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Is There Any Point in Trying to Make YA and NA Novels Good?

Discussion in 'Young Adult' started by Catrin Lewis, Dec 23, 2015.

  1. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Well that's annoying, the post I was working on wasn't saved for some reason, probably a mistake of mine. I shall have to start over. In the meantime, this hit a chord:
    I don't think that was the point (I'll leave it to @BayView to clarify) but I do have my own comment on the matter. Unlike some literary critics, I think one should consider the properties of a book that make it popular. There are elements which again, can be identified and described.

    But elements that appeal are only one aspect of a book. There are other qualities one can identify and describe which are good and bad qualities in a piece.

    Do you care about the character(s)? Do you want to keep reading? Is there enough description? Is the telling typical of a new writer that has a lot to learn or does it seem more of a purposeful skilled style choice? Do you keep getting pulled out of the story? Are the filter words weakening the writing?

    It makes no sense that nothing matters other than individual taste. That's absurd. As for the elements that make a popular book, there are many and they vary depending on the genre. Clearly the romance novels are writing to a formula, a fairy tale romance, the hot guy that all the girls want but that is madly in love with the protagonist.

    In Obsidian, that element is there. And obviously that is a successful formula for this writer. But it's like Twilight, there is nothing that explains the attraction. The guy is hot, and a protector, as if that's all that matters. The gal is usually selfless. You can tell the author is trying to add reasons for the guy to be falling for the protagonist, but she's doing a horrid job of it. It's very unconvincing.

    So now in addition to all of the obviously plagiarized story elements, there's an unconvincing relationship between the two main characters. If this was the author's first book, I doubt it would be selling that well. It's worse than Twilight for all the things that could have been done differently to make it a quality instead of a quantity work.
     
  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I disagree that it's absurd. Or... I guess maybe I agree that it's absurd, at the same time that I think it's the truth. It's really frustrating that there's so much subjectivity, but there really seems to be.

    Are there no popular and/or critically acclaimed books you've read that did nothing for you? I read every word of The Goldfinch (bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner) and didn't enjoy it at all. I didn't care about the characters, I didn't want to keep reading, there was way to much description, and I was constantly pulled out of the story by my boredom. I don't recall filter words making an impression one way or another. But clearly a lot of other people disagree with me. Was I wrong? No, I wasn't wrong that it's a bad book for me. But I'd be wrong if I said it was a bad book across the board.

    I didn't think much of Harry Potter, either. I read the first one just so I could know what the fuss was about, but I wasn't really intrigued by the story. I like fantasy, but I don't find whimsy appealing, and that book was pretty damn whimsical. So, not good for me, but I'm not going to challenge those who said it was good for them.

    You've said this sort of thing a few times, and I don't think it's actually accurate. Probably a subject for another thread, or not, but this is just a sub-set of the romance genre you're referring to. There are lots of romances that don't follow this formula at all.

    I haven't read Obsidian, but I think you're judging it by your standards rather than the standards of its other readers. You weren't convinced by the romance. Fair enough. But if others were convinced by the romance, doesn't that mean the romance was convincing for them? I mean, of all the ways to judge writing, convincing/unconvincing seems like one of the most subjective.

    There are lots of books I don't like, but if lots of other people do like them, then surely I have to concede that there's something appealing in the story, even if it doesn't appeal to me? I've never read 50 Shades and I never will (without strong inducement) because I know I'd hate it. I cannot stand alphahole heroes or submissive heroines or the idea that past trauma makes current misbehaviour sexy. But for readers who don't have my pet peeves in that area, it was apparently a pretty enjoyable book. I'm not going to tell those people they're wrong, and they didn't actually enjoy a book they know they enjoyed, just because it wouldn't work for me. And if they weren't thrown off by whatever other "flaws" the book may have had (I've seen many lists of writing issues), then good for them. They enjoyed the book; that makes it a good book, for them.
     
  3. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    But you are conflating enjoying a book with the quality of the writing and they are two different things.

    There are elements that contribute to both. That a poorly written book can still have commercial appeal or a well written book not have it doesn't negate the fact there are identifying elements of each.
     
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  4. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I think that hits the subject on the head, really. People enjoy—and buy—bad stuff all the time. (Like cigarettes?) That doesn't mean other people can't judge it as 'bad.' Of course subjectivity comes into it, to some extent. But to say everything is subjective is to say there are no standards that apply across the board. I don't agree with that.

    If @GingerCoffee wants to say she thought Obsidian was bad, she's entitled to her opinion. She has qualified her opinion by listing what she thought was bad about it. Others may disagree with her conclusion, but she's got the right to make it.

    Just recently, I've been running back and forth to the hospital to visit my husband who is still there, after nearly two months. All of the doctors have qualified to a certain standard. As have the nurses and the specialty workers. They have all met a certain standard before they were allowed to practice. I can assure you, some are better than others! But none of them just waltzed in off the street knowing nothing, and getting the job just because they always wanted to be doctors or nurses. There were certain standards they had to meet (and keep) before they could do this job.

    I maintain that writing is no different. There will be writers you like, writers you don't, writers who struggle to get published, writers who get published every time they quack in public ...but show me a successful writer who has no command of the language they use to write, who can't string sentences together or tell a coherent story? Of course there are standards—and that's before readers pass judgement and give it a thumbs-up. Otherwise agents would never reject a MS, would they?

    However, these standards CAN be lowered at any time. So I'm not happy when I hear people saying that good writing doesn't really matter as long as it's popular. Junk food is popular too, but it won't sustain a healthy body and brain or a long life, will it?
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2015
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  5. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    This is my whole point. In my mind, they are NOT different things. You think there is a list of qualities that make writing good; I do not. I think writing rises or falls based on its ability to evoke a positive response in readers.

    I want to elaborate on this, but I feel like I shouldn't, because maybe if I just leave it as is, we won't be distracted away from this basic difference.

    To me, writing is good if it evokes a positive response in readers, and bad if it evokes a negative response.
     
  6. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

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    I tend to agree with you. If something is poorly written to me, I won't enjoy it, even if there's a good story. But if it's wonderfully written, I may still not enjoy it if it has a bad story.

    Take Rick Riordan for example. His Percy Jackson series is my favorite series of all time. It has its own special bookshelf, right at eye level, so I can look at them every day and remember how great they are. But then he wrote another series, the Kane Chronicles, and I didn't enjoy that one. Same writer. Same skill level. But the characters in the Kane Chronicles just didn't appeal to me, even though they appeal to thousands of others.

    Chronicles of Narnia. Hugely popular book/series. I loved the movies, so I bought the collection. Read the prequel but didn't make it through the next. I'm sure most people look at it and assume that it's written very well. It's a classic for a reason, right? But I didn't enjoy it.

    I've never read 50 Shades, because romance novels aren't my thing. But I've seen excerpts. And in my opinion, it's very poorly written. But my stepmom disagrees. And my sisters disagree. And millions of others disagree. Do we think we know what "good writing" is just because we're writers? E. L. James is a writer too, and she obviously thought it was good enough to send to a publisher. And publishers obviously thought it was good enough to publish. And readers obviously thought it was good enough to buy.

    So I agree it's all subjective. What is "good writing" to me may be bad writing to someone else, and vice versa. Other than the typical SPAG errors, there is no "right" way to write something .
     
  7. DeadMoon

    DeadMoon The light side of the dark side Contributor

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    I know that "50 shades of Grey" is not a YA book but it is an example of bad writing of a good idea. Let me rephrase that, It s a god example of bad writing of a good marketing idea. If I had to find a good point in the entire thing it would be in the hope that god writers will be inspired and crack out some good writing.
     
  8. BrianIff

    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Maybe we all agree that there are aspects that really work for YA, like the perpetual recycling of some tropes, characters that really "speak" to a certain demographic, etc., and that's all fine and dandy, but would there not be abstract standards from which to judge a new writer's work? If the reviewers were familiar with what can be commercially successful in YA, can we really limit ourselves to SPAG if someone in grade 9 wrote a novel over the summer, in all likelihood? Or if an older person who doesn't otherwise read much got really inspired by a reading of Twilight? At some point, the peers of the writer OP mentions cannot be taken as an acid test for whether the work will be commercially viable. And not that there is any certainty about what will be a success beforehand, but I'd imagine some things about a story could be narrowed down that an editor or agent would expect to see.
     
  9. stevesh

    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    I think there's a point to doing anything well that has little to do with the audience therefore.

    A couple of posters here have mentioned being 'pulled out of the story'. I think that's the gold standard of what constitutes 'good' fiction writing. Any time the reader is removed from the story, the author has, in my opinion, done something wrong. (It's also the reason I don't think non-childrens'-story fiction should ever be read aloud.)

    Of course, different readers will be pulled out of the story for different reasons. For me, it's mainly SPAG errors and obvious errors of fact. I'll usually ride along with more abstract things like poor character development or shaky plot devices, but I'll feel cheated at the end of the story and most likely won't read that author again.

    I've never beta-read a book, but if I do, I'll remember this thread and keep track of the times I was pulled out of the tale, and make sure I let the author know about them.
     
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  10. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I think getting pulled out of a story can be done by many different "bad" things, including the ones you mention. But particularly good or startling writing can pull me out as well. Prizewinning books do this a lot. If the author is too clever with word choice, too poetic and startling with images (even if they're really unique and spot-on) this can pull me out of a story. This is why I'm not a huge fan of arty writing, even though I admire it in an abstract way, and certainly would never call it 'bad.' I just don't enjoy reading it the way lots of other people seem to do. Every time I notice the stellar quality of the writing itself, it pulls me out of the story.

    I know lots of people disagree with me, but my goal as a writer is to disappear. After the first line or two, I want people to forget all about me and get sucked in to the tale itself. That's my goal. The compliment I enjoyed the most, when trawling around betas with my novel was (from one person) ..."After the first page or so I forgot you had written it." That's my goal. Weird, I know.
     
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  11. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    By this measure, every best seller is well written and every poor selling book is poorly written. By this measure, Beethoven and The Kingsmen (Louie Louie) are both great musicians.

    You've simply changed the criteria by which you are judging good and bad. You've conflated quality and popularity. I doubt the literary world would include popularity as measure of good writing.

    Again, there are elements that make something popular. As a writer, I'm not dismissing those elements, but it's a seriously incomplete measure of quality writing.

    That 50 Shades is popular says something about the writing. It also says soft porn sells. The writing pulls you in, but if you are paying attention to the writing, you can't help but notice (from an Amazon review):
    In Obsidian the parallels to Twilight are so blatant it might as well be the same book in a different setting. Fifty Shades which started out as actual fan fiction is less similar to Twilight than Obsidian. Sometimes junk is popular.
     
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  12. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    As an avid audiobook reader, (because what else can you do while driving that's as satisfying?), I have to say that depends on the reader.
     
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  13. stevesh

    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Good point. I guess I don't think of marvelling over great prose as being pulled out of the story, but of course it is. It doesn't seem as objectionable somehow, though, maybe because you got something in return for the detour. I think you're exactly right, though. Disappearance should be our first goal as fiction writers, but I wonder if that means we shouldn't work to develop a unique style?
     
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  14. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Well, it's a tough one. I think the author that does both things best for me is E Annie Proulx. I constantly marvel at the way she uses words, but never lose her story threads either, because she really is good. The Shipping News is one of the most entertaining 'arty' books I've ever read. Damn. And she's retired, for some reason.
     
  15. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Yes. Good. You've got the big idea. I know you disagree, but at least you're understanding what I'm saying (in broad strokes). So now I can look at a few of the details.



    I only agree with the first part of that, and even then, only mostly - I think most best sellers are well-written. I think there are times when there are factors other than the book itself that lead to it selling well - celebrity writing is a prime example. So, no, I wouldn't say a book is well-written if it sells well, if there was one of those other factors at work. But a book by an unknown, no special marketing advantages or anything, selling well just because a lot of people enjoy it? I'd say that book was well-written because there was something in it that people enjoyed.


    In terms of the second part? I think there are lots of well-written books that don't sell well, because, for whatever reason, nobody notices them. It's one of the reasons I get a bit anxious when I hear people declaring they're going to self-publish their work, without even looking for a publisher. They believe in the quality of their work, so they want to be in charge of it, and that's great, but it is so hard to get a book noticed in today's incredibly crowded marketplace, and there are lots of well-written books that nobody ever knows about. So, no, I wouldn't say a book is bad just because it doesn't sell.



    Kind of, yeah. I've also added an element of individual taste - a book might be good to one person and not good to another person. It does its job for person A, doesn't do its job for person B, or for group A or group B. So, really, I don't generally thing "good" or "bad" are useful terms in talking about writing as a whole. I think it's more about a book doing what the author intended it to do - so if an author wrote a book that was directed at one person, trying to reach that one person emotionally, and it did that well? I'd say the book was well-written, regardless of whether it was popular.



    I doubt I care. Who is this literary world, anyway? Is there some reason their opinions are more important than the opinions of anyone else?



    Was the post that got deleted the one where you were going to share the other measures of quality writing? That sucks for you, but also for me, because I continue to not really have a good idea what you're talking about.


    Can you give me one example of an element of quality writing, beyond basic SPAG stuff, that is universal and non-subjective?



    Well, there are thousands of books of soft porn out there (millions) that didn't sell like 50 Shades does.



    Okay, so... you don't like the style of writing. This book doesn't work for you. Fair enough. But obviously lots of people weren't bothered by those issues, right? So, for people who are looking for a specific sort of reading experience, 50 Shades is a poor book choice. But for people who are looking for a different kind of reading, it's a great choice.



    And sometimes people, especially writers or those who've otherwise dedicated a lot of their time to learning the "rules" of writing, get caught up in thinking that the rules are what writing is actually about. Then they move a bit beyond rules and start thinking about a slightly more nebulous "quality" of writing. Honestly, I used to, as well. I spent all my reading time thinking about writing, and got really, really frustrated when I saw people (especially those with more success) breaking the rules I'd trained myself to think were important, writing in a way that was sloppier than I liked.


    But then I reassessed my perspective on writing.


    A sonnet can be a lovely form of writing, but there are a lot of rules. Some people really enjoy writing within those boundaries, following those rules, and that's great, as long as they're satisfied with the end result. Other writers prefer more free-form verse, and that's great too, as long as it works for them and their readers. If someone who writes sonnets reads someone else’s free-form verse and says it’s crap because it doesn’t have the right number of lines and its rhythm is off, does that make sense?


    To me, writing is a tool. Its function is to reach the hearts and minds of readers. If it does that? It's a good tool, so I guess that makes it good writing.
     
  16. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Even spelling and grammar are not universal. I fail to see why you think something with fuzzy edges therefore has no edges.

    Why can't a book that is good in one aspect (sells well) not also be bad in other aspects (repetitive use of the same words and phrases reflective of a shallow depth in the writing)? Or, sells well but has a tired unoriginal plot?
     
  17. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Because those are subjective judgements.

    Repetitive use of the same words and phrases may be shallowness, or it may be depth - it could be done for effect. It could just be unimportant - I mean, if someone wants to write a book without word repetition, that's fine, but if someone else doesn't care about word repetition and still manages to tell a story that catches people's attention and affection, then I guess word repetition wasn't really a problem.

    Same for tired, unoriginal plots. Shakespeare's plots tended to be borrowed, but we don't hold it against him. Many people have borrowed plots before and since Shakespeare - if the stories worked, who cares?

    Is there a perfect book in the world? A book that is excellent in every, single way and that is universally agreed to be excellent in all these ways? If so, what is it? And if not... isn't all book ranking based on personal criteria? We're willing to overlook Shakespeare's plot issues because his language is so evocative to so many. But if someone else feels plot is more important than language, maybe they'd prefer an author with more original plots. Fair enough.

    So, outstanding question: What are the universal qualities of good writing? (or what's one universal quality of good writing?)

    New question: Is there such a thing as a perfect book? If so, what is it?
     
  18. BrianIff

    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    I'm just wondering if you'd ever tell someone that something about, or some part of, their work must change, or if its unknown potential makes such a command overbearing?
     
  19. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    ME? I'd never tell anyone they have to change something - I mean, it's their work, so nobody should be telling them what to do, but also, who the hell am I to tell anyone anything?

    I can see a situation in which someone who's a gatekeeper of some sort might tell the author what needs to be done in order to get past their particular gate - we'll publish this if you'll do X, Y, or Z. In fact, I've been told that by various publishers - we want your book but we'd need you to change A or B. And I've done it, not to make my book better, but to make it a better fit for their vision of the market.

    But actually improving a book, according to some abstract standard? I'd be very suspicious of anyone saying they could make a book "better" without any qualifiers.
     
  20. BrianIff

    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    I don't mean from a house perspective, but take high school, for example; my teacher told me something was too abstract, something else is sentimental, etc., and I agreed with it. What I initially had on the page might have some place in good writing, but not without being a skilled enough writer to know when to employ it, or why there are exceptions to breaking rules. And I don't mean to say that there is only one answer to any given issue with a piece of writing, but that without highlighting issues and even qualifying them with "my reaction...," or "I would" might give novice writers a misguided confidence that will eventually be shattered after they are set in their ways.
     
  21. tonguetied

    tonguetied Contributor Contributor

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    Jannert I apologize for taking a post from another thread and using it here, but for me this fits what BayView has been saying about criteria for good writing is usually subjective, not her exact words of course, but I think that is her point. If a certain set of criteria could be defined then it would be possible to create a computer program to determine what is good and what is not good writing. That would be handy for people like me, but it would kill the very essence of writing, IMO.
     
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  22. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    The trouble I have with things being subjective is it's something that can be easily manipulated. It's easy to guarantee reader loyalty by showing them you are like minded about certain hot bed issues. Especially if you're already a competent writer. Think of all the Ya authors in the 80s who included a black character into a predominately white group of friends. So does the reader 'love' the character or love the trick that the character is mouthing their ideals without the author even exploring them except in a very trite manner. Are people really enjoying stories or just enjoying the fact that their beliefs are being represented and unchallenged?
    With that clouding the issue can opinion be taken too seriously to tell us what's good? Maybe all it can show is that the author snagged an audience and for a lot of authors that's all he needs to know. They're good/great in their audiences eyes.
     
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  23. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    This argument is tedious.

    Can a writer improve? If there are no elements beyond subjective choices, what changed? Their taste?

    Can a character be flat, superficial, memorable? Can description be rich or boring? Can you read a piece and not get what's going on in the scene?

    Can filter words be taken out of a piece and the writing be stronger?

    Can someone add so much backstory at the beginning of their story that it's boring? Can they take unnecessary backstory out and make a story more appealing?

    Just because some people see a piece differently than others doesn't mean there aren't elements which one finds in common in books generally judged as well written.

    I was waiting for the pizza to cook last night at my son's and I picked up Thomas Pynchon's latest book, Bleeding Edge, and opened it to a random place to read. I was blown away by his description of New York after 911. Every sentence struck a chord of amazing observation and description skill (and the man is in his 80s and still writing genius stuff). Paraphrasing from memory:
    Muslim taxi drivers were learning Spanish so they could pass as a less despised minority....
    Every fire house lost someone and now they all have little memorials with flags ...​
    I'm not doing it justice, of course because I'm not a genius. To say there are not elements of writing skill in his work, that's it's merely subjective taste, and to say one cannot study what he writes to tease out the elements ... that's ludicrous.

    That one cannot say Charlotte Brontë wrote with more skill than EL James because 50 Shades is a best seller, seriously, that's your position?

    No, just no.
     
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  24. stevesh

    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Yeah, that's interesting. I've never listened to a audio novel, so I don't know if it carries the same level of intimacy as reading does. What I was thinking of was the practice of authors reading portions of their work at book signings and such. Always seemed pretentious to me, and an audience can't be involved the way a solitary reader can, I don't think.

    My commute includes a lot of Bob and Tom. Laughing out loud isn't a bad way to start the day.
     
  25. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I watch a lot of CSPAN Book TV and I've been to a few signings. 99% of the time an author reads a section of their book it bores me.

    I also tried a critique group where people read their pieces out loud. Just didn't work for me.

    An audio book is a different animal and while a bad reader ruins the book, more and more authors/publishers are hiring talented readers.
     
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