!) I think I'm happy thinking about why that helps.

    I think having pre-planned arcs and character points just frustrates writing the truth of the character. It means that you'll always be forcing the character to do things whether that fits to them or not, changing the character to fit the plan not the plan to fit the character. I think good characters come from giving them the freedom to breathe and develop as themselves. No matter how hard we think about a character we'll never really know a character until we've spent a lot of time looking through their eyes, writing in their voice and seeing them reacting to situations in an off-the-cuff manner. We won't know what fits for them until we've really sat and gotten to know them, so trying to bend them around pre-determined events, especially events that they are supposed to be naturally driving, just leads to weak characters.

    Just have faith in your writing and let characters grow. You don't need to get everything right first time. If your character doesn't work for you or is going in the wrong direction, try again. But I think you'll find that just letting your characters do what feels right for them (and vaguely shepherding them in the direction of the plot) will help you create characters that feel like real people in charge of themselves not puppets shanghaied by the plot.
     
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  9. nastyjman
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    nastyjman Contributing Member

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    I "sculpt" my characters. On the first draft, they're based on intuition and "feeling." Sometimes I base them on real people I know, sometimes I just wing it. By the second draft, I'll have an idea of who they really want to be and who they really are, so I define them better, adding layers such as deepest fears, desires, motivations, ticks, etc. By the third and so forth draft, I'll have a lock down on who they are and fine-tune their behaviors in the story. I make sure that they are consistent with their character.
     
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  10. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally I don't tend to base MCs on myself or friends (I get creeped out when I try writing characters based on my friends because then my negative opinions about some of their traits leak into the text and I'd hate for them to read that).

    For character creation I usually start with one or two traits I want - usually Ethinicity/Religion/Birthplace, Occupation, and or temperament. If any of those things conflict - say the character is a genteel Southern Belle and I make her a homicide detective - I can usually extrapolate more emotional detail from that clash.

    Sometimes I do base characters on other fictional characters, or partially based on the actor I'd see playing them. One role in my book is played in my mind by Morgan Freeman - and I have others informed by Anna Kendrick, Judy Greer, Mindy Kaling, and Ellen Page. I have two more characters based on real cable news personalities since my plot is inside the cable news industry.

    Sometimes I also play with character archetypes as base. My MC Nina - which I guess is what this thread about - is actually based on two TV characters from VERY different shows who share an archetype - Ezri Dax from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Lexie Grey from Grey's Anatomy. Both of those are "plucky little sister" archetypes - young characters who have some relationship to a female lead. They usually aren't as conventionally "attractive" as their older sister (always short and dark-haired) but make up for it with extra spunk, and generally are defined by coming into the storyline unprepared for what is about to hit them (they always get on the job training). This character always appears later in the series, always becomes my favorite character, and usually gets short shrift from the writers because either they are on the outskirts of a pre-established cast (Lexie Grey) or join the series close to cancellation (Ezri Dax). So, I purposefully set out to write a story where that character was the lead instead of the afterthought to an older sister. So, I now have a lead who is a 5'2", dark haired, 26 year-old reporter whose backstory is defined partially by a complicated relationship with an older sister. She has a lot of spunk but has only worked at her hometown station, then gets rocketed into a national news job for which she is totally unprepared. She has her own story that's very different from either of her base characters - but I can usually fall back on Ezri and Lexie for inputs on how she acts...and I made her a Trekkie and layered in a bunch of Deep Space Nine/Ezri Dax references for fun (Her mother's maiden name is Nicole Diane Bower, which shortens to Nicole D. Bower, which is a reference to Nicole DeBoer, the actress who played Ezri on DS9)
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2016
  11. jannert
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    You can have a lot of fun with taking a person you know and creating the exact opposite as a character. Or use the same character, but change the gender.

    I think a lot of story writing occurs BEFORE the actual writing starts. Whenever you get some down time, just allow yourself to daydream a story. Take characters you know, change their names ...change their locations or time periods. Throw unlikely characters together and see how they interact. You don't have to come up with a watertight plot at this stage ...just a general idea of what will start your story off. A stranger turns up at an isolated farmhouse begging for help. This will be a lot different if this person turns up in the middle of the 18th century than it would if they turn up today, in the era of telephones, the internet, etc. Who lives in the farmhouse? And just let your imagination go.
     
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  12. karldots92
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    karldots92 Active Member

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    I would agree with this approach. I start with a general idea of a character and let the character develop with the story. One of my main characters is a bounty hunter who used to be an assassin - that's the basic premise and the details get filled in as the story goes in how the interactions with other characters develop. This builds the backstory and allows the character to develop naturally without having to stick to a predetermined plan. I feel it gives the character more realism and makes it easier for the reader to relate to them - it's hard to come up with a full set of traits prior to starting the story particularly if you have a number of characters. You end up with characters that are very similar and seem somewhat forced. If you look at the people around you and try to list out their character traits it's hard to separate them and make them distinct even though you know they are all very different.
     
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  13. Electralight
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    Electralight Member

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    I usually do what you do, and base my characters after people I know. However, I don't know if this is the best thing to do. I've been trying more and more lately to branch out and base characters off different things, like events, feelings, or ideas. I do find that when I don't base a character off someone I know, I can really get to know them and make them into the kind of person I want them to be.
     
  14. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    First off I don't create 'ideal' characters, that fit into molds. They are more like conceptual people based on multiple attributes of good and bad. They can have anything work out for them, or go horribly awry at any given point in time. Try to give them realistic qualities, though alien creatures are going to be a tad more physically/intellectually diverse than their human counterparts. Essentially none of them are without faults, which lends to their viability as feeling realistic in the fiction. Perfect creations are too good to be true. Just like to depict characters that are interesting and have complexity to them. Personality is something I try to give them, despite the fact that they are fictional beings.

    In a nutshell, I make up my MCs as I go along. Basing them off of whatever my imagination can come up with.
     
  15. Wolfmaster1234
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    Wolfmaster1234 Member

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    Well from personal experience I don't really create characters based off anything consciously. When I come up with an idea for a story I build it up in my head, usually, the main character comes soon after the idea itself. I usually have pretty good idea of what I'm going to do in my head before my fingers even touch the keyboard. I think its most important the write the character to realistically fit the part the play in the story, they need to be interesting but also need to be the kind of person that would do what they do as part of the story. If you want to create a main character that is different from what you know look at tv, film and book and use what you see to build the character that you need in your story.
     
  16. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    I think this is an extremely concise way to put it.

    When we plan things out we think about things in such shuttered ways. Thinking in the abstract means that we forget how real people work. The things that make real people stand out to someone who knows them (and the reader is going to be someone who knows your main character) are subtle and non-obvious. When we come up with this stuff without really knowing the character quite intimately we are just dressing up this abstract mannequin with cool accessories because we're only looking from the outside. So we make a mannequin with blue hair and purple eyes and a katana that certainly stands out among mannequins but says nothing about who he is as a person. Even when we go a bit deeper and decide that our character is (say) a hippie or a tea-party member; that's still just an accessory. It's talking about what they are not who they are.

    The stuff that really defines a character as a person is contextual. How do they talk to their friends? How about with people they don't like? Are they confident and bitchy? Do they lie to cover their real feelings? Do they jump up when someone asks for a volunteer or do they not really care? What does their mum call them when she calls? What do they do when they had a hard day? Do they still call their ex when they're drunk?

    None of this stuff you can know until way later. You'll always be coming up with it as you go. It's subtle and non-obvious and really needs to be felt out on a case by case basis. Relationships between people (and between the character and the audience) are built up by a thousand tiny details not by the broad strokes. It's in how they smirk at a joke only they get, how they answer back to a bitchy comment, how they carry themselves in a crowd and how they speak to people they are close with. Just saying 'she has a boyfriend who is a lawyer' can't come within miles of saying what's really going on but until you actually write that she calls him Pookie you wouldn't know that was ever going to be something important.
     
  17. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    So you're seriously saying all you're characters have the same core? I don't think you need to do that to understand them. Most humans understand basic humanity, share the same potential emotions, and have the ability to emphasize. Using that, you can connect with people who are different. Especially since you can share traits that aren't all or any of their core but still help you understand. I know my characters because I find the bits I know from myself and open my mind to the rest from there.
     
  18. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    I tend to mix myself, people I know, celebrities and random, singular existent and non-existent names and characteristics. I throw a lot of people and personality traits around and see what sticks. Most of my characters I have no idea how came to be, essentially, because I've either changed them so many times over time or I just invented them on the spot based on what made sense at the time. Sometimes patterns form, though; sometimes purposefully, sometimes not; sometimes to the detriment of the story (at which point I attempt to rectify the issue) and sometimes as little more than a useful placeholder and/or Easter egg.

    In one of my stories male members of the main character's story all have the same first names as actors in Harry Potter, while their surname and weapons of choice are inspired by Star Wars and their maps by The Lord of the Rings. In another I've destroyed most of the planet in an apocalypse and chosen the members of my family I'd most like to see join forces and fight for survival The Hunger Games-style. In a third story the situation is similar, but the MC is essentially myself and I've recruited my former crushes from my time in school and my favorite celebrities instead, and handful of Frenchmen to boot. Then there's one where the villainess is essentially half-Bond villain and half-Valley Girl and the MC is her former protégé secretly turned traitor who MacGyvers her into a corner through years of devious mafia-style plotting and scheming. And then there's the one where the MC is the flattest, most annoying character ever, always shouting incredibly unhelpful nonsequiturs and punching as many people he can get away with, but who is canceled out by his kindhearted fellow citizens, who manage to get to use his skills for good and also to turn him into a softer, more balanced, better person in general.

    I have this sort of one-man in-joke that deep down all my characters are Mary Sues. I think there's a truth to it, but if I manage to put enough layers of otherness on top, it makes for better characters rather than worse, methinks. It's important to be able to convey a certain naturality and conviction in each characters no matter if the author personally agrees with their views or behave particularly like them. I often catch myself wondering if "What is character X doing at this point? Y? Well, that's stupid; I'd do that. They should be doing Z, whatever that is. They should definately be doing Z." and then wasting a couple of minutes doing that and taking me out of the moment only to realize I actually wouldn't do that at all. I usually end up figuring out I'm too gullible/intelligent/wimpy/selfless/cocksure/infatuated to do whatever my character is doing, and that I merely recognize the plausibility of their actions based on their preexisting emotional state, knowledge, thought processes and abilities.
     
  19. WriterMMS
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    WriterMMS Member

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    i make my general plot first and my characters are birthed within it. Whichever characters are followed most are my main characters.
     
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  20. Samurai Jack
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    Samurai Jack Active Member

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    I explicitly steal characters or sets of characters from other media based on their personalities I most enjoy and stick them into the plots I have dreamed up. ... plots I've probably borrowed and warped from those same media.

    Hmm.
     
  21. Aster
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    Aster Member

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    I have a factory.

    Though recently production has been stopped.

    No idea when we'll be back up and running.
     
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  22. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't bother 'creating' a main character (or any other character, for that matter). Once I have a story idea, I just use (what can only be called) place-holder images of what the character looks like, often based on actors I'm aware of. That gives me what they look like... although, I rarely describe them.

    Up 'til now, I've pantsed my way through first drafts, grabbing images out of thin air for any characters who come along. When I realized I need a character to carry out a certain action, that leads me to character traits he/she must have. If one trait seems to not mesh with another within a character, I look for ways to make that meshing seem plausible.

    If my beta readers tell me a character seems unbelievable, I go back and find stronger reasons for him (or her) to do what he (or she) does.

    Of course, only time will tell if this approach works. (fingers crossed) :)
     
  23. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    This is the most terrifying writing style I've ever heard of. I'd have nightmares if I tried to write like that, and I'll be incredibly impressed if you can actually pull it off.
     
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  24. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry I scared you. :)

    If it works, I'll let you (and everyone else on here) know.
     
  25. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    I let the characters create themselves. If I try to force them into X or Y it just comes off bad. I let them be who they are and see where they story goes from there. I've heard about outlining, story arc's etc, but never used them. Sometimes I wonder if that's because I cut my teeth in academia where we never knew exactly what the write up was going to look like until the experiment was completed and the data analyzed. That meant we were writing in the dark most of the time, so not knowing who things will turn out is something I'm used to.
     
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