1. Andi. Just Andi.

    Andi. Just Andi. Active Member

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    How do you write when you don't know what to write?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Andi. Just Andi., Oct 14, 2020.

    This has been an issue for me throughout the whole process of writing my story. The main issue is that, despite being able to think about character development and worldbuilding, I’m having a very hard time coming up with the actions in the story in order to advance the plot.

    I’ve tried brainstorming, but that’s only taken me so far. I’ve tried looking back at the themes I want to include such as mythology and religion, but that hasn’t made much of a difference. Because of this issue, I’ve often thought of giving up on writing this story entirely. But, as you can tell by me even writing this, I don’t want to. So, please give me whatever advice you can. If you need any specific information, feel free to ask.

    And, if anyone can, I would also like to get some advice on a related issue. There’s loose ends I still need to figure out in my plot, but I’m not sure if I should focus on that now or as I continue writing. What would you recommend?
     
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  2. IasminDragon

    IasminDragon Member

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    If you have the character development and world in mind, but are struggling to put the story into words, are you equipped to start writing - by that I mean, have you given your brain the tools to formulate those actions. What you really should be doing is reading stories and books in the genre and learning from their techniques. How they advance the plot and drip all the details through. Then you can apply your own themes, character and world to the same methodology.
     
  3. Andi. Just Andi.

    Andi. Just Andi. Active Member

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    I've actively been trying to study the techniques used by the authors of the books I read. Since I usually read adventure and fantasy books, I try to pay a lot of attention to how they carry out their plot. For example, there's this series called The Dwarves by Markus Heitz, and the plot of the story is similar to what I'm trying to do for my own story. It's been awhile since I've read the first book, but it's a story where the main protagonist is taken away from any and all things familiar and has to go on this long journey throughout the land with new companions in order to save the world. It follows the formula of the hero's journey by starting with the main protagonist living their everyday life before the big event occurs, causing the main protagonist to be taken from said everyday life to begin his adventure. The rest of the story basically depicts the protagonist with his new companions having to obtain the MacGuffin of the plot and defeat the main antagonist.
    As far as I have come up with, my story follows a similar pattern.

    However, the other books that I'm currently reading don't follow that sort of format. One of them, Sworn in Steel by Douglas Hulick, is in one setting where the protagonist has to use his wits to get out of a seemingly impossible situation. The other, The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice, is more character-driven.

    From here, what would you recommend I do?
     
  4. JuliaBrune

    JuliaBrune Member

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    I like to write the story starting from the end for this exact reason. For my fall project the last ~5 pages are written and won't go through any major change, as well as the very beginning.

    It's not just a "how did we get here" thing, to keep the plot focused (though it is to some extent, not so much in this project that started from a clear outline). By writing the ending I know not only the challenge my MC has overcome I also know the way I express this triumph. The way I wrote that scene lead me to bring more importance its setting through the book so that it would contrast more - so I changed some plot points to have her go through there 3 times rather than twice. Turns out it called for more changes and removing some characters I'd have liked to have and splitting another big character in two...

    Basically I make it a back and forth between the rough outline and character development. It started from an attempt at the snowflake method that (d)evolved since I can't think out plots in order (rip)

    For the extra question :
    I would avoid writing without your plot somewhat clear in your head. Throwing away entire scenes - or chapters - is one of the most demoralizing things there is and can kill a project, at least it does this for me. And I find retrofitting details to accommodate new plot points unendingly boring.
     
  5. Andi. Just Andi.

    Andi. Just Andi. Active Member

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    I've been hearing about people who write their stories backwards, but I've never really tried it. The reason for that might be like you said, I don't entirely have a clear view of what exactly my plot is. I do know where I'm starting and where I'm ending, but I'm still organizing the details. It's either that or I'm constantly second-guessing myself. It's also probably because of me being reluctant to add more changes to my story since that only leads me to further second-guessing. However, if working backwards did really work for you, I think I'll have to try it out.

    As for your answer to my other question, you're very much right. Having to throw away whole chapters has been one of the things that's caused me to question whether or not I want to keep writing this story. Therefore, by having a clear idea of my plot, that should hopefully help to not further crush my self-confidence. Thank you for your input.
     
  6. Professor What

    Professor What New Member

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    When working on scenes where a character's actions/reactions/thoughts are a major driving force and I've worked with that character enough to get to "know" them, I've literally carried on conversations with them to figure out where to go. I've found that once I understand the character well enough, I can start asking them questions and figure out what they would do/think. I think it's more or less a matter of sounding it out, but I've found that it's very effective for me. It's worked for me in both furthering a single scene and deciding on the next step of the story.
     
  7. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    That's me! That's me!

    Characters - no problem. World/setting - no problem. Plot - plur! I could never come up with a plot and one I actually liked. I read books, good books and the genre made no difference, what mattered was the authors I studied. And I realized the plot was around the main character (duh I know) but the character had to roughly fit the plot.

    A gladiator falling in love - that would world. Ex gladiator scent to war - that could work. Gladiator hunts down serial killer not so much. Well, that narrowed it down a bit! Gladiator gets transported through time.

    Then I noticed what the core of the plot was. The character trying to achieve something. Their GOAL. Plot needs conflict, conflict happens through a character's goal, goal comes from a want.

    The retired thief takes the job of robbing the rich lord (goal) because he wants enough money to leave the city of cut throats and criminals he used to be. He wants the money because he wants to start a new life. He's realized doing an honorable job in this city doesn't get you out. There's a plot forming. So you have a goal (rob the lord and get paid) want (money) motivation (desire for a fresh start). You could dive into what made him want this fresh start? Was it a long process or one big event that made him want to give up his life style? Was he a duo with this brother and the rich Lord's soldiers executed or killed his brother? Look for places of conflict between character, plot and setting. Maybe he had no choice but to change his life because he's now lame. Just keep building off the conflict. You don't have to use every single thing you think of.

    As for loose ends, those are easier to tie up once I'm writing and the story is complete. I often don't have an ending for my ideas but the perfect one presents itself later on.

    Hope this helped
     
  8. Selbbin

    Selbbin The Moderating Cat Staff Contributor Contest Winner 2023

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    Personally I find world building before having a story like decorating a house before you've built it.

    The world building is there to serve the story so if you don't have one, then it seems to me you just like world building. That's fine in itself, and fun, but cramming a story in to fit isn't the best approach.

    Create the story and then build the world to service it.
     
  9. Whitecrow

    Whitecrow Active Member

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    For this reason, I write at the beginning and end of the story.
    then writing history is much easier when you know how it should end.
    Try to write the end of the story separately. After that, everything should be much easier.
    Then you just need to be led to the desired ending of the story.
     
  10. IasminDragon

    IasminDragon Member

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    Well there's no one answer and no right or wrong way. I've picked up that Dwarves series and didn't find it at all compelling - but that isn't that it's poorly written, and the same is true of a lot of books. From here it's just trial and error, applying what you learn from reading (NB, check out a book called 'How to Read a Book' by Mortimer Adler) and seeing what fits best in your own work. At the end of the day, you have to be willing to write poorly then go back and refine your work. Very few people throw out a finished product on the first try.
     
  11. SolZephyr

    SolZephyr Member Supporter

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    For this other issue, I'd personally weigh whether or not said loose-ends would be story breaking. Usually they aren't, so I'd suggest working out the main story beats first and then figuring out where to insert the details needed to tie up the loose ends after you've got a solid plan going. If it is something critical (like how the MC might get the McGuffin to kickstart the climax, or something), then you might want to figure that out along with the rest.
     
  12. Andi. Just Andi.

    Andi. Just Andi. Active Member

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    Sorry it's taken so long for me to respond, college is currently crushing my soul.

    @Professor What Can you explain what you mean by conversations a bit more? Do you mean something like getting into character then writing dialogue for them to figure out more things about them?

    @cosmic lights I've never really thought of a motivation and a goal being seperate. But, based on what you're saying, the main difference between them is that a goal is something you're trying to achieve while your motivation is the reason you want to reach said goal.
    Let's see my main protagonists goal is to destroy a tree (I can explain the context behind that if you want), his want is to control his power to be able to destroy the tree, and his motivation is to protect his family and other loved-ones. With this in mind, one main conflict is actually getting to the tree and not dying along the way. Another could be people wanting to use his power for themselves and those people trying to stop him.

    @Selbbin You definitely have a point. The worldbuilding has been one of those loose-ends I mentioned since it has often gotten in the way of ideas I've had for my story. Maybe I should forget the worldbuilding for now until I've gotten my story and plot together.

    @Whitecrow I do have an idea for my beginning and ending. Instead of constantly second-guessing it, I think I'll stick with it and write something out. Thank you for the advice.

    @IasminDragon Alright. For now, I can continue using the Hero's Journey as a format for the story beats along with influences from other similar stories. I'll have to check-out "How Read a Book" though. Thank you for the recommendation.
    Though, just out of curiosity, what made you stop reading? And, do you have any other recommendations for fantasy-adventure books?

    @SolZephyr The loose-ends can be left for later, if they're still a problem once I've sorted out my plot and ending.

    Overall, thank you for all of your advice.
     
  13. Malum

    Malum Offline

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    I always waited until a point of simmering over in frustration and things ended up coming together. Usually came to the conclusion that reluctant and forced ideas aren't going to make the cut and waited for my emotions to take control.

    On a less pessimistic note, think what other messages you wish to express to the audience between the beginning and end and make it advance the storyline/characterisation in some way. If you want to express a belief, or even therapeutically dramatize events that you're truly passionate about, you'll find a way to make it cohesive.

    That's just me. I like to feel like I’m attacking the document and everything that's ever bothered me. That or repenting... Guess I like to remain grounded and influenced by experiences I’ve witnessed or gone through, then recount them (if necessary) in an exaggerated form, both in the narration of action and the thought processes/emotional responses of characters. Being able to tell tales with some degree of empathy and tangible understanding makes for good writing.

    Write what you know and all that...
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2020
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  14. IasminDragon

    IasminDragon Member

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    It's a difficult question to answer because there are lots of reasons why I don't feel compelled to carry on with a fantasy book, or any book for that matter. Primarily, fantasy has to work a lot harder for me because the books are just so freaking long sometimes!

    I need to feel REALLY invested in a book if there are five in the series, and I remember picking up the first in the Dwarves series when I was in Waterstones at the age of 19. That was back when I probably didn't have as critical an eye for fantasy too.

    I'd read Lord of the Rings when I was 14 or 15 and that, to me, was benchmark, vanilla, as seminal as fantasy can be. I love Lord of the Rings to this day, but I've never been interested in anything too derivative of Tolkien's style. And if I was to name one aspect of LOTR that I found tedious, it was the dwarves - to me, they had very few interesting traits.

    Physically, the dwarves were defined by being short - hardly in and of itself an appealing characteristic (esp. for me - I'm very tall, so I like to read about very tall characters).

    Their motivations were primarily greed - they like gold. In fact, the dwarves of the Hobbit are, to me, totally insufferable, willing to risk the lives of innocents all for the sake of pride and greed, thinly disguised as a noble cause to return Thorin to his rightful place as divine ruler (which, let's be honest, would not be such a cut-and-dry task these days).

    And while they were present in both The Hobbit and LOTR, the stories were always about the hobbits. Heitz's Dwarves series to me (initially at least) felt like it had plucked the dwarves out of Tolkien's universe and made them the protagonists. It was just boring. The writing was not bad, but I would describe it as average. A glance through Goodreads just now to make sure I'm not being unnecessarily cruel confirms that a lot of readers feel the same way about the series.

    Now onto the positive bit!!

    I'm not a huge reader of 'fantasy', which is ironic as that's the genre I always prefer to write in. I guess it's easier having the freedom to write just about anything you want. See the reasons above for why I don't get thru many fantasy books!

    But I always gravitate towards the classics. Of all the fantasy I like I think I favour gothic fantasy the most. I would rather take the stories of One Thousand and One Nights, Lovecraft's Dream Cycle, Robert Howard, Poe, Homer, TH White, Kipling, Conrad, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov and Pushkin over modern fantasy (and most modern books if I'm honest). The book I'm reading now is a recent translation of Apulieus' Golden Ass, the famous Roman novel (alongside a few Bill Bryson ones!!).

    That's not to say I haven't had some fun reading books from the likes of Laura and Tracy Hickman, for instance. And I can't be positive enough about Michael Ende's Neverending Story, that is always enough to make you want to write fantasy.
     
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  15. Andi. Just Andi.

    Andi. Just Andi. Active Member

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    Waiting for strong emotions to take hold is my usual approach. However, at least for me, it happens few and far between where I have a sudden burst of inspiration or emotions strong enough that I need to write them out. Especially these days. But, I want to start writing again so I can at least get a clear idea of my story and the direction I want to take it.
    On the other hand, my process is a bit similar to yours in how I try to channel my own emotions and experiences into my writing so I can write out what my characters are feeling at that moment.
     
  16. Andi. Just Andi.

    Andi. Just Andi. Active Member

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    I still have yet to read a book by Tolkien, though I bought a copy of The Silmarillion a few months ago since I've heard good things about it. I still have other books to finish before I start reading it. But, even though I haven't read the Lord of the Rings yet, I think I understand what you mean to some degree. The basic, cookie-cutter format for dwarves is to make them short and loud with a love of alcohol and gold. Though there's nothing wrong with that, it would be nice to see some variety.

    That's how it's always been for me, being able to write essentially whatever you want without having to constantly think of reality. But, I can see how that might not be appealing for everyone. Some people like a lot more realism to their stories, and that's perfectly fine.

    Out of the sources you've mentioned, I've only ever read Lovecraft, Poe, and One Thousand and One Nights. And, I'm a little sad to say that I've only ever seen the movie for Neverending Story.
    I've never really heard of the other authors you've mentioned. I have been meaning to get into gothic and dark fantasy more, but aside from Lovecraft and Poe, I'm not really sure where to begin. I guess the appeal would be the darker, less light-hearted adventure tones that can be found in these books.
     
  17. IasminDragon

    IasminDragon Member

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    I think even Tolkien himself acknowledged that the dwarves worked better as a sideline race than as the protaganists. They're quite a base people, focused on their mining and not pursuing anything particular inspiring. Humans and elves might never have anything to do with them, and it wouldn't affect the world.

    The plot you described of your own work is fairly identical to that of Tolkien's LOTR, i.e. the Hero's journey (hobbit leaves shire, joins companions, travels across land, defeats dark Lord Sauron, throws the MacGuffin (ring) into the volcano) but what makes his work different is that he approached it in an academic manner, and those clichés took root later.

    The story served for the invention of a Mythology; Tolkien was the one who translated Beowulf into modern English and revived the sense of an English mythic identity. LOTR came before any such fantasy existed; he invented it, because he invented its language, and a story gave it an accessible medium. His imitators aren't able to capture that same purpose in their own work, which, to me, makes them come across as shallow.

    I love shorter, serialised fantasy. Take Robert E Howard's Adventures of Conan. Say what you like about the author and his blatant power fantasy and insensitivities to women, the stories are really fun to read. Each one follows a fairly basic formula; Conan is a wild, feral barbarian, acutely intelligent and honed in ways softer, civilised people aren't. He encounters a problem of any variety - political intrigue, monsters and beasts, wizards, warlords, battles, espionage and more - and uses his wiles and wit and sheer strength to solve the problem. He never feels invincible, and while you know he'll make it out, it's still possible to suspended disbelief and think Conan is in real danger. With each being a short story, with the exception of a few novella length works like Hour of the Dragon, it makes it very easy to consume, and having dozens of stories means there's as much or as little of him as you could possible hope to read. I'm not sure why the style isn't more popular.
     
  18. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I think maybe you've been trying to develop things separately, which might be the source of your problem, @Andi. Just Andi. The story comes when your characters start to interact with each other within the world you've built.

    Maybe do something simple. Pick two of your characters. Force them to interact (in a scene together.) Throw some aspect of your world into the mix. It can be a political situation (the leader of the country has just made a hateful rule which he intends to enforce), a social situation (what happens when an unpleasant family member moves back home after a long absence), an environmental situation (crops won't grow because the soil has been poisoned, the country is experiencing a plague, an earthquake has just destroyed a village or town or city.)

    Your story will evolve from the small stuff. A couple of characters and a situation.

    If you haven't started writing yet, do start. But you don't need to start at the beginning. Just get a scene or two going in your head AND WRITE THEM. Believe me, if you take your time with this, envision those characters in action, feel their pain, their frustrations, their attractions, their dislikes, their motives, their energy, and give them some sort of problem to grapple with, then the story will begin to form.

    My own 206,000 word novel began with one scene. A stranger arrives at an isolated ranch in the middle of a blizzard, needing to find shelter. I played with that scene in my head for AGES, getting to know the characters, figuring out what the stranger was doing out there in the blizzard, figuring out what the ranchers were like, etc. The story evolved from there—both into backstory and forward into what happened next.
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2020
  19. Professor What

    Professor What New Member

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    @Andi. Just Andi. I mean that I start asking them questions about what they would do and how they think about the situation they're in. It has to be a character I know well for it to work, because I have to understand how they would answer the questions. When I get those answers, it sometimes leads to follow ups, and often that gets me back on the right track. Ultimately, it's nothing that's not coming out of my own mind, but the conversation treats them as though they're real, and the more real my characters feel to me, the better I can work with them.
     
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  20. Medazza

    Medazza Active Member

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    Think of a cool scene, at any point in your idea, and get it written. Even if you bin it later it keeps you in the groove
     
  21. Andi. Just Andi.

    Andi. Just Andi. Active Member

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    @IasminDragon
    From that perspective, that's understandable. The dwarves in LOTR don't sound like they do much and they isolate themselves a lot from the other races. Therefore, they don't really sound too interesting.
    I guess with that in mind, that's what makes The Dwarves interesting for me. Instead of having the protagonist living with the dwarves and not caring for much outside of the mountains, he's instead taken out of that setting from the very beginning and placed with humans, whose ambitions aren't just limited to mining and drinking.

    Can you explain what you mean by having Tolkein taken an academic route for his writing? Is it like he took inspiration from and studied the techniques of other writers, or is there something I'm missing?
    Though about those Tolkien imitators, what would you say gave it away? Like, their lack of substance and meaning behind their writing?

    I've heard about Adventures of Conan, but I've never read it or looked more into it. While it's cool to read stories that are deep and serious, it does sound nice to just have a fun, power-fantasy that doesn't take itself too seriously. I'll have to read it one day.

    @jannert I've been using a similar method to at least try getting something on paper (well, word document, but that's beside the point). There's actually been these two characters that I've been working on a scene for. The context behind it is that these two characters come from races that really don't like each other due to a huge misunderstanding and built up prejudice. There's already tension between them from the very beginning. However, since they have no choice but to work together if they want to survive, they try to at least avoid speaking to each other. Yet, whenever they do speak to or observe each other, they hyperfocus on the negative traits of the other, "confirming" their prejudices. This gradually builds up until they've both had enough of each other, the result of which is depicted in this scene.
    However, it's been difficult to think of other interactions between my other characters. Maybe I can get some vague ideas for other interactions based on that scene.

    @Professor What How do you get to know your characters better before starting to ask them questions?

    @Medazza Since I'm a perfectionist, I guess I feel that I can't write until I have everything together for that one scene. And, if at some point I feel that something isn't right about it, I can't write it.
    But, you definitely have a point. Even if I throw away a scene in the end, there's some useful things I can take away from it. That, and I'll actually be writing.
     
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  22. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributor Contributor

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    I never start writing a story until how I know how it ends. Then it's just a matter of imagining what got the characters from the starting point to the ending point. (Putting it in very simple terms.)
    If this helps.
     
  23. DriedPen

    DriedPen Member

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    I am not like that, but I am not in any way faulting you for that. This is just me...

    What I do instead is keep a list of half-started stories, never knowing if I will finish them. I have some that are 20 plus years old, and one that I finished that was 23 years old. It was a great start, but I had no idea what the ending should be...until 23 years later! So I kept it...allllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll those years! :)
     
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  24. LucyAshworth

    LucyAshworth Active Member

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    I never ever get writer's block because I am extremely mechanical. I know how to identify problems and where to find answers.
    What do I want to say? Usually it's something about the human condition or something that has not been said yet. Then I start building, placing one block at a time starting from what I know for sure, crossing out what I know I don't want, and evaluating all possibilities.

    If ever I begin to feel remotely lost, it's probably because there are far too many possibilities. At this point, I may utilize research and/or brainstorming. I may go out and gather more blocks. I may lay out all my blocks and rearrange them and draw threads between them visualizing their associations in my mind and recognizing my faint emotions towards them. In the end, I will pick a block best suited for the situation, even if its emotions are not strongly resonating, its emotions are the strongest.
     
  25. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor Blogerator

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    I haven't read the thread, but I would approach it by just writing. Even if you consider yourself a plotter, sometimes you need to just wing it for a while to get the ideas flowing. Write anything and everything that comes to mind, this isn't going to be the finished draft, so don't worry about it. Just get ideas moving, don't worry about if it has a good structure or whatever. All that can come later.

    What you need is to get your flow on, just go until things start to fall into place, and then you might find some parts of it can be dropped into the actual story once you've found your in-point. That's what the free-form writing is about, just go find your flow. What can emerge fork it is the beginning of a structure or maybe a scene, or the idea that will give you a starting place.

    You don't need to start from the beginning, just anywhere you feel comfortable. Get the ideas going and little by little the story will lay itself out. Then you can re-structure what you've got, re-word any parts that need it, and end up with a rough draft.

    Edit—I see Jannert has posted here, so she doubtless has already covered most of the points I brought up.
     
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