What are Plots? Understanding Episodic, Dramatic, Parallel, and Flashback

No Plot.jpg“What’s it all about?” “What’s the point?” If you’re a writer or reader, these are usually questions of plot. They could be the things we whisper in the dark before we sleep, too.

Anyways, moving along.

Let’s start this shindig with a basic definition. I pulled this one from The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing, by Alice LaPlante (it’s one gigantic book, but a really great one). “So plot, as we will define it, is that series of events, arranged in a particular order, which brings about the desired final effect of a short story or novel” (p. 377).

Highfalutin folks People who have taken some creative writing courses (or read a few textbooks on the subject) will mutter about The Major Dramatic Question. To put it simply, the major dramatic question is the problem the author presents for their characters to deal with; it’s the same problem the reader is confronted with as they go through the story. After the story is finished, the reader should feel they have an answer, or solution, to this problem (even if the reader’s solution wasn’t the same as what you wrote, at least you got them thinking).

While the journey to answering this question is why readers read, as the writer, it’s often important to take a moment to ask yourself: “Just where the heck am I going with this? What issue am I presenting in this story? Does my ending solve this issue? Should it?”

Ignoring the plot is like foreplay without We don’t want to take our readers on an awesome journey and not give them a payoff of some kind. The plot ensures we stay on track. I’ve read/heard many different techniques for ensuring you achieve this goal. I’m sticking with the shortest and quickest ones I’ve found.

Crying Boy No Plot.jpgDon’t plot. Doesn’t get any quicker than doing nothing. Not what I would recommend, but enough people have read Steven King’s book, On Writing, to cherry-pick passages that indicate plotting goes against creativity (as if every writer is creative in the same way and one person’s recipe for success fits all). According to King, this sort of pre-planning ruins the organic process.

The reason I don’t recommend this is because it’s hard to overhaul a plotless book. These novels/stories stretch on forever, largely because the writer is simply writing without a goal of any kind. They rock back and forth and whisper, “The ending will come, the ending will come…” Bad news, sometimes, it’s not coming. Sometimes, you must have a somewhat realized concept of what the plot was to effectively close it out.

Side note. The lack of any sort of plotting and blind writing is not something I advocate or dissuade people from, generically. Every writer is different. Some can power through to a conclusion that makes perfect sense. Some will get lost in the middle and never find the end. Some advice shouldn’t be stone, it should be sand. So, shift your style to fit your person, even if your person shifts year-by-year.

Plot points. Unlike an in-depth plotting project where you write pages of discovery material, this is a page or two where you numerically number the major plot points in chronological order and cross them off as you move along. This gives you the freedom to connect those dots however you want, and even change them along the way. This provides the writer an endgame, even if the conclusion is in flux and changes as you close on it.

Mission Statement. One of the best and least time-sucky methods I’ve seen comes from the book, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark. He states you should take the time to draft a mission statement for your work. The mission statement, according to Clark, is a list of “I want” statements.

Examples. I want the hero to to lose his hero-status and die. I want to show space pirates have a heart of gold. I want to turn (insert trope) on its head. I want to show that kittens are superior to puppies.

These “I want” statements highlight what your goals are for the characters and conflicts in the story. They also can quickly become dramatic questions. Just replace I want with how do I. Suddenly you have a series of questions to answer with your writing. This allows you to be run wild with organic story telling, but also creates a loose set of guidelines to reel you back in.

Moving on.

There are four “main” types of plots out there. Honestly, there are more than four, but these seem to be the most common in current literature: dramatic, parallel, episodic, and flashback.

 

dramatic plot.jpg

An example of a dramatic plot. 

Dramatic Plots. This follows one main rising action to a climax, then tapers down to the end. Most of the book is spent establishing settings, characters, and conflicts. One main conflict reigns supreme, and the characters ride this action to a crescendo. There is a period of lull after this climax (called the denouement) where the reader gets to take a breather, then the writer closes the story.

 

Episodic Plots. These follow many actions or events chapter-by-chapter. The events stack, and are typically related by a character or theme. The goal with this sort of plot is to show a larger event, place, time, or idea from many different angles. Much like the namesake, many television shows are set up with an episodic plot. There are central characters and themes to drive the show, but “filler” episodes could be shuffled around without impacting the series much.

Serving Up Plots.jpgSome military fiction uses this style. Each chapter highlights a different member in the military, tackling a different aspect of the battle or war. Ultimately, these vignettes join to paint a much larger understanding of the conflict.

Parallel Plots. This form allows you to take multiple dramatic plots, usually two or three, and run them at the same time. Remember how the dramatic plot has a rising action that leads to a climax in the story? With parallel plots, the multiple arcs usually all crash together at the climax. Because the reader has followed multiple rising actions, they might be more emotionally involved in the climactic moment.

Flashback, flashback, flashback… This plotting device allows the author to start the story in the middle of a high-action point, and flash backwards to lead back up to it. Giving the reader all the backstory and moving them back to the high-action moment. The clichéd version of this is certainly the, this is how I died, intro. Of course, I should eat my words as one of the most talked about and controversial shows on Netflix right now is 13 Reasons Why. A show about a girl who commits suicide, and each episode it basically a flashback to events leading up to it.

thanksThat’s a wrap for today, thanks for reading! No matter what plot you go with, or if you’re going into the work plotless, you owe your readers that moment at the end of the book where they sigh, look up at the skies, and say, “I feel…something.” Let’s just hope that something is a positive connection, one that will keep them coming back for more. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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What is Deep POV? (Spoiler: It’s “Show Don’t Tell”)

 

Showing Versus Telling

Today I wanted to talk a little about the idea of “deep POV.” I’ve had a couple authors approach/email me asking questions about the concept. While I was familiar with the idea of point of view (POV) and how to sink deeply into it, I wasn’t uniquely familiar with that terminology. So, I did what I always do when seemingly new knowledge presents itself, I tracked it down.

Typing “Deep POV Books” in Amazon yielded many questionable (in regards to author credibility) self-help type books regarding deep POV. About ten books down on the list, I found some pretty interesting erotica. Scrolling farther down yielded even more eyebrow-raising search results. Anyways, that wasn’t the deep POV I was looking for…

I grabbed the two books (writing books mind you) that had the most reviews regarding the subject. The two books are the following:

While both books have some decent information, holy macaroni folks, deep POV is just show, don’t tell dressed up in new words. While the showing/telling song and dance is geared toward many facets of writing, this deep POV concept is geared toward characters.

*Sigh*

Deep POV.jpgThe marketing folks must by doing a river dance right now. There’s nothing like slapping lipstick on a well-used term and screaming, “I’ve uncovered a new gem! Whadayamean it’s the same as…oh…I see. Okay, one-line show don’t tell and write in deep POV!”

Regardless of how used the concept is, if you are unfamiliar with showing versus telling, or deep POV, just know the terms are basically interchangeable in regards to writing characters.

Here are some blog posts I’ve generated regarding showing and telling, if you need a quick fix. The quality of these posts, much like the quality of my brain, is questionable. Though, a few people have found them useful (the posts, not my brain…yet).

Tics and Tells to Show not Tell (talks about using character mannerisms in your writing)

Using Sensory Detail to Enhance Fiction (talks about taking advantage of your senses)

Show vs. Tell & Intensity Scales (talks about the concept and offers a tool to determine when to show or tell)

resourcesTo be honest, if you are looking for resources on deep POV, you would do well to simply search for solid writing books that have a chapter or so on showing/telling. The two books I listed in the beginning are a great start. S.A. Soule’s book is filled with examples, if that floats your literary boat. If I had to pick a couple of books to recommend on the subject, because you all know I eat my greens, I would point toward:

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (This book is simply jammed full of tips and examples of how to write believable, visceral character cues. Tackles 70+ different emotions. Great if you can’t deal with emotions…in your writing.)

Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction, by Marcy Kennedy (Confused about the concept? Can’t find a blogger or source of information to solve the problem? Marcy Kennedy does a good job of clearing the fog. Also, this author states that telling isn’t always wrong, or bad, or bad-wrong. Indeed, telling had its place.)

That’s a wrap for today. Sorry to be away for so long; life has been busy (editing, writing, conventions, stay-at-home dadding, military spousing). As time opens up, I’ll spend a little more of it here. Shooting for a post a week here and on the author page, we’ll see if I can pull that off.

question markQuick question! What books or resources would you all recommend to tackle the idea of deep POV or show don’t tell? I’m always looking for more pieces of information to add to my library. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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The Art of Character: Book, Blurb & Collage

The Art of Character

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, The Art of Character, written by David Corbett. Image created by me and free to share.

 

During my transition to the new state over the last month or so, I’ve continued hitting the books and eating my greens. The Art of Character, by David Corbett was a delight to read. Honestly, I’ve burned through so many bloody books about writing characters and examining archetypes that it was starting to get repetitive — this book caught me by surprise.

art-of-character-200.jpg

Image linked to Goodreads.

Corbett offers some fresh perspective about understanding how to craft and build believable characters. Unlike many of books I’ve read, he emphasizes the importance of shaping the character before your build the book. In my experience working with other authors, many go the opposite direction: starting with the story or general plot, then populating it with characters.

The issue, and I’ve seen it happen, is the characters are custom fitted to the story and one dimensional when you plot the story then begin to craft the characters afterwards. They say, “I want a scene where he/she commandeers a pirate vessel then builds a robot out of Pixy Stix, duct tape, and bubble gum…oh, they must be able to knit kitten sweaters too! I better make sure the character has X, Y, and Z traits.”

The book is separated into four main parts: Conceiving the Character, Developing the Character, Roles, and Technique. Each section builds on the previous and provides instruction on how to weave characters into the tapestry of your story. This is bolstered by countless examples from a smattering of different genres.

Speaking of examples, one thing I like to do when I read books on the craft of writing is glance at the bibliography at the back of the book. Corbett’s bibliography is three pages long with about fifty cited sources. That’s a goldmine!

When it comes to character studies, this book has quickly jumped to the top of my go-to pile. I can see it being one I refer to clients and friends alike. If your Amazon trigger finger is itchy, give it a go!

question markThat’s it for today. If you are curious about some of the other writing books I’ve read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here (going to have to update this beast soon), or jump to my Reads section. I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same. What writing books are you reading? I’d love to hear about it. I’m always looking for more books to devour. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Blogging: Building Your Platform

 

thor-with-leaf

Thor sorting leaves. He knows where to find the good ones.

It’s been too long since I’ve been able to update! I’m writing this post in my bedroom/office/box storage room. Yes, the prolonged move is taking forever, but I will be off to a new state and house by the end of the month. Fortunately (or unfortunately), that means you’ll be hearing a lot more from me in the near future. Oh, Thor is walking/running now…so yeah, busy times!

Today I wanted to take a moment to announce a milestone on the QE page. I’ve met and surpassed 1000 followers! Oddly enough, the last 200+ followers have come during a period of non-activity on my page [insert excuses: moving, baby, editing, writing, stay-at-home dad, military spouse].

So how did the blog continue to generate activity without me at the helm being proactive? I mean, does my blog even need me anymore? Has it gained self-awareness? I wish…

thanksBefore I get into the platform building section, let me say “thanks!” People talk about followers just being numbers. You’ll only make X number of sales from X number of followers. It all seems so impersonal. Speaking from my experience, I’ve received awesome emails from people checking in on me and the family, gained clients,  found collaborative writing partners, joined a Legion, uncovered fellow editors (key wielding clones), and I’m very humbled and appreciative of these relationships. Sales are one thing, meaningful relationships are something much more. So again, thanks for reading and coming back for more.

Building the BlogNow that I’m done gushing, let’s talk brass tacks.

I wrote a how-to post about blogging before: Blogging: What Works for Me. I wrote that post in July of last year when I had hit 400 followers. People were curious about my process, and I’m always happy to share. In it, I offered some tips about how to craft your writing and your activity to increase viewership. Towards the bottom of that post, I wrote a very short paragraph titled, Technical Mumbo Jumbo.  It seems some of that technical hoopla is more essential than I realized.

The technical aspects of your blog are what allow you to reach beyond WordPress and start generating views from search engines and other sources. In the last two months, where I only generated a few posts, those 200+ followers were likely due to me taking advantage of some of the features within WordPress. It’s also due to the type of content I ordinarily post.

Looking at my site analytics I’ve noticed a massive amount of views are being generated from search engines. This was planned. *maniacal laughter* Here are some ways to make your blog more visible outside of WordPress and gain more traffic.

evergreenWrite Evergreen Content. When I say “evergreen,” I’m talking about the shelf-life of the post. Some posts we write are author/editor/blogger/life update posts. For many, it’s a given you will want to reach out to your readers. “I’ll be here at this convention” or “Check out my new release.” There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just that those posts won’t be the workhorses on your page. In terms of search engine visibility, unless someone knows exactly what to type, they likely won’t stumble into those posts. The workhorses are the posts that don’t have a fuse or timeline.

There is little chance someone who’s never been to or heard of this page will type into Google, “Quintessential Editor Barnes and Noble Rant.” There is higher likelihood someone might search, “the herald archetype.” Both of these searches will bring up posts from this blog on the first or second page of Google, but one (the archetype post) is far more likely to pull a reader because it’s a logical search term.

The Barnes and Noble rant was a needed outlet for me to express my disdain, but it has little real usefulness to people.  On the other hand, posts about aspects of writing are tools people actively seek out. While your blog may not be centered around writing, finding ways to write content with no shelf-life and high applicability is a good move.

Your Blog Headline is Important. I didn’t realize this at first, but after studying the stats on my page over the course of the last eight months, I can’t refute the numbers. Writing and publishing clever headlines makes me smile, but they have little application outside of WordPress Reader. In fact, they can make your content nearly impossible for someone to stumble into from the endless sprawl of the interwebs.

harry-potter-newspaperThink of your blog headline like an internet search term. While the blog headline may be clever and will snag fresh readers taking advantage of the WordPress Reader, after a few weeks or months it will be buried. Yes, people can utilize tags and categories to find your posts here on WordPress (if they scroll long enough). However, search engines are a much bigger ocean and require more precision.

For example, I wrote about how to anchor readers using setting. I wanted to use a really clever headline for the post. Instead, I went with the very bland Setting: Anchoring the Reader. If someone types in “how to anchor a reader with setting” or “anchoring a reader with setting,” this post is usually on the front page of most search engines. The words a person might use to find this information with a search engine can be different, but the headline contains most of the words they would use.

Know the difference between a category and tag. Tags are the golden ticket. Not only will they allow people in WordPress Reader to narrow down their search and stumble onto your content, it also factors into search engine results. If you couldn’t tweak your headline to nail the topic entirely, you will want to add those missing words, individually, into the tag. Also add tags that are applicable to the topic.

For this post, I’ll likely have [writing, blogging, how-to, advice, WordPress, headlines, understanding, categories, tags, fiction, non-fiction, Corey Truax, dad]. You’ll notice dad there, it seems WordPress dads are always looking for kindred spirits so I always leave a breadcrumb trail. If you’re an author/editor/business person, it never hurts to toss your cats-dressed-vintage-photo.jpgname into the tag of each post. The more posts out there with your name on it, the more likely someone doing an internet search of your name will stumble into your blog.

[Here be rumors and unsubstantiated banter] I’ve read that some users will flood the tag area of their webpage posts. So let’s say you write a post about knitting sweaters for kittens. Some people will copy and paste more than 100 related and unrelated words into the tag field hoping someone searches for a topic and walks into their trap. In my opinion — you kitten sweater knitting maniacs — that’s a good way to ensure an unwary person never returns to your page. I’ve also read that certain search engines will boot your post from their search results if the tag seems like spam. [Here ends the trail of kitten tears]

labyrinthCategories Keep People on Your Page. Categories are how you organize your page. We don’t want readers to feel like they are navigating a labyrinth. I started with five or six main categories. One of them was “Writing.” This was a mistake because it lumped too many posts of different types into one giant category. If someone clicked the Writing category, a massive list of blog posts popped up. Some may have been what they were looking for, some weren’t. I broke “Writing” down into more precise categories: Conflict, Setting, Description, Dialogue, and so on. When I did this, repeat views from a single reader skyrocketed. Alas, some people who came to the page didn’t care about every aspect of writing.

If categories are a new concept for you entirely, WordPress has a page dedicated to explaining what they are and how to make them work for you. Check it out here.

You can really take advantage of your categories by using the widgets included with WordPress. Widgets offer different options that display navigation tools. If you are unfamiliar with widgets, WordPress has a page for you here.

That’s it for today. The last bit of advice I’ll give is this, take the time to understand how to leverage the tools I talked about above. It’s heartbreaking to see people grinding away so hard and not getting readership. Especially when their blog page is how they generate business. Implementing these small tweaks will add two minutes to your process — at most. Those two minutes will ensure your webpage is easy to find, navigate, and use. And heck, maybe your page will achieve self-awareness.

question-markDo you have any tips that have worked for you? Do you understand the bizarre search engine algorithms? There a few more tools I have under my hat, but this post is already well beyond my 1000 word cap. If there’s enough interest, I can write another one with some extra bits of info. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always — stay sharp!

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Blogging: What Works for Me

blog clueless.jpgI was a little hesitant to write this post today.  I’m comfortable (somewhat) when I blog about writing and editing because I’ve been doing it for 13 years.  However, I’m not an experienced blogger by any means.  I’ve only been blogging for 51 days now.  With that being said, a recent blog post I made here has prompted enough views and inquiring comments that I thought I would share my limited experience.

When I wrote the blog linked above (11 days prior to this posting) I had almost reached 300 followers.  As of today, I have 409.  I think it was these numbers that prompted the curiosity.  So here are the things I have been doing.  Like I said, I don’t know if what I’m doing is good or bad – it’s just my process.

Stay true to your voice.  I write my blog as if it is correspondence with a treasured friend who is also on the writing path.  I also write it as a means to compile my own thoughts for future reference (a personal journal or writing wiki of sorts).  In this way, I hope to come off as someone with ideas to share, but not someone who is talking down to you.

Which bring me to…

Ethos, pathos, logos

Sometimes a stern word falls on deaf ears.

Discussion versus instruction.  If a thought or opinion is not mine, I do my best to reference it and link a source for people to find it.  I treat those bits and bobs as instruction.  When I am spit-balling my own thoughts, I try to preface it with words like, “in my opinion,” “I think,” “I believe,” and so on.  I treat those as discussion.  I feel it’s important to not be inflexible in your thoughts – especially when it comes to something artistic like writing.

Now if you are an accomplished author, editor, artist, or whatever – you can pull off a more serious tone that is heavy on instruction.  You’ve earned your stripes, wear them proudly.  As for me, I don’t take things too seriously.  Writing is enjoyable, I want my blog to be as well.

Consistency is key. I mentioned earlier I have been blogging for 51 days.  I have generated at least 51 posts.  The idea is you can fish with a hook, or with a net.

key.pngThis does two things for me.  One, it gets me out there everyday.  I meet new people and collaborate about ideas. Secondly, with the growing library of posts, I can reference old posts into new ones to generate additional clicks and sources of information for readers.  In this way, I can be more concise with writing tips by referencing past material.

I try to limit posting to one a day.  I don’t want to spam peoples screens with tons of decent posts when I can write one good one.  Personally, when I use the reader to browse content I don’t like it when one person has 10 blog posts in a row.  It intrudes and consumes the collaborative space.  That’s just me – sorry if you are one of those people.  If you are going to do multiple posts throughout the day, I recommend using the scheduler to space them out.  This will increase the number of views.

World Builder's Disease Meme

If you like sand, write about sand!

Write about what you are passionate about.  Every day I dedicate time to my craft (writing).  I am writing my own books, editing others, and reading books (fiction and non-fiction).  Now that I blog about writing, I keep a constant eye out for things that could be good blog fodder.  In this sense, I have an endless supply of content to work from.

Additionally, since I only write a single blog post a day, I can take extra ideas and jot them down for reference later (those days when the well is dry).  In the books I read, I toss post it notes into their pages to alert me to possible ideas.  When I edit, if something jumps out at me worth sharing, it gets tossed into the idea journal.

sharing.jpgSharing is caring.  When people comment or like my posts, I make my very best effort to reply back or go to their page and browse their content.  I try to get to know them.  If they took the time and effort to read, why shouldn’t I return the favor?

Also, I dedicate a portion of my day to seeking out posts from new bloggers and leave comments on them.  Why should I expect people only come to me?  Don’t fish with worms, use dynamite!  Search out people who share your interests and interact.  More often then not, they will return the favor.  I start with my followed sights and browse their content, then I use tags to search out subjects that intrigue me.

I really try to target posts that have been sitting for a long time and have no likes or comments.  Especially when they are well-written.  We’ve all been there.  You write this great post and no ones looks at it.  It’s crushing.  Take the time to spread the love.

thick book.jpgTry to limit blog posts to under 1000 words (this one is an exception).  People are busy.  If I can’t relay my writing tip in 1000 words or less, I try to break it down more.  I find when the word count grows, it’s because I don’t fully understand the idea I am trying to relay.  Or it could be that I am trying to cover more than one point (like today).

Break up big blocks of text with pictures.  When I am done writing, I try to find photos to compliment the words.  People are more apt to continue scrolling when there are photos to pull them along.  I like funny photos so those are what I tend to provide.  It’s important to note I do my best to only use Public Domain images and I create all of my own memes.  The last thing you want is to get a blog running on high octane only to have some chucklehead sue you.

Your home page is important.   When you Google Quintessential Editor, I pop up first. Most search engines provide only a snapshot of the page.  For me, you see the first two sentences of my home page.  In those two sentences you know what you will see if you click into my website.

headliens.jpg“Welcome to the Quintessential Editor. Here I provide writing tips every day, for everyday writers. You will find information regarding writing, editing, proofreading…” then it cuts off.  The blog has been around long enough that it also lists my most commonly clicked on categories within the top search.  There’s always a chance someone will randomly search a term in a search engine and your page will show up.  You need enough information there for them to decide whether to enter or not.

Tags, categories, and blog headlines are also important.  Categories are what allow people to browse content on your page and you can use widgets to support this endeavor.  Once I had enough posts created I made sure they were in clear categories (and sub-categories) with relevant tags.

Blog headlines are essential.  In reader, it prompts people to check out your post (for me, whatever photo I insert first accompanies this headline in reader).  It’s also important for search engines.  Think of your headline as a search engine term if possible.

Widgets are a powerful free tool.  Once you have someone on your page, you want to encourage them to stay.  Showing off other posts and information is a great way to do it.  You will see in my sidebar some widgets.  One is a drop down list that allows people to, at a glance, see what they can read (again, this only works if you have categorized your posts).  I also use the widgets showing off my top 10 posts, and 10 most recent ones.  This is how I try to chum the water and keep the sharks circling.

social media cloud.pngOther social media outlets should look different than your blog.  I link my page to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  However, I try to make sure all of my social media outlets offer different things.  While all of these roads link together (those other mediums all link back to my blog) each place offers something different.  Instagram is more about fatherhood and life – but links to the blog.  Twitter is about promoting indie authors, geek stuff, writing quotes, and other tomfoolery, but you can get to my blog there too.  If everything looks the same, no one has any reason to look at your other outlets.

missing manual wordpress.jpgTechnical mumbo jumbo.  I am not an expert on this by any means.  I did browse and find a template I liked and I did pay for my own domain and WordPress premium.  The books I used to get set up are the following:  WordPress: The Missing Manual, Smashing WordPress Themes, and Web Designer’s Guide to WordPress 

That’s pretty much it.  There are a lot of things I still need to figure out.  Like I said, I’m pretty new at this.  Hopefully you found something useful.  Some of the more technical things like widgets, categories, and tags you can search online to find more information about.  As for themes, I spent a couple days tweaking and adjusting how mine looked (Youtube helped me here) to get it to function how I wanted it to.

Do you have any tools or tips that work especially well for you?  This would be something I would be very interested to hear about. I think we are all trying to figure out the best way of doing business.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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