Can't read can't write

Specifics about craft, talent, technique, etc.
Mr H
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Can't read can't write

Postby Mr H » Sat Dec 05, 2020 12:46 am

Probably just a gripe really.

I have heard you can't write if you don't read. A lot.

For a start it sounds discriminatory.

I can't read, well like I'm "supposed to".

I keep flicking through WOF reading the first few lines may be a paragraph or two. Blah. A stack of Analogue and Asimov's, much the same, though I have read more of them, thanks in part to shorter stories.

TV, Film, I'm all over it like a cheap coat.

Series sci fi like trek and gate, 1999, BSG...

I'm not sure why this is. I didn't read much at school. Eg. I read the start and end of the hobbit to do a paper on Smaug, as I heard he didn't appear throughout, so it was less reading. A few goosebumps. I can probably count larger novels on one hand, both JPs feature, and Back to the future 2.

Behind the scenes and makings of I like also. Better than no reading, I guess.

But I'm trying non the less, HM in hand (which still baffles me a bit).

Thoughts, comments, hazing, shoes?
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disgruntledpeony
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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby disgruntledpeony » Sat Dec 05, 2020 1:13 pm

I think that the idea behind the phrase is basically that reading (or listening to audio books, or any number of other things that grant access to the written word) can help a writer learn the ins and outs of well-written prose and the kinds of arcs that make a good story. It's kind of the flip side of needing to experience things in the real world, in that it teaches us how other people have put their experiences and imaginations into a written form.

As always, YMMV. For me, though, reading recently published short stories helps me learn what's expected of me as a writer and teaches me where I need to level up, because it gives me a better idea of what I'm writing versus the kinds of stories that are being published.
If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it. ~ H.G. Wells

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Wulf Moon
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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Wulf Moon » Sat Dec 05, 2020 2:36 pm

I'm not a wine snob, that would be whisky, but I have ponied up in Napa Valley and elsewhere to do the private estate room tastings, and I've enjoyed some some rare Cabernets by splitting bottles with friends. If you only drink box wine, you will never understand why people are willing to pay over $100 and far more for a single bottle of wine. After you educate your palate, you know why, you will crave the depth and mouth feel and flavor nuances, and you will know whether or not someone pours you a cheap bottle, or a rare vintage. Editors and bestselling writers are like wine connoisseurs--they know a good story from the very first sip, because they have tasted the best. Often, as is the case with this contest, they have created the best.

But if you have never savored a great wine, how do you know what great wines tastes like? You do not. You cannot.

When we lived in the San Juan Islands, Washington, we visited a local winery, and since I enjoy a good red, I asked for a pour of their Cabernet. This was their signature red. I held the glass to the light. It had the color of a rose' blush. I swirled it in the glass. It had no legs whatsoever and washed down the sides like slick rainwater. I tilted it over my palate and swirled it around. It had the taste of weak, artificially flavored raspberry flavored Kool Aid. The owner of the vineyard stood there smiling proudly, waiting for my verdict. I struggled to be honest, and likened it to another vineyard's wines, a famous name she would know ... but she wouldn't know I didn't care for their product. Whew. I had a business on those islands and did not wish to insult another business owner.

As I mentioned this household name, the vintner looked puzzled. "Oh, we don't drink anyone else's wines, so I wouldn't know what that tastes like. We just drink our own great wines. Why would we need to drink anything else?"

As we drove away, my wife and I agreed that if the owners HAD drank a few of their competitors' wines, maybe they would know what a Cabernet is supposed to taste like.
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Mr H
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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Mr H » Sat Dec 05, 2020 3:22 pm

Reading anything is good I get.

The whole wine thing is... So I can't make wine because I don't drink? And I can't write because I don't read much?? Apparently.

Checking out the competition, I understand, that's why I'm trying to do.

Can't write, can't make wine.

Ok.

Maybe I know good writing more than others?? Maybe I'm not sold on the first paragraph?

Everything I wrote up to HM had people sitting, standing, lying around, talking, waiting for something to happen. Then I burnt the first act. A first few lines of chaos, questions. What is that? What's going on? Why is that there? Who's in that? Why is that happening? Why am I reading this...because now I need to know. HM!

All I've been stumbling upon recently are stories that start like mine used to. Boring.

I doubt I've struck gold, but for someone struggling to read I may have. Even reading over my older pieces it's obvious.

Star Wars (ever the go to film) doesn't begin with Luke doing chores. It begins with some random ship being pursued by a bigger ship, doors opening amid chaos and some dude strutting about like he owns the place demanding to see some princess or other. SLAP. Q?, Q?, Q?, Q?... Now you have to watch more. Luke doing chores ain't so bad now.

Reading is great for technical stuff, but tv and film can't be swatted aside either. I was impressed with Superman (70s) and the writers use of Chekhov's gun (if I have that correct) for example. It's like a running series of one, two, THREE. Possible game idea for those who do drink?

PS. People shouldn't have to be told what to like. Especially in writing. Are readers going to do a course on a new genre before looking at the first lines of a book? Hardly. I guarantee they sell more boxes of wine than fancy shmancy bottles, for what it's worth. Books are different, better ones sell more copies, poor one's less. By better I of course mean better labels, not necessarily content.
Last edited by Mr H on Sat Dec 05, 2020 3:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Reuben
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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Reuben » Sat Dec 05, 2020 3:29 pm

I don't have your problem. I've always loved reading, and that's why I like writing.

But I do get it about science fiction short stories. The first volume I read--vol. 33-- I didn't like. I liked a few stories, and really liked one (Adramelech) but it took some serious work to actually enjoy all of them, and now I read stories from other media as well, although hard sci-fi may be beyond me. And I still love to sink my teeth into a novel than a short story.

I'm trying to understand, right now, why someone would enjoy writing, and want to be a writer, if they've never liked reading.

It does seem like something weird. At least I think so.

You haven't said why you started writing. I think for virtually everyone else on the forum the reason is because we liked some books so much we wanted to replicate the experience. (Naively thinking that it's just words--"If they could do it, so can I!")

So as to your question of do you have to read to write? I think yes. Just like when you're depressed you can't write some romantic utopia, not without changing what you feel a bit.

If you don't enjoy reading, then how can you write fiction that other people will enjoy? (Unless you only like reading your own stuff, like Wulf implied.)

So my advice to you is if you want to write, write what you like. If that's scripts for movies and tv, go for it, maybe that's your calling.

If you specifically want to write prose, then find some author you do like and read and enjoy and study him/her, see how they do it. (Hey, I tried to read The Hobbit once and gave up. But I did enjoy many other books, such as Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Bartemeaus, Artemis Fowl, Ender's Game, and more.)

But if there isn't a single book or story that you enjoy in the english language? You may want to try at something else (or a different language :)
Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. ~ Winston Churchill
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Mr H
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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Mr H » Sat Dec 05, 2020 3:47 pm

That last bit sounds like a challenge, so I accept and will continue writing.

I like, mostly older, tv and film. Stories. Most beginning as novels, as they show in the credits. So the best way to create my own stories is with writing. Apart from that writing requires nothing much, no warehouse, no machinery, no employees, no traveling (except to the US to pick up my award), so on. That is highly necessary for me as well as appealing.

BTW my favourite author is Robin Masters.
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Mr H
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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Mr H » Sun Dec 06, 2020 1:40 pm

"Editors and bestselling writers are like wine connoisseurs--they know a good story from the very first sip."

I shouldn't be so picky, but missed this first time.

Like Ms Rowling and Mr King I suppose. Or are they just the exceptions? (Probably, again, being picky). She had a hard time (like many many authors) finding an editor who "knew good stuff". Mr King threw Carrie in the bin (like a list of other top books by, in the end, famous writers who were to destroy or discard or give upon their first hit).

Exceptions, I get it. There are some interesting lists of these exceptions if one dose a search. Each with a story worth reading (plus the book, no doubt).

"But if you have never savored a great wine, how do you know what great wines tastes like? You do not. You cannot."

I still have an issue here. So you have to be told what to like? Just sounds wrong. I get it from a publishing/marketing angle, but even then your not breaking any moulds.

Like the aforementioned lady studied all the wizard school novels before writing Potter, or JRRT all the d&d or what not before writing the Hobbit & LOTR? So on. I'm sure they studied similar fields but not exactly what they ended up writing.

Perhaps they were making box wine after all?

"if the owners HAD drank a few of their competitors' wines, maybe they would know what a Cabernet is supposed to taste like."

Again. So this seems to suggest competition knows a genre better? Coke didn't know what Coke should taste like and according to Coke fans, neither did Pepsi.

It says you should look at the high end to figure out what to do. Yet they still sell more box wine.

Todd McFarlane tried to compete with the artists that were not the best. But what does he know, he'll never be good at comics.

So on.

Just me being picky. Again I'm sure my points are just exceptions to the rules. Do look up those lists I mentioned, Dr Seuss nearly burnt his first book.
Lots of R
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disgruntledpeony
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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby disgruntledpeony » Sun Dec 06, 2020 7:48 pm

Okay, first of all, I have to say: I didn't want to call this thread out initially, but after reading a few more posts, it feels like the sole purpose of it is to start arguments and be confrontational. Generally speaking, we don't do that 'round these parts--we try for a cohesive, uplifting atmosphere whenever possible.

That said, there are a lot of valid points to be made on this topic, so I intend to address them once (and just once) and then move on.

Fair warning, everybody: This is going to be a long post, if only because there are a lot of things for me to respond to.

Mr H wrote:Maybe I know good writing more than others?? Maybe I'm not sold on the first paragraph?

Everything I wrote up to HM had people sitting, standing, lying around, talking, waiting for something to happen. Then I burnt the first act. A first few lines of chaos, questions. What is that? What's going on? Why is that there? Who's in that? Why is that happening? Why am I reading this...because now I need to know. HM!

All I've been stumbling upon recently are stories that start like mine used to. Boring.


First question. Are you reading works that have been professionally published? If so, are they published by magazines you want to be published in? If you want to be published in a magazine but find the stories they're publishing boring, that probably means they're not a good target market for you because they want different things out of their stories than you want out of your writing.

Mr H wrote:I doubt I've struck gold, but for someone struggling to read I may have. Even reading over my older pieces it's obvious.

Star Wars (ever the go to film) doesn't begin with Luke doing chores. It begins with some random ship being pursued by a bigger ship, doors opening amid chaos and some dude strutting about like he owns the place demanding to see some princess or other. SLAP. Q?, Q?, Q?, Q?... Now you have to watch more. Luke doing chores ain't so bad now.


It seems to me that one issue you're having is that you don't like the promises stories are making at their beginnings. Brandon Sanderson has an amazing video on plot that addresses this very issue.

Mr H wrote:Reading is great for technical stuff, but tv and film can't be swatted aside either. I was impressed with Superman (70s) and the writers use of Chekhov's gun (if I have that correct) for example. It's like a running series of one, two, THREE. Possible game idea for those who do drink?


I don't think anyone here intends to discount film or TV for potential story options. However, when writing film or TV, it's still incredibly important to study other screenplays, in order to learn both the very specific formatting involved and to learn how to describe a visual medium like film using a non-visual medium (words).

For the record, if film or TV is more along the lines of what you'd like to write for, I can provide you a host of helpful links to get you started along the path to learning screenwriting. Just let me know.

Mr H wrote:PS. People shouldn't have to be told what to like. Especially in writing. Are readers going to do a course on a new genre before looking at the first lines of a book? Hardly. I guarantee they sell more boxes of wine than fancy shmancy bottles, for what it's worth. Books are different, better ones sell more copies, poor one's less. By better I of course mean better labels, not necessarily content.


Wulf isn't telling you what to like. Neither am I. You should take the time to learn what you like, absolutely--but that means reading more, not less. Depending on what interests you as a reader, I'm sure I and a number of other people here can suggest potential magazines or novels that might tickle your fancy.

Also, again, there are a number of alternative reading options available for people. Audiobooks are a solid option if you do better listening to things than reading them on the page. If the issue is more a matter of funds, a lot of books can be borrowed for free at one's local library, and many libraries also offer audiobooks nowadays. (Also, a number of short fiction magazines have some or all of their stories available for free online.)

Mr H wrote:BTW my favourite author is Robin Masters.


I was curious about who Robin Masters is, having never heard of him, and when I searched it up all I could find was information about a "fictional author" who may or may not be real. Do you have any specific examples of novels or short stories to direct me toward so that I can figure out if this is the author you're talking about?

Mr H wrote:"But if you have never savored a great wine, how do you know what great wines tastes like? You do not. You cannot."

I still have an issue here. So you have to be told what to like? Just sounds wrong.


What Wulf is saying through use of metaphor is that, if one never reads good writing, one will never know what good writing is. This is, technically speaking, fairly accurate. A good way for writers to learn when we're improving is to compare our works to other things that we've written, as well as comparing works of our own to things that other people have written. Ideally, studying published works shows us the standards of quality in the current market.

This doesn't mean we have to write exactly what other people are writing--not by any means. By expanding our own tastes and learning what good writing is to us, we can further develop our own style.

Oh, and one last thing:

Mr H wrote:Like the aforementioned lady studied all the wizard school novels before writing Potter, or JRRT all the d&d or what not before writing the Hobbit & LOTR? So on. I'm sure they studied similar fields but not exactly what they ended up writing.


I hate to nitpick, good sir, but J.R.R. Tolkien's novels precede Dungeons and Dragons by over twenty years. Dungeons and Dragons based their games on his work. It's things like this that make me question your motives in writing this thread.
If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it. ~ H.G. Wells

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Mr H
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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Mr H » Mon Dec 07, 2020 12:01 am

I just like responding. Not trying to cause a ruckus.

I think I have a different idea of a slow start. To me it's in the first few lines. I guess others view the first few paragraphs ok. I've closed the book by then. I can't be the only one. But it may explain it. Why not hook the reader earlier on?

Professional published works, unless it's for a crit, of course.

I'm aiming at short stories and novels, however screen plays are not out of the question. Many movies are based on novels. So it's there that the story has genesis. So it's there that I should cast my hand.

As for Robin Masters. You made my day. Thanks for taking the time to look him up. I'd have to look up specific works myself. But he's seldom seen, though I know he has a place in Hawaii, and a Ferrari he lets a friend use. Top notch. Now I have the Magnum PI theme in my head. Sweet.

A younger man may have said Castle...which brings us to Nebula 9. Bazinga. Full circle back to sci fi (with a Dr who story thrown in for good measure).

"if one never reads good writing, one will never know what good writing is."

Yes but who is the judge there? On what do you base good writing? Sales? Editing? Story? So on? One man's trash etc.

"J.R.R. Tolkien's novels precede Dungeons and Dragons by over twenty years. Dungeons and Dragons based their games on his work."

That was my point.

I'm not trying to start argument, just conversation. And playing dear Henry to Wulf's bucket. (As in I saw some holes in what he was saying and pointed it out, nothing personal) Perhaps that's enough straw for now?

I've been looking up authors who don't read a lot. Finding lists of one's with dyslexia and other difficulties. Not much though. But believe it or not there are people who can't read like others here for many reasons. That should not limit someone. I know noone is trying to suggest such a thing, but words will play their tricks.

PS: http://magnum-mania.com/Lists/The_Novel ... sters.html Thats my reading list done for the holidays.

PPS: "if one never reads good writing, one will never know what good writing is." That is a pretty good line. Like if one never achieves enlightenment, one will never know what enlightenment is. It's completely contradictory, or what have you. A paradox. Cool. Good one. It just hit me.
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Mr H
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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Mr H » Mon Dec 07, 2020 4:00 pm

Interesting.

Read somewhere that most great works were written before there were many great works to read. Bang goes the theory of having to read a lot to write well??

Shakespeare springs to mind. Apparently he's a good writer. Sold a few copies. And he was writing based on TV of the time, theatre. I believe novels did not exist then, so he would have had mostly plays to go on.

I think these days it's more about being like everyone else. Publishers want a sure thing, not a risk. It's been suggested Tolkien wouldn't have been published today. Though from why I've heard he falls in the same boat as Rowling, having a kid related to the editor save them by reading the start and asking for more. I've also heard Potter was in an interesting binder and that's why it was noticed.

I guess it's chicken/egg. The first novels would have been based on similar things like plays. Words are words. Or more accurately stories are stories. You get films that are novels, plays that are films, novels that are plays, so on.

Outside of medium particulars, like publisher particulars, stories are stories.

Learn the particulars, not the back catalogue. Why read 1,000 books when you can study three, or collect the necessary data more easily otherwise(More easily for people who have trouble reading or learning difficulties, not Matilda grade people).

Learn by doing. While I'm at it, there's a good phrase. How many books could you have written in the time you spend reading them? A few I'll bet. Get others to read them and you'll learn more than reading the latest best seller. You won't be distracted by the use anywhere story, just the crit.

Are you a reader or a writer? There is no grey.

You can read as much as you can, but it may never show on your page. Just like some viewers of tv, film, some people can't even remember much about it. I'm pretty sure there is science done on the merits of having kids write stuff out 100 times also. You need to learn what your looking to achieve, you won't do this by slapping yourself in the head with the rule book (as in that's the one book you should try to read). Being distracted by the pretty fairies and magical elves won't help any either. Most of a book is story, that can be learnt anywhere, it's the mechanics that matter. Ideas are cheap. So on...
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Reuben
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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Reuben » Mon Dec 07, 2020 5:22 pm

Firstly, I hope you weren't offended by what I said; I didn't mean it as such. I just took for granted that there were books that you liked, and I was saying you should study (read: study, not imitate) those. And if there wasn't a single story you like reading, I was wondering why you wanted to write in the first place.

Did you like Harry Potter? Do you lie the stories you read in WotF volumes? You said your favorite author is Robin Masters, yet couldn't remember a book he/she had written. So--genuinely curious here--what is you favorite book?

Other than that, to respond to your recent post, I believe there are two things to this philosophy of reading and writing: One, writers read. Simple as that. Even shakespeare, even Rowling, they may not have read the same things they wrote, but they read. A lot. That's what got them into writing in the first place. I think you'll be hard pressed to find a single famous author who doesn't have someone for inspiration. (There's a whole wikipedia article about influences for Harry Potter.)

Two, is that it's simple logic that in order to sell what you write you should study what's working. Does that mean you can't break any rules? Of course not. As you noted, most famous novels/plays were the first of their kind, original in some unique way. But you can bet the authors studied how to do all the other things in their novel/play. (This is what I believe Liz was saying, not a paradox, but simply--if you want to create what is now called "Good Writing" you should study what's called good writing, understand why it's called that, and use some of those same components.)

From classics, we see what makes a great work, work which outlast its author. From bestsellers we can try to find out how to attract wide audiences. And from any other published book we can understand a) grammar, punctuation etc which we learn we're wee lads reading Half Magic and The Mouse and the Motorcycle, b) we learn where to put commas and how to create blocking, how to create likeable characters and draw out tension, c) we learn how to create unlikeable characters, write beautifully, etc. These things, while possible to be learnt through intuition, are very difficult to just guess at, Even if you do perfectly understand yourself--what you want from a story--that won't be exactly the same as what the average reader wants.

I suppose it's possible for someone who dislikes music (like me :) to suddenly decide that they want to become a musical artist. And then, without learning anything of chords or notes, produce a masterpiece that is so stunning, and so original, that music lovers everywhere will sigh in pleasure. But one must ask, what are the odds of that happening? And what drives this disliker of music to produce music, shouldn't he focus his genius on something he enjoys and will thus probably be more successful at?

I hope this shed some light on this topic. I think reading in order to write is similar to reading books on writing, to understand its ins and outs. To anticipate the obvious question, if you only read books on writing, you will still lack the experience a reader has. Like someone who learns golf from a book, without ever seeing a golfing course. Or someone who goes to a class on how to become a teacher--he learns all the rules, the dos and don'ts, but if he has never been a student attending school, he'll still be woefully unprepared. Experience breeds success.
Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. ~ Winston Churchill
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V. 38: ?,

Mr H
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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Mr H » Mon Dec 07, 2020 9:16 pm

Writing is the basis of everything and you don't need anything to do it. Reading is optional.

It is interesting that people find it hard to grasp that someone who doesn't read much can want to be an author.

Ah, Mr Masters. There's that theme again.

I don't think I have a favourite book. The haunted mask? AVP hunters planet and prey were good. Should JP, only I found the writing a bit kiddy, but with kids and a theme park, that may have been the idea? I have stacks I want to read, planet of the apes, war of the world's, Dickins, Austin, a wide assortment sitting quietly. If I had to pick, I'd go with my life in Kenya by Lionel Hardcastle. But only for the cool cover. Play it again Sam.
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36 Q2 R
36 Q3 R
36 Q4 R
37 Q1 HM (happy dance may have occurred)
37 Q2 R
37 Q3 R
37 Q4 R
38 Q1 ? (Hmm... Let me guess.)

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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Reuben » Mon Dec 07, 2020 9:48 pm

Mr H wrote:Writing is the basis of everything and you don't need anything to do it. Reading is optional.

It is interesting that people find it hard to grasp that someone who doesn't read much can want to be an author.


I don't mean to be confrontational, but what I find hard to grasp, is not regarding plain writing, but writing stuff that people want to read. If you want to do that, shouldn't that mean studying what others enjoy? And If you want to do that doesn't that mean you yourself like to read? I could give countless examples, as I tried to do so with music, but it doesn't like you think they're comparable.

What I think it comes down to is two things, which I feel like you're wavering between. Basically, do you feel like your writing is better than others, and that if others wrote in your style you would like reading better? (This is what it sounds like from your original posts about Analog and whatnot.) Or do you just not like reading, so much, that is, you enjoy writing more so than reading? In either situation, if you would be willing I'd be happy to take a look at some of your work; I'm always happy to learn new things. You could pm me and we could continue this discussion.

Mr H wrote:I don't think I have a favourite book. The haunted mask? AVP hunters planet and prey were good. Should JP, only I found the writing a bit kiddy, but with kids and a theme park, that may have been the idea? I have stacks I want to read, planet of the apes, war of the world's, Dickins, Austin, a wide assortment sitting quietly. If I had to pick, I'd go with my life in Kenya by Lionel Hardcastle. But only for the cool cover.


Ahh, The Haunted Mask. (Never heard of the other titles you mentioned.) I read that when I was a kid and I lay awake for long nights because of it. It was really the only one of the series that I found scary, but boy was I scared. I used to get shivers just thinking about it. Of course, now I've grown out of that. Really. I'm not scared of some book. Why would I be. No sirree, not scared at all!

I think I'm going to have nightmares tonight. wotf018
Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. ~ Winston Churchill
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V. 38: ?,

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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Mr H » Mon Dec 07, 2020 10:37 pm

" If you want to do that, shouldn't that mean studying what others enjoy? And If you want to do that doesn't that mean you yourself like to read?"

Well I have been trying, see first post. Why do I HAVE to enjoy reading? Having to reread things several times and taking a month or more to read a book is not my idea of fun. Or is it? It's like cracking any code it can be both pleasure and pain. The determination to succeed is the fun bit. The torture of reading less so. Perhaps I'm just a sicko for wanting to do that to others? Cue maniacal laughter.

I just felt I got a HM for an explosive start. I've not seen many of them. It also had a decent word count and several very different characters that played against each other well. My trifecta of success, as I see it. It also had a shameful (shameless?) scene of pure padding, nobody's perfect.

I don't care if people write like me or not, just that I can get hooked ASAP. When you have pages and pages ahead of you, you need to actually be interested in what's going on.
Lots of R
36 Q1 R
36 Q2 R
36 Q3 R
36 Q4 R
37 Q1 HM (happy dance may have occurred)
37 Q2 R
37 Q3 R
37 Q4 R
38 Q1 ? (Hmm... Let me guess.)

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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Reuben » Tue Dec 08, 2020 5:49 am

A hundred percent. It may be, however, that different people have different ideas for interesting hooks. For WotF? Every single story in the anthology has several hooks, raises several questions, just in the beginning. A personal favorite of mine from vol. 35 is:

"Would you kill a child?" That is one of the first questions they ask you.

The start doesn't have to be explosive, but it does have to pack a punch.
Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. ~ Winston Churchill
V. 37: R, R, R, HM
V. 38: ?,

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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Mr H » Tue Dec 08, 2020 1:21 pm

But that's the book asking the reader a question, a question most may think they know the answer to. Most of us would just think NO and that's that. Some may think, why is the book asking me this? That is more a thing between the narrator and the reader, not directly the events of the story (from memory it was the narrator, correct me if I'm wrong, the books in the cupboard three feet away and I'm a lazy git).

The best questions are ones you really can't answer, or don't think you can. What's behind the door? In the first few lines you haven't a clue. Would you dive off a perfectly good boat into freezing water? Most would think no. It's also a bit, why is the book asking me a question at all? That's the real question. The door is showing (I assumed it wouldn't be written as a direct question, just left unanswered, like "the door was locked but he had to get to the other side." Without saying why. The boat, or child is telling. A direct question. So there is that also.

I'm talking about the reader having questions about the story that are not answered until reading further into it.

I really can't think of someone reading "would you kill a child?" And going. "Hmm... I don't think I know at all, I'll read on and find out."

I know that was just one example. But it may have been better put like. "John, you have to kill him." " No, I can't." "John, you have to!" Something like that, the question, or a similar one looms without being asked directly.

Ok. Gosh. I'll take a look.
Lots of R
36 Q1 R
36 Q2 R
36 Q3 R
36 Q4 R
37 Q1 HM (happy dance may have occurred)
37 Q2 R
37 Q3 R
37 Q4 R
38 Q1 ? (Hmm... Let me guess.)

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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Mr H » Tue Dec 08, 2020 1:50 pm

Release from service. V 35.

The Question is straight up. Followed by, "that's what they ask you," blah, blah, blah. Or such like.

So it's not even really a question for the reader, only in the formatting, perhaps. Like:

"Take off your coat." The door man would ask you.

I don't see the reader removing any clothing based on that line.
Lots of R
36 Q1 R
36 Q2 R
36 Q3 R
36 Q4 R
37 Q1 HM (happy dance may have occurred)
37 Q2 R
37 Q3 R
37 Q4 R
38 Q1 ? (Hmm... Let me guess.)

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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Reuben » Tue Dec 08, 2020 3:26 pm

Wow. I suppose that first lines are different for everyone. Me, I couldn't have stopped reading after that first line. What kind of question is "Would you kill a child"? Who would ask such a question and to whom are they asking it?

A similar first line that I think is ingenious, from Gene Wolfe:

"Murder is not always such a terrible thing."

Right away, I know this is not going to be some romantic or literary fiction. This is going to be about death, it's going to be about a three dimensional character, one who's conflicted. I start asking questions. What type of person would say that? Why would they feel the need to say that?

There's tons of tension and character, not to mention a promise to the reader, built into that first sentence. I couldn't stop reading there. It's a lot more hooking to me, then, say, "Hey, what's behind that door?" or "John, I'm gonna kill him, I will!" because those are just cheap lines that anyone can say; doesn't mean a great story follows.

Just my opinion. wotf017
Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. ~ Winston Churchill
V. 37: R, R, R, HM
V. 38: ?,

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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Mr H » Tue Dec 08, 2020 4:59 pm

I feel the others are more throw away lines. Like the writers tried very hard to write a fancy string of words, rather than setting up questions that the reader asks but aren't told.

Do you read just because it sounds interesting or because there's a definite question? The stock market report can be interesting, so on, but there's no questions.

I don't think such lines are cheap, just not cheesy. Keep it simple. Most importantly "Get on with it!" Don't tie the reader up with the writers own ego trip with fancy sentences (guilty) and just do as the python crowd demand.
Lots of R
36 Q1 R
36 Q2 R
36 Q3 R
36 Q4 R
37 Q1 HM (happy dance may have occurred)
37 Q2 R
37 Q3 R
37 Q4 R
38 Q1 ? (Hmm... Let me guess.)

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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Reuben » Tue Dec 08, 2020 8:50 pm

Mr H wrote:I feel the others are more throw away lines. Like the writers tried very hard to write a fancy string of words, rather than setting up questions that the reader asks but aren't told.

Do you read just because it sounds interesting or because there's a definite question? The stock market report can be interesting, so on, but there's no questions.

I don't think such lines are cheap, just not cheesy. Keep it simple. Most importantly "Get on with it!" Don't tie the reader up with the writers own ego trip with fancy sentences (guilty) and just do as the python crowd demand.


If I understand what you're saying, I don't really agree with you at all. Many of the lines start short and simple, and I agree that in most instances that's the best method of not confusing the reader. I've wanted to do a post on first lines for a while now; I imagine now is as good a time as any. I quoted previously from vol. 35. Here is each of the stories first lines, and why I liked them and was hooked by them. Others are welcome to chime in.

Untrained Luck:
"Mag forced herself to think about anything except the crescents glued inside her boot heel while the immigration officer addressed her in Hinshee, the official dialect."

This is one of the longer sentences, but it hooked me right away. This sentence introduces a new world, which the author promises to explore and explain in depth. (Mag=strange name + Hinshee.) There's conflict right away, Mag is at the border and is being questioned by an officer, yet Mag has something up her sleeve, or rather, her boot. Why is she hiding the crescents, how much danger will she be in if they're found?

The story goes on to the officer questioning Mag, and it turns out that the crescents in the boot are not found. Along with establishing character and a bit of the milieu, they are used solely for the purpose of creating tension in the opening scene.

The First Warden:
When I was very young, a sickness struck—the sort that spreads like fire, consuming everyone it touches.

Not a long sentence, and not much conflict yet, but it draws you in, deceptively, it's interesting. There's a character and he/she is in pain. They feel strongly about it from their description of the sickness. This is not a story I would stop reading after the first sentence; I want to know how the MC survives, and I want to know more about him.

The Damned Voyage
The Southampton docks were bedlam, people shouting and gawking, cursing and rushing.

Well, this definitely starts out moving. In fact, this is more of "in action" beginning than others. I personally like those that raise questions, but this raises a few: Why is the MC here? The first sentence sets a tone for a fast-paced, enjoyable story, despite its length and many scenes. And the title is a hook unto itself.

A Harvest of Astronauts
The airlock sighed open, and the first corpse floated through.

This is not one my favorite stories, but the first sentence is certainly not lacking. A corpse? Harvesting corpses? What's going on? This is a short sentence, where one thing happens, but it is not normal. And yet the word "first" sounds like this is just procedure. What's going on? Read on to find out.

Super-Duper Moongirl and the Amazing Moon Dawdler
I’m Dixie.

I should really use the first three sentences for this one. (Sorry Moon:) As for short sentences, this takes the cake. Is a reader going to stop reading now? No sirree. It's only two words. The great thing about this story, even more than any of the others, is how quickly and deceptively it sucks you in. No conflict, just character, like a kid talking. And it's so real that you don't notice that you're listening to anything special until she says "tubes."

What we do see from those words are: A child MC, whose name is Dixie.
Not much to analyze here, except for the title, and that's a whopper. You can guess that Dixie's the "Moongirl", and it's going to be about the amazing Moon Dawdler. We don't know a lot of info yet, but we do know, from the way Dixie is talking, that we will soon.

Are You the Life of the Party?
Question Seven: How do you like to be kissed?

Not much to comment on this one. I like the story; though it's one that breaks boundaries; not like most of the other stories at all. Still we know that someone is taking some type of survey, which would be boring, only the question is so absurd that we're like "Huh?"

The story continues, showing a aged man taking the survey/quiz, but even without that the one, weird sentence piques your curiosity and prompts you to read further. This sentence is important to the plot of the story, and the theme. It's also a good hook.

Dark Equations of the Heart
Reuben Belgrum stepped from cot to cot, lingering a few minutes at each, his voice low and intimate.

Where is Reuben? (Besides for a great writer, of course.) Why is he keeping his voice low? And most importantly, what is he doing by each cot on which he spends a few minutes?

An Itch
Before he died, my father made a secretaire from the old tree in our garden.

Another story that begins with past narrative. Which I like, though I think David Farland doesn't. Like the others it pulls you in with its deceptive talk. And I want to know what about this secretaire is so important that the narrator mentioned that his father created it "before he died"?

Dirt Road Magic
Aluminum foil on the windows couldn’t keep out the summer heat.

The first line doesn't tell you anything speculative, but the title does. Not much conflict in this, but it's short and snappy, and we know the MC is hot, so micro conflict. We also know about the MC. We know that it's summer, and we know that he/she isn't wealthy. The speculative title combined with the mundane first line makes me want to know more. Where's the magic?

A Certain Slant of Light
Walter walked slowly along the crumbling sidewalk.

Another short sentence, although it reads slow because it has the word slowly in it. Most stories start with action, what is it with Walter that he's walking slowly? The crumbling sidewalk tells us, subconsciously, that he's depressed, or if not depressed, tired, weary, and crumbling.

We start with a clear character with a clear problem (though we don't yet know what it is). It's a mundane sentence, but the best type is where an author can layer meaning in a simple line, and convey many things without any effort on the reader.

According to my count, there's only one semi-long sentence in the bunch, which is the first one, and every word in that sentence is important. There's no fluff, and it doesn't drag on.

These are only my readings, but I've endeavored to prove that first lines are not easy. Dave has said that he can spot a winner from a first line.

That's because, if you know how to write, then there will be multiple reasons, (which will accomplish multiple things) for everything written in your first sentence. While asking questions that forces the reader to keep reading. And all while making it look easy (and sometimes snappy).

I did this exercise for myself, as a challenge to better understand first lines, hopefully this can be useful to others as well.
Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. ~ Winston Churchill
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V. 38: ?,

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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby RSchibler » Wed Dec 09, 2020 4:53 am

Great analysis, Reuben.
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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Mr H » Wed Dec 09, 2020 5:46 am

My two cents.

Untrained Luck. I honestly didn't understand that sentence. Mag is probably just short for Maggie. What's a crescent? Hinshee sounds alien. But it sounds like the start of so many spy/crime type stories.

The First Warden. Tell, don't show?

The Damned Voyage. It is a nice sentence, but no questions for me, hopefully the next few make up for it.

A Harvest of Astronauts. Yeah, pretty good. Short simple, with questions for the reader to ask. Though the next lines need to back it up with more.

Super-Duper Moongirl and the Amazing Moon Dawdler. Honestly the title does more than that line. I think a few authors are getting cheated by this, but it certainly makes you think carefully about that first line.

Are You the Life of the Party? It gets you to read on, but I feel it lacks a hook, you just want to know the answer to the written question. It may work, but it's not a very important question, I could live without knowing.

Dark Equations of the Heart. This one's a good example of things to be careful of. I just skimmed the name, then made myself go back and try to read it. Also what's a cot? A small fold up bed in the US is a baby's crib in Australia is a gangsters hangout in the US. Be careful of words that can be confusing internationally. Be careful of what you call bottoms in Australia, or you'll get weird looks. Eg. The Nanny was not "out on her ...bottom" here in Oz, if you get my meaning. I'm surprised they left that in over here.

An Itch. That's just a piece of useless info. What the heck is a secret-whatsit any way? I think my point here is you can read it, say "that's nice," and move along happily.

Dirt Road Magic. This feels halfway there. Nice and simple. The next lines would be pivotal. I could get to the next line, but it had better leave me hanging.

A Certain Slant of Light. Same again. Simple, but needs the next lines to back it up. Interesting issue is I read "Walker walked..." Then noticed bmy mistake. Similar words next to each other can have the reader confusing thing and have them reread things, if they notice. I could have been scratching my head by paragraph two wondering why people were now calling him Walter.

Yeah good work on this. Making every word mean something I'll, take away.

More on the first line/lines sounds good also. Tips and tricks.
Lots of R
36 Q1 R
36 Q2 R
36 Q3 R
36 Q4 R
37 Q1 HM (happy dance may have occurred)
37 Q2 R
37 Q3 R
37 Q4 R
38 Q1 ? (Hmm... Let me guess.)

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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby disgruntledpeony » Wed Dec 09, 2020 5:55 am

Personally, I think judging a story solely by its first line is unduly harsh. Even editors usually tend to give a story the first 13 lines or so unless the story is just that bad. Dave will give a good story four pages to hook him. So, yes, having a first sentence that hooks is ideal, but different things will hook different people (as is clearly evidenced above).
If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it. ~ H.G. Wells

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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Mr H » Wed Dec 09, 2020 4:32 pm

No. It's viciously harsh. As it should be.

But as far as practice, a challenge, exercise, what have you, working on first lines is a good idea. Make a good first line and it should (??) be easier to write a good second line, so on.

Good to hear the judges may read further. I can stress less a bit. However, for your wider reading audience it's just another part of the story to pay attention to.

A great reader may move past it, a common reader may not. There are more common readers than great readers. It's up to you if you want to aim for the wider audience.

To anyone reading this. Why not toss in a great first line. Either a published one by someone else or one you make up. The wolves are hungry.

(That was a statement, not an attempt at a line. But boy, I think it could be.)

PS: I'll add that, while a reader may read a few paragraphs or pages anyway, a good first line could linger and flavour things to come, what not.
Lots of R
36 Q1 R
36 Q2 R
36 Q3 R
36 Q4 R
37 Q1 HM (happy dance may have occurred)
37 Q2 R
37 Q3 R
37 Q4 R
38 Q1 ? (Hmm... Let me guess.)

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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Mr H » Fri Dec 18, 2020 4:19 am

I've been having a further look for writers who don't read much. Slim pickings, on the google surface (so it must be true!). Many of the bloggers, what have you, sound shocked, offended, so on. Odd responses in this day and age, I may suggest. I could also suggest a few other things, but am too polite.

I certainly didn't made up a learning difficulty and post it here in an attempt to cause trouble!?

Anywho... I did find this. I know nothing of the author, but the tale sounds legit to me.

https://writingcooperative.com/when-you ... e3f2e429f7

Like tribbles, I'm sure there is more than one. Completely unlike highlander, where "there can only be one".
Lots of R
36 Q1 R
36 Q2 R
36 Q3 R
36 Q4 R
37 Q1 HM (happy dance may have occurred)
37 Q2 R
37 Q3 R
37 Q4 R
38 Q1 ? (Hmm... Let me guess.)

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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby GlibWizard » Fri Dec 18, 2020 11:25 am

This thread is an interesting one, Mr H.

A great deal of what can be said has been said, but it occurs to me that if as a thought experiment we substitute in another creative activity, like painting, you would not seem unusual at all for being driven to create but less interested in consuming. Painting teachers still send you to galleries and art history classes to learn what works, but many of your fellow students think this is much less useful than time in the studio and say so.
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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Mr H » Fri Dec 18, 2020 3:36 pm

I can see that.

I'm certainly not saying you shouldn't read or that I don't want to read. Find me a guy in a wheelchair who doesn't want to walk. However he can still race without ridicule, and win.

I feel there is A LOT more to be said while a good number of people seem to think it wrong or inconceivable that someone who reads little would actually want to write. A lot of what I read doing the searches make me feel like someone who others feel "doesn't belong." It's a bit weird to me, one would think reading broadens the mind, or something.

Here's another amusing anecdote.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/gint-aras. ... books/amp/

Gosh the ignorance of the author!

Just because your not a big reader does not mean you "reject" books.

"Why doesn't that blind man want to see? And what's he doing in the art class anyway, shoo, shoo." That kind of thing. Could you imagine a blind man painting?

Well, now you can...

https://medium.com/demptyspace/painting ... e%20colors.

I doubt he's looking at the latest works by other artists. He's finding a way around it, like a writer watching plays, film, tv and such, or audio books, as mentioned before.
Lots of R
36 Q1 R
36 Q2 R
36 Q3 R
36 Q4 R
37 Q1 HM (happy dance may have occurred)
37 Q2 R
37 Q3 R
37 Q4 R
38 Q1 ? (Hmm... Let me guess.)

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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby RabenWrites » Tue Dec 29, 2020 12:41 pm

I wonder if the strict connotations of the word can't may be the sticking point here. Of course non-readers can write, and even possibly write well. But reading is an important aide that is generally preferred. One could make the claim that you can't survive a thirty thousand foot drop without a parachute, and be factually wrong and yet I wouldn't trust anyone advising against wearing a parachute to people looking to leap from planes.

The fact that a writer can cite other works and say 'this didn't work for me' is as much a boon to their writing as seeing something that ignites their passion. Read a thousand intros and see what catches your attention and what does not and you'll find yourself better at writing intros. This thread already has a good discussion on that. But there is more to writing than intros. A writer needs to set up promises and be able to make good on them. Foreshadowing and red herrings are subtle craft and easily misused. Finding works that, well, worked for you can help with your craft and reading those that didn't can do as much or sometimes more.

Studying film and other storycraft is undeniably helpful, I highly recommend the YouTube channel FilmCourage for anyone with the desire to see how storycraft is played out on the big and small screen, much will directly apply to short and long fiction.

But much will not.

Star Wars didn't just start out with an action scene to set the scene and make tonal promises, (which, in the original, it didn't) and I agree that such things translate well to the page, but Lucas also used John Williams's score to powerful effect, and unless/until we get publishers to put those little gift card music players in novels, authors have to use their diction and pacing to fill that void. That is going to be a challenge to pick up without reading works that sing off the page.

In the end, one definition for art is that which evokes emotions in others. Story structure and many tools are universal and can be studied and learned without much or any reading, but extracting maximum emotional impact from written prose will be greatly aided by seeing what works for you in the medium you're looking to exercise your craft in.
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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Agathon » Tue Jan 05, 2021 6:13 am

Mr H wrote:
To anyone reading this. Why not toss in a great first line. Either a published one by someone else or one you make up. The wolves are hungry.

(That was a statement, not an attempt at a line. But boy, I think it could be.)



Here's my favorite opening sentence of a novel:

It was a dark and stormy night in Elizabethan England, a night of driving rain and howling wind, God save the mark! when even the stately oaks bowed their great heads and giant ash trees clawed with spidery fingers at the tempest, duck ponds and horse-troughs were lashed into foam, chimbley pots toppled on the heads of honest citizens, staring owls clung to their perches with difficulty, and broom-riding witches circled crazily over blasted heaths, stacked and waiting in vain for clearance to land, Steeple Bumpstead was whirled away leaving a gaping hole in the middle of Essex, cows and domestic animals were overturned, slates and washing flew every which way, and stout constables, their lanthorns awash, kept out of the way of sturdy beggars and thanked God they were rid of a knave, leaded casements rattled in stately Tudor homes, causing the noble inhabitants to give thanks for roaring fires and bumpers of mulled posset what time they brooded darkly about sunspots, global warming, and the false forecasts of Master Michael Fishe, he o’ the isobars, who had predicted only light airs gentle as zephyrs blowing below the violets, would you believe it, while out yonder, in lonely hamlet and disintegrating hovel, the peasantry scratched their fleas and gnawed lumps of turnip and blamed it on the Almighty (poor churls, what did they know of warm fronts and depressions o’er Iceland?) or on the hag next door, her wi’ the Evil Eye and black familiar Grimalkin and devilish spells, curse her, and wagged their unkempt heads as haystacks and livestock crashed through their thatches, and asked each other in fearful whispers whether such raging fury of the elements portended the end of the world, or the Second Coming, or another bloody wet week, and agreed that it was alle happenynge, gossip, and where would it end?

From The Reavers by George MacDonald Fraser, novelist and screenwriter.
Agathon McGeachy

Figure Sculptor, Mechanical Designer, Reformed Rakehell, Writer

Vol 37, Q2: HM
Vol 37, Q3: HM
Vol 37, Q4: HM
Vol 38, Q1: the waiting is the hardest part

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Re: Can't read can't write

Postby Mr H » Tue Jan 05, 2021 7:19 pm

I bet that made Mary Poppins wet her pants.

It is a super-long sentence.

I wouldn't attempt writing it. Imagine the judges reactions if we all submitted stories with such unending chains of words.

Maybe the printer dropped the (.) and they all went between the floor boards?

Question: Is the rest of the book like that??
Lots of R
36 Q1 R
36 Q2 R
36 Q3 R
36 Q4 R
37 Q1 HM (happy dance may have occurred)
37 Q2 R
37 Q3 R
37 Q4 R
38 Q1 ? (Hmm... Let me guess.)


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