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TPG Week 128: Stories Need Redeeming Values

| June 7, 2013

TPGFeatured_01

Hello, one and all! Welcome back to The Proving Grounds. This week, we have a new Brave One in Chad Kuffert, who hails from Wails. (Hails/Wails. Joke. Get it?) This week, we have Steve Colle in blue, and I’m forever in red. Let’s see what Chad has to say about

The Priest

Page 1 (5 Panels)(See this? It’s centered. I have no problem with that, as long as it’s consistent.)
Panel 1 (No problem with this, either.)

The sun hangs high, a gaggle of children chase after a friend, who is garbed as a ghost. The mood is light and the children’s faces shine with joy. In good spirits, the local priest watches the children run, as he leans against the open door frame of the church. (For your first panel, you haven’t given any details of setting or establishing shot. What you have are “the sun hangs high” and “the door frame of the church”. Reading ahead, you never establish the location of the setting either. From what you’ve given us in the narrative caption, it’s Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, but why didn’t you tell the artist that in the panel description? For that matter, what is the time period? Can you provide any visual reference to your artist and editor? It isn’t enough information.)(Not by a long shot.)

Narration: Nuevo Laredo (I’d add that this is in Mexico to clarify. Being from Canada, I thought Nuevo Laredo was the name of a special day, not a city.)(Chad, you’re calling it “Narration”, instead of calling it a Caption, or Cap. While Narration isn’t wrong, it could be misleading, and it is definitely longer to type. Think about switching it up. You studied on format, why not finish studying and also get the more common terms in?)
Narration: Day of the Dead (So you’ve said it’s the Day of the Dead, but have you shown it? Having read ahead, what defines it as that day of celebration, visually speaking? Here’s how one site describes the day in Nuevo Laredo: “November 2nd is a really special day for Mexicans, since it is when deceased relatives and friends are honored. On the Day of the Dead, the municipal cemetery of Nuevo Laredo comes to life through music, prayer, conversation and the multiple colors of flowers, since families meet in the cemetery to construct an altar with marigolds and chrysanthemums, multicolored paper and even small skulls made out of sugar!” You see some of the visual cues that you could give your artist? Do so if the day is of significance to your story.)

 

Panel 2

The priest walks further into the church, casually swiping an open bottle of wine off of a nearby counter. The church is empty, and a moderate amount of light makes its way into the building through the ancient gothic windows. (This is a bit of a jump in action from your first panel. At what point did he turn around in the doorway to begin walking into the church? This action you’ve given us should read as the third panel.)

 

Panel 3

He enters the confessional booth, its large two person compartments, seemingly in a spotlight, because of an overhead window (Do you mean a skylight when you say “overhead window”? That’s what comes to my mind upon reading the description. And where is the window in the grand scheme of things, as you haven’t established the interior of the church either?)(There is one thing here that is also blatantly wrong. Research is necessary. We’ll talk about that on P2, because it will directly impact your storytelling.)

Panel 4

He relaxes, sinking into the confessional, releasing a sigh, preparing to enjoy the solitude of an empty church. (Why would he hide himself in the confessional instead of going back to his parish office with the bottle? Wouldn’t the possibility of someone coming for confession kind of ruin his solitude, as you’ve so aptly written it in the following panels? Why take that chance?)(This is prosaic. How is the artist supposed to draw this? How can they draw “preparing to enjoy the solitude of an empty church.)

 

Panel 5

The priest is in mid swig, as the confessor door clicks shut, startling the holy man, allowing some wine to dribble onto his chin. (Again, you’ve jumped an action, as you haven’t had him take a drink or even open the bottle to do so.) (This is also a moving panel.)

SFX: Click

You’re moving things along too quickly given the actions you’ve given to the artist. Fill in the blanks. Another thing I mentioned was the question about his drinking in the confessional. Here’s one possible scenario you could do to relieve that question: Have him heading back to his office with the bottle when he suddenly hears the click of the confessional door behind him. He speaks up, only to hear silence in return. He moves towards the confessional and sits inside, to which we hear “Bendiceme, padre, porque he pecado” on this page. Seems like a lot to have on one page, but you just need to choose what is important to get your message across. Given how little text there is on the page, you could go for seven to nine panels, perhaps in a grid.

The other thing is you don’t want to show the priest in any bad light or being fallible this early in the story. Showing him as a closet alcoholic or whatever is a bad light. Let him be represented in a positive light until the big reveal.

P1 is on the books, and what we have are sparse descriptions that leave me in a white void, are totally tensionless, with a moving panel thrown in for good measure. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: an establishing shot should answer the 4 W’s, and these W’s should be answered every time you change locations. Who, What, Where, and When. We don’t care about Why’s. Why’s cannot be drawn. Who’s on the panel, What they’re doing, and When they’re doing it. All of this has to be in the panel description, not in the dialogue.

As for the moving panel, you have to think about these as actions that has happened in the recent or immediate past. This will lead you to writing these as though they’re static images, which is what you want.

It’s also practically a silent page. I hate silent opening pages. You have too much work to do than to waste real estate on silent pages. Add some dialogue, spruce it up. Tell a story. This is why we came here in the first place.

 

Page 2 (5 panels)

(As this is a Word document, you have the ability to create a proper page break between comic pages. Don’t simply hit the Return key over and over. Page breaks are a clean necessity to script formatting.)

Panel 1

The priest wipes the wine from his chin, with the sleeve of his garb. (This is another example of how to make your character seem less favorable, by having him have no respect for his garb. Again, save this kind of thing for the reveal.) Through the screen, the new entrant begins the ritual. (We do not see the confessor during this scene, all of his dialogue come from behind the screen which divides the confessional booth.)

Confessor: Bendíceme (Missing comma) padre (Missing comma) porque he pecado.

Panel 2

The priest is slightly perturbed at the sudden intrusion of his quiet moment, and his spilled wine.

Father: You can speak English, child. I am American… (What does his being American have to do with the story?)

Father (under his breath): …and your Spanish is horrible. (How is his Spanish horrible? He said it properly, didn’t he?)

Panel 3

The priest looks up, as if seeking divine inspiration to smooth over his agitation. The confessor continues on with the ritual.

Confessor: It has been nine years since my last confession.

Confessor: I am ashamed to say, (No need for the comma here) I have allowed harm to come to others, (No need for the comma here either) because I was weak. (In Strunk & White’s THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, it talks about enclosing parenthetical expressions between commas, what you’ve sought to do above, but “I have allowed harm to come to others” in this case wouldn’t fit that mould of being in parentheses, so the sentence should read as “I am ashamed to say I have allowed harm to come to others because I was weak”. See the difference?)

Priest: Weakness is not a sin, child, but it does often result in evil behavior. Did you harm these people?

Panel 4

The priest is growing intrigued at the mystery building around this confession. (Look back at how you’ve written your panel descriptions prior to this point. You’ve given clear visual direction to them with things like “The priest looks up, as if seeking divine inspiration to smooth over his agitation.” That was good. This, on the other hand, is getting a little too loose. Watch the following examples of your panel descriptions for a continuation of this looseness, which should indeed be elaborated upon.)

Confessor: Not directly, no.

Priest: How do you know of their harm?

Confessor: Their cries haunt my thoughts, (Period instead of a comma) I held them while they sobbed in their sleep, (Add “as”) we shared the same nightmare. (This is the start of where the underlining of words gets a little out of control in my opinion. Prior to this, you had a word here or there in “weak” and “directly”, but now it’s being overused. In this case, let the reader do the work of inflecting those words for emphasis.)

Panel 5

The priest is fully engaged in the conversation now, leaning forward, anticipating the conversation.

Priest: You helped your fellow man, (Take the comma out) in his time of need. I do not see the trespass.

Confessor: We were not men; (Change this semi-colon to a period.) We were boys. My inability to overcome my fear, to stand up, allowed much pain.

We have P2 on the books, and while there’s the beginning of the breakdown in technique, at least a story is starting to emerge.

First things first, though.

Some of your panel descriptions, aren’t. Look back at the description for panel 4. How is the artist supposed to draw that? What is the direction? Where is the clarity? This things are missing. As soon as they’re found, they should be put into the script so that the artist can do their job.

Second, you have it as though the Confessor is actually on-panel, and they aren’t. They can’t be seen, so all of their dialogue should be from OP.

This brings us around to craft.

Being a writer, you have to know certain things in order to pull off what you’re going for. That means doing research. What should you research? Confessionals. (Here is where you’re wrong, by the way.)

Usually, confessionals are smallish affairs. By small, I mean like stepping into a cloakroom small. Closet small. I have my own beliefs about why they’re small, but that doesn’t have any bearing here. But since they’re small, they’re also uncomfortable. You’re going to confess a sin, why should you have comfort while doing it?

Okay, so they’re small. What does this have to do with your story? Camera placement and the amount of dialogue that can be comfortably held in the panel. Because it’s small, you can only place the camera so many places. You have to respect the dimensions of the room you’re working in. Think of it like a car: you can only place the camera in so many places. That starts to get even more restrictive when you add dialogue, because that’s a design element as well. Then when you want to have two people speaking in the same panel? The amount of what can be said back and forth starts to shrink.

All of this, because of a little research is missing. (It also helps that I wrote a graphic novel where the inciting incident takes place in a confessional, so I had to research the subject in order to do it right.)

 

Page 3 (5 panels) (Page break)
Panel 1

The priest is becoming slightly confused at the direction this confession is going. (Why is he confused? What has been said that would cause confusion at this point?)

Priest: It does not seem your cross to bear, child. Victims of evil need only to find strength, through God, to persevere. (This is a tricky one. The previous statement works both with and without the commas. What do you think, Steven?) Have you forgave forgiven yourself? (Since it works both ways, I’d leave them as the writer has them. Unless there’s a good reason to change the dialogue, I like to leave it, because it’s the purest way the writer will be seen. Everything else is interpreted through the rest of the creative team, and I try to preserve the writer’s voice whenever possible..)

Confessor: No, (Period instead of comma) I am full of hate, (Take out the comma) and lust for vengeance.

Panel 2

The priest is back in his comfort zone, relaxing, he proceeds with his advice.

Priest: Forgiveness is the key to the gates of Heaven. You must forgive yourself, allow God into your heart, before you can forgive those who trespassed against you. These are trials which you must overcome in this life, to prepare you for the next. (Though 43 words in one balloon, by today’s standards, isn’t too much, I’d suggest separating the dialogue at “These are trials…”, mainly because you have minimal text in the other balloons. Try to keep it consistent length-wise.)

Panel 3

The priest smugly leans back against the wall of the confessional, but quirks an eyebrow in reaction to the confessor’s words. (The priest should NOW be confused by the comment the confessor is making, not smug. Make sure the reaction matches with what is being said, in this case a direct accusation.)

Confessor: Is that how you live with yourself?

Panel 4

With outrage, the priest screams at the screen divide, searching it, trying to ascertain the face who has spoke the offensive words. (Here’s where you’ve gone back into the more informative panel descriptions.)

Priest: EXPLAIN YOURSELF!

Panel 5

The confessor punches through the screen, a meaty fist slams into the priest’s head, in an explosion of wood on wire. (I’d put this panel on the next page. You have a great hook with the look of outrage and the demand for an explanation, and this panel would be an excellent intro to the happenings of the page turn.)

 

P3, and what do we have?

Talking heads. Not just talking heads, but it’s also relatively uninteresting.

Some of this sounds like pablum, mixed with a little bit of world-view.

Really, the dialogue is dragging this down because it isn’t overly engaging, and all the stressing of words is making it sound melodramatic. Not good.

You do pick up the last page with some punch, though. (Pun intended.) I disagree with Steve in pushing that panel to the next page, though. This is a great way to end the page and get the reader to turn to the next. It’s a treat, after nearly torturing them with the seemingly endless talk.

 

 

 

 

Page 4 (2 panels) (Page break)
Panel 1

The priest stumbles out of the confessional, crawling backwards, trying to keep his back from his attacker. A bear of a man rips through the wood confessional, as if it were made of paper. His young face is grim, determined, unwavering in resolve to complete the task at hand. (I’m hearing the need for something to be said or a sound to be made here. A silent panel isn’t cutting it.) (This is a moving panel. Is the priest going to stumble or crawl? He can’t do both.)

Panel 2

The priest’s eyes widen like saucers as he recognizes his attacker.

Priest: Joshua? (This question is casual. The priest is being violently attacked, so his question, in the least, should read “Joshua?!”)

 

Woohoo! P4 brings us two panels! Nice! What I would do, though, is have this as a splash page with two insets. The splash is panel 1, panel 2 is as you have it, but move the dialogue in panel 2 to panel 3, which should either be the assailant’s face, or just their eyes. Either or.

This page, despite having a moving panel, is good storytelling. It’s well-placed, and it is doing what it needs to do in order to get the emotion and action across. Steve’s right in that it needs some sound effects, but this is the first page of this story that I actually like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 5 (5 Panels) (Page break)
Panel 1

The confessor roars at the priest.

Confessor: You do not get to say that name!

Panel 2

The confessor punches the priest as he attempts to rise. (Punches him where?)

Confessor: You preach of suffering through this life, to earn a right to the next.

Panel 3

The confessor soccer kicks the downed priest in the ribs. (What is a soccer kick, and how is it different than a regular kick?)

Confessor: You speak of the path of Jesus, as something to aspire to. (Remove the comma. And this is the first time Jesus has been mentioned. Don’t talk as though it isn’t, which is what you’re doing here. It throws the reader out of the story.)

Panel 4

The confessor looms over the priest, with his right foot hovering, about to bring it down of the holy man’s head.

Confessor: I will help you to know suffering (Missing comma) old man….. (An ellipsis has three dots, not five. Kind of overkill on the period key.)

Panel 5

Black panel.

Confessor (Narration box): …just as you taught me!

P5, and we’re a bit ho-hum.

The priest takes a beating. That’s ho-hum. We don’t know why, so we have a mystery there, which is good. Is it enough to keep the reader turning pages? I don’t know. The story itself just isn’t that engaging.

I see that there’s some studying that’s been done, but I’m surprised that not all of the lessons stuck. Here’s what I’m talking about:

The ellipsis. I see that you started the caption with one, which is a great thing, because it shows that you’ve been doing some studying. However, the dialogue before it has five periods, which is wrong. An ellipsis only has three.

But since you’ve done the studying, you should know that spoken dialogue in a caption needs to have quotation marks, but I’m not seeing them in that final dialogue caption on this page.

Lots of little things to remember, I know, but as long as you keep working at it, things like this will come second nature to you.

Anyway, again, most of your panel descriptions are vague to the point of near uselessness. When you beef them up, don’t just add words. Add meaning, depth, and clarity. It’s the difference between just adding water to a soup, or adding more ingredients to chunk it up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 6 (5 panels) (Page break)
Panel 1

The priest awakes to the confessor holding his head up, bound with duct tape, bent over the back of a pew, gagged. (What I’m seeing in my head from this description is that this is a POV shot from the priest’s perspective. Is that what you were going for? If not, then you should change how this is worded to something like “The confessor holds the awakening priest’s head up”. This makes it more of a subjective camera shot.)(This is just badly described. If this is a POV shot from the priest, how are we supposed to know about the duct-tape binding, the pew, or the gag? If this is a more neutral view, then how is the priest bound? How is his head being held up? Is he bent forward or bent back over the pew?)

Confessor: Like the nails binding him to the cross, you are helpless. (Change this up to read something like “You are helpless, just as the nails bound him to the cross.”)(I don’t like the word “bound” here. It gives an incorrect mental image due to the connotations of the word “bound.”)

Panel 2

The confessor reveals a knife. (Okay. Where did the knife come from? What kind of knife is it? I’m not going to call it magically delicious since he could have gotten it at any time while the priest was napping, but still, not saying what kind of knife it is is lazy.)

Confessor: Like A little boy, (Take out the comma) against a grown man, unable to defend yourself against his power. (You’re going back and forth with your analogies and your direct commentary. Stick with one line of direction.)

Panel 3

The confessor holds the priest’s head with one hand, and carves up his forehead with the other.

Confessor: Like the crown of thorns upon his head… (Not liking this bit of dialogue. You seem to be redirecting yourself instead of following through on what you last said about the little boy and grown man. Keep going with that line of dialogue.)

Why is there no response from the preist to his head being cut? Shouldn’t we hear him whimpering or screaming from the pain?

Panel 4

The confessor digs a ballpoint pen from his pockets. (Reading ahead, I really don’t see a need for the introduction of the ballpoint pen. I’d suggest taking it out and having this bit of text and the text from the next panel brought up to panel 3 to read without the ellipses.)

Confessor: This wound is not grave, but cuts the deepest.

Panel 5

He cracks the pen in half. (Take this out.)

Confessor: It demoralizes, crushes his the spirits

P6, and we’ve gone into torture, and started to devolve into crap.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not squeamish about torture. I’ve written stories about torture, describing it in great detail. However, there was a point to the torture there. What’s the point here?

Your dialogue flips from Biblical allegory to being ripped from the headlines of a few years ago when talking about the raping of altar boys by priests were all the rage.

And you go through all of that dialogue beforehand to get here? This is the point? Steve keeps talking about a twist or a large reveal. I’m hoping that it’s worth it. Right now, I’m no longer interested, and that’s not good. You’re going to bore your readers. You’ve already bored me.

Anyway, it’s hard to visualize, because the panel descriptions aren’t doing their job. Fix that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 7 (4 panels) (Page break)
Panel 1

(I’m going to make a suggestion in a moment as to a direction you could have gone in with regards to the ink from the pen vs. the bottle of wine. It’ll make a lot of sense when I get to it, but I’d like the readers to see where you’re going first.)

He then begins applying ink over the fresh wound.

Confessor: … and floods his the soul with shame.

Panel 2

The confessor picks up the half drunk bottle of wine the priest dropped.

Confessor: Like the spear entering his body, this kills. (This line is unnecessary and sounds like you’re searching for more to say. Take it out.)

Panel 3

While taking a swig of wine, the confessor pulls down the holy man’s pants. (Moving panel? Possibly.)

Confessor: A childhood lost…

Panel 4

The priest’s eyes bulge, and for the first time, we see the word rapist, spelled out in cuts, smeared in ink, and dripping blood on his forehead.

Confessor (off panel): …gone after the penetration (Missing period)

Okay, so you’ve got the ink from the pen being applied to the open cuts and then the confessor picks up the bottle and takes a swig. Here’s what you could have done: Instead of having the pen involved, you could have had the cuts being made, the bottle of wine being picked up, and then poured over the open wounds. I realize the wine doesn’t have a lot of alcohol in it, maybe 13% like a bottle I have in my home, so it wouldn’t necessarily burn like applying rubbing alcohol, but that isn’t the major point. You have something that represents the blood of Christ (the wine) mixing with the blood of the priest, one representing purity and the other evil. If it burns, all the better, but just using that wine makes for a better symbol than ink from a pen.

 

P7, and I’m very tempted to stop right here.

Again, I’m not squemish, but this is getting into the “ludicrous” part of the spectrum. Here’s the story so far:

A priest goes into a confessional to get his drink on. Someone goes into the other side and begins the rite of confession. They talk about an old sin, for not standing up for others. Then they attack the priest through the confessional, knocking him out.

The priest comes to, and we find that he’s bound and gagged, possibly bent forward over a pew. The priest is then tortured and possibly raped, in what seems to be vengeance for raping a few years ago.

We have dialogue that can, at times, come close to being as bad as the torture going on. It definitely jumps all over the place.

So, on P7, we’re now wondering why the hell we’ve gone through all this. Hopefully, the reason for this story will come into being on the next page. Right now, this is crap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 8 (4 panels) (Page break)
Panel 1

The priest sags, he is in shock, the pain has overwhelmed his senses, and vomit seeps from the duct tape gag. (Again, we should have heard the priest reacting to the pain or even trying to defend himself verbally through mumbles during this series of actions.)

Confessor (off panel): You know what? (Hearing how the confessor has been talking in proper English without slang, this line sounds out of place.)

Panel 2

The confessor crouches down to look the priest in the eye.

Confessor: Confession is therapeutic.

Panel 3

The confessor pauses at the front door of the church, holding it open, smiling as light floods in.

Confessor: I think I really can forgive myself now.

Panel 4

He is gone, the children from the beginning run past the open doorway, laughing and playing outside.

This last page feels anti-climactic to me. Where is the closure? Where is the final insult? Why hasn’t the confessor told the kids outside (and hopefully their parents) to go inside as the priest would like to talk to them, where they would witness what has just transpired? In other words, the ending is weak.

You’ve written an interesting story conceptually. The subject is one that is all too common in today’s world, that being the stories of trusted clergy taking advantage of their younger flock. I’ve heard it too many times, especially when I lived back in Montreal. In my opinion, you need to work on how you present it, though. You had opportunity to foreshadow the priest’s penchant for young children by having him look at them playing a little more, perhaps putting the focus on one child in particular as the priest smiled in the doorway to the church. This would have set up the reader’s positive view of the church leader. He then turns back towards the interior of the church, grabbing the bottle of wine that we believe will be used for communion. This, again, would have painted the priest in a positive light. It’s from this point that things go downhill for the priest as we learn he has done something unforgiveable based on the confessor’s comment of “Is that how you live with yourself?” ending Page Three. Good hook, by the way. From there, we go into the attack, the being knocked unconscious, and the carving of the word into the priest’s forehead, with the wine instead of the pen ink being used. You could have even gone so far as to have a low angle shot of the statue of Christ on the cross in the background as we look at the word RAPIST on the priest’s head as he looks down at his not-so-holy man. Anything you wrote beyond that did a complete 180 as the confessor is now calm. Why didn’t he kill him? Maybe he couldn’t forgive himself for committing murder, but that begs another question: Can he forgive himself for seeking vengeance at all? Think about your direction, your character motivations, and think of how best to represent those feelings and what the outcome will be. You haven’t sold me on this story yet, but I do see potential.

This is torture porn, and except for one page, totally uninteresting.

Let’s run it down.

Format: You were consistent, Chad, which is a great thing. It was a little wonky seeing the page and panel headings centered, yet the other elements were left justified. It wasn’t wrong, just wonky. Took a moment to get used to. What stopped you from getting a flawless victory was the lack of page breaks.

Panel Descriptions: These need a lot of work. Sometimes prosaic, some moving panels, but most of them were just simply too vague to be of real use. The artist would end up asking you a lot of questions in order to understand what you’re trying to get at. That means, simply, that this script fails to do its immediate job: communicate clear information for the artist to draw.

Again, you also have to research your settings. It would have to be an unusually large confessional for the dialogue you have here to fit properly.

Pacing: Slow. You have a lot of talking heads, and talking heads slow down the pace of things. When you have pages of talking heads, what you say has got to be interesting. If it isn’t, then you’re torturing the reader. I do like P4, though. That was nicely done, and nicely placed.

Dialogue: Some parts were just excruciating to get through, not because they were badly written, but because they didn’t seem to follow a narrative. You need to find a single thread, a single tone, and stick with it.

Also, punctuation. Missing periods? You should be ashamed. Missing ending punctuation is something that you, as a writer, should never be charged with. Missing ending punctuation should be a choice, like the first two captions. It’s easy to have a comma-fail, either with missing a comma or misusing one. It shouldn’t happen, but it’s something of a staple around here, along with the misuse of other punctuation marks. But to be missing ending punctuation? Heinous.

Finally, stressing. You’re overstressing, which is also easy to do, but you have to watch it. Stressors are seasoning, and should only be lightly used. Overstressing is like using too much of a dialect: it can quickly become hard to read.

Content: Crap. This is little more than torture porn, and has no redeeming value as such. And I should know, because I’ve written torture porn. This story has no point. As a reader, it’s a waste of time.

Editorially, it needs a complete rewrite. The story needs a point, the panel descriptions need to be beefed up, and the dialogue needs a steady through-line.

And that’s all there is for this week when it comes to scripts. We’re still needing more, though. We can’t do it without you.

See you in seven.

Click here to discuss in the forums.

 

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Category: Columns, The Proving Grounds

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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