Beginning of a thriller – need feedback

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This topic contains 16 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  MeganElizabeth 9 years, 6 months ago.

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  • #329613

    MeganElizabeth
    Participant
  • #525463

    MeganElizabeth
    Participant

    This is my first serious attempt at a novel. I have everything outlined and I know how it’s going to go, but sometimes I wonder if that inhibits my creativity because it feels like I’ve already written it in my head.
    Here is the opening scene. I still need to add more to the end, but didn’t want to post something that was too long. My husband, of course, loves it, but it would be nice to get some critique from people who don’t know me and don’t really care whether I succeed or not.
    Are there enough details? Do you get the idea of where she is? Does it suck you in? Obviously there will be action in the book later, but should I open it with action? How is the first sentence?

    By instinct she moved her hand to her lap to wipe the blood on her clothes. As she felt the silky fabric under her finger, she withdrew her hand, remembering the price of the dress and the pale creamy color that could easily be ruined. She moved her bloody hand under the fancy white linen tablecloth. While everyone clapped for something the speaker said she wiped the blood from her fingers.

    It was a bad habit she’d had for as long as she could remember. Some people bit their nails. She bit her nails, her fingers, her cuticles. Nervous habit, she would tell concerned people who asked about the small cuts on her fingers. When she read a book she had a finger in her mouth. When she watched television she had a finger in her mouth. When she was nervous in a crowd she used her nails to dig and pick at her damaged, hanging cuticles, leaving behind debris – small translucent pieces of white skin on her chair, her clothes and the floor. When she felt the wetness of blood she would usually stick her fingers in her pocket so the blood wouldn’t show on her clothes or wipe them on an inside seam of her pants. Sometimes she carried a piece of toilet tissue in her pocket to wrap around a small wound that just wouldn’t stop bleeding. It didn’t hurt. Not really. She’d been doing it for so long her fingers had become hard and calloused, immune to the pain she inflicted on herself.

    She always hid her hands as a result of her disgusting habit. She kept her arms folded across her chest until a friend once told her she looked like an uninterested snob with that posture. She took to holding her hands clasped behind her back in an “at ease” manner when standing and talking to someone. It was an embarrassing habit she wished she could kick. She tried taking up smoking to replace one habit for another. Instead, she ended up with two bad habits.

    She wiped her bloodied fingers on the underside of the tablecloth again for good measure and let her hands hover just above her lap, not touching her expensive new dress. She tried to pay attention to the uniformed man speaking to the crowd from the front of the room, but her nerves were getting the better of her. She looked around at the other women wearing slacks and jackets and power suits, then looked down at her beautiful dress in shame. There she sat in a f**ing ball gown while everyone else had gone for a form of business casual.

    At least she’d gone cheap, she thought. She had found the dress on a sale rack for $45. The compliments she received from the two other ladies sitting at her table had seemed condescending, especially when Alecia had dumbly mentioned the price tag. Evidently it wasn’t tasteful to buy a dress on sale. Nor was it tasteful to wear a cocktail dress to an Indianapolis Police Department awards banquet.

    Alecia heard her mother’s voice in her head. “Stop fidgeting. Sit up straight.” She stopped picking at her fingers, and transferred her nervous energy to the fake diamond ring on her right hand, twisting and twirling it around her finger. After she accidentally dropped it on the floor and retrieved it she went back to attacking her fingers.

    Every once in a while she caught herself sliding down in her chair as she went over her speech again and again in her head. She checked her note cards. Everything was spot on. She had rehearsed it so many times in front of the mirror that the speech was surely to be forever engrained in her memory. But like the map of the city she kept in her car with every route marked clearly in red ink, the note cards were a safety blanket. She knew the speech backwards and forwards just as she knew every back road in the city. But sometimes pressure had a way of wiping out memories.

    The last time she had been recognized for something was in fourth grade. All A honor roll. She had managed to win a certificate with her name spelled out neatly in fancy cursive every year up until fifth grade. She cursed herself to this day about not making the honor roll. But secretly she was glad because that last day of fourth grade had been the last time she had been in the spotlight.

    She stepped outside her head for a moment to see who was speaking. The red-faced mayor had the floor and he was speaking about the outstanding work of the outstanding police force. “Their outstanding performance in keeping these streets safe … “ He wiped at the sweat on his brow with a white handkerchief he dug out of his front pocket and continued his outstanding speech. Alecia blocked it out until she heard her name. “… Alecia Avery, the Star’s lead investigative reporter. Miss Avery’s perseverance was one of the deciding factors in the solving of this case. Without her hard work, without the hard work of the Indianapolis Police Department, this evil would still be wreaking havoc in our community. Thank you, Alecia, and thank you Indianapolis Police Department.”

    The audience erupted into enthusiastic applause. Alecia looked around the room to see if the detectives were clapping. Her name had been mentioned and she didn’t want to look like she was too proud of herself. Is clapping for oneself unacceptable? Finally she decided to clap for the police force, not for herself.

    But she was proud of herself. How could she not be? She figured out the mystery that had the entire force puzzled for nearly a year. She felt like a modern day Nancy Drew. All she needed was to dye her lackluster brown hair to a delicious shade of strawberry blond.

    The case had been a tough one. She often laid awake for nights on end trying to piece the horrendous puzzle together in her mind. Then she had slept for days out of pure exhaustion and woke up feeling even more tired. Her boss had told her many times that if she wasn’t such a damn good reporter, he’d have fired her sorry ass.
    “And she was a damn good reporter, too. Still is. Alecia has what I like to call stick-to-it-ivity,” said Todd Mason, editor of the Indianapolis Star. He pushed up his glasses as he told the room full of high-up-theres, “I saw that in her right off the bat. She started in the mail room just like the other entry-levels. Within six months I had her chasing ambulances. She got to the bottom of things. Best damn reporter I’ve seen since, well, myself when I started out in the business.”

    Alecia grinned as she watched Todd enjoy his moment in the spotlight. Always an attention whore, she thought. And a damn good speaker. She envied him that. She still got nervous on interviews, even going so far as to forget her own name. “I’m, uh, Alecia from the Star. Can I ask you a couple questions?” She was sure people thought she was an idiot. She was no idiot and she had stacks of papers in her apartment to prove it.

    “She may not be the most outgoing girl in the world,” Todd was saying, “but she sure is an outstanding writer.” Alecia stifled a giggle as Todd jumped on the “outstanding” train. “If you have a tough story, if you’ve got a big mystery, well, Alecia’s your girl.” He threw her a wink and a thumbs up.

  • #525464

    MeganElizabeth
    Participant

    This is my first serious attempt at a novel. I have everything outlined and I know how it’s going to go, but sometimes I wonder if that inhibits my creativity because it feels like I’ve already written it in my head.
    Here is the opening scene. I still need to add more to the end, but didn’t want to post something that was too long. My husband, of course, loves it, but it would be nice to get some critique from people who don’t know me and don’t really care whether I succeed or not.
    Are there enough details? Do you get the idea of where she is? Does it suck you in? Obviously there will be action in the book later, but should I open it with action? How is the first sentence?

    By instinct she moved her hand to her lap to wipe the blood on her clothes. As she felt the silky fabric under her finger, she withdrew her hand, remembering the price of the dress and the pale creamy color that could easily be ruined. She moved her bloody hand under the fancy white linen tablecloth. While everyone clapped for something the speaker said she wiped the blood from her fingers.

    It was a bad habit she’d had for as long as she could remember. Some people bit their nails. She bit her nails, her fingers, her cuticles. Nervous habit, she would tell concerned people who asked about the small cuts on her fingers. When she read a book she had a finger in her mouth. When she watched television she had a finger in her mouth. When she was nervous in a crowd she used her nails to dig and pick at her damaged, hanging cuticles, leaving behind debris – small translucent pieces of white skin on her chair, her clothes and the floor. When she felt the wetness of blood she would usually stick her fingers in her pocket so the blood wouldn’t show on her clothes or wipe them on an inside seam of her pants. Sometimes she carried a piece of toilet tissue in her pocket to wrap around a small wound that just wouldn’t stop bleeding. It didn’t hurt. Not really. She’d been doing it for so long her fingers had become hard and calloused, immune to the pain she inflicted on herself.

    She always hid her hands as a result of her disgusting habit. She kept her arms folded across her chest until a friend once told her she looked like an uninterested snob with that posture. She took to holding her hands clasped behind her back in an “at ease” manner when standing and talking to someone. It was an embarrassing habit she wished she could kick. She tried taking up smoking to replace one habit for another. Instead, she ended up with two bad habits.

    She wiped her bloodied fingers on the underside of the tablecloth again for good measure and let her hands hover just above her lap, not touching her expensive new dress. She tried to pay attention to the uniformed man speaking to the crowd from the front of the room, but her nerves were getting the better of her. She looked around at the other women wearing slacks and jackets and power suits, then looked down at her beautiful dress in shame. There she sat in a f**ing ball gown while everyone else had gone for a form of business casual.

    At least she’d gone cheap, she thought. She had found the dress on a sale rack for $45. The compliments she received from the two other ladies sitting at her table had seemed condescending, especially when Alecia had dumbly mentioned the price tag. Evidently it wasn’t tasteful to buy a dress on sale. Nor was it tasteful to wear a cocktail dress to an Indianapolis Police Department awards banquet.

    Alecia heard her mother’s voice in her head. “Stop fidgeting. Sit up straight.” She stopped picking at her fingers, and transferred her nervous energy to the fake diamond ring on her right hand, twisting and twirling it around her finger. After she accidentally dropped it on the floor and retrieved it she went back to attacking her fingers.

    Every once in a while she caught herself sliding down in her chair as she went over her speech again and again in her head. She checked her note cards. Everything was spot on. She had rehearsed it so many times in front of the mirror that the speech was surely to be forever engrained in her memory. But like the map of the city she kept in her car with every route marked clearly in red ink, the note cards were a safety blanket. She knew the speech backwards and forwards just as she knew every back road in the city. But sometimes pressure had a way of wiping out memories.

    The last time she had been recognized for something was in fourth grade. All A honor roll. She had managed to win a certificate with her name spelled out neatly in fancy cursive every year up until fifth grade. She cursed herself to this day about not making the honor roll. But secretly she was glad because that last day of fourth grade had been the last time she had been in the spotlight.

    She stepped outside her head for a moment to see who was speaking. The red-faced mayor had the floor and he was speaking about the outstanding work of the outstanding police force. “Their outstanding performance in keeping these streets safe … “ He wiped at the sweat on his brow with a white handkerchief he dug out of his front pocket and continued his outstanding speech. Alecia blocked it out until she heard her name. “… Alecia Avery, the Star’s lead investigative reporter. Miss Avery’s perseverance was one of the deciding factors in the solving of this case. Without her hard work, without the hard work of the Indianapolis Police Department, this evil would still be wreaking havoc in our community. Thank you, Alecia, and thank you Indianapolis Police Department.”

    The audience erupted into enthusiastic applause. Alecia looked around the room to see if the detectives were clapping. Her name had been mentioned and she didn’t want to look like she was too proud of herself. Is clapping for oneself unacceptable? Finally she decided to clap for the police force, not for herself.

    But she was proud of herself. How could she not be? She figured out the mystery that had the entire force puzzled for nearly a year. She felt like a modern day Nancy Drew. All she needed was to dye her lackluster brown hair to a delicious shade of strawberry blond.

    The case had been a tough one. She often laid awake for nights on end trying to piece the horrendous puzzle together in her mind. Then she had slept for days out of pure exhaustion and woke up feeling even more tired. Her boss had told her many times that if she wasn’t such a damn good reporter, he’d have fired her sorry ass.
    “And she was a damn good reporter, too. Still is. Alecia has what I like to call stick-to-it-ivity,” said Todd Mason, editor of the Indianapolis Star. He pushed up his glasses as he told the room full of high-up-theres, “I saw that in her right off the bat. She started in the mail room just like the other entry-levels. Within six months I had her chasing ambulances. She got to the bottom of things. Best damn reporter I’ve seen since, well, myself when I started out in the business.”

    Alecia grinned as she watched Todd enjoy his moment in the spotlight. Always an attention whore, she thought. And a damn good speaker. She envied him that. She still got nervous on interviews, even going so far as to forget her own name. “I’m, uh, Alecia from the Star. Can I ask you a couple questions?” She was sure people thought she was an idiot. She was no idiot and she had stacks of papers in her apartment to prove it.

    “She may not be the most outgoing girl in the world,” Todd was saying, “but she sure is an outstanding writer.” Alecia stifled a giggle as Todd jumped on the “outstanding” train. “If you have a tough story, if you’ve got a big mystery, well, Alecia’s your girl.” He threw her a wink and a thumbs up.

  • #525465

    madeyoulook
    Participant

    First, I definitely know what you mean by the outline. For me, it makes me lose my motivation for some reason, like I’m bound to follow this ruleset and then I find that I’m stuck and nothing gets written on my paper.

    Second, this definitely kept my attention. I’m really curious to know how else her biting her fingers and leaving traces of blood and bits and pieces of her skin in places will affect her. Is someone killed at this banquet ceremony and they find her skin and blood and try to tie her to it? How does her speech go? Does she make it through it without any problems? I also get the feeling that this character is kind of nervous and geeky, but she is somehow popular by her success. So, if this is your beginning scene, and since you spent a lot of time describing her disgusting habit, I hope that this habit plays some kind of important role in the events of the story. Otherwise, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to describe it in such detail. It would be very interesting to read how everything unfolds in this story…

  • #525466

    madeyoulook
    Participant

    First, I definitely know what you mean by the outline. For me, it makes me lose my motivation for some reason, like I’m bound to follow this ruleset and then I find that I’m stuck and nothing gets written on my paper.

    Second, this definitely kept my attention. I’m really curious to know how else her biting her fingers and leaving traces of blood and bits and pieces of her skin in places will affect her. Is someone killed at this banquet ceremony and they find her skin and blood and try to tie her to it? How does her speech go? Does she make it through it without any problems? I also get the feeling that this character is kind of nervous and geeky, but she is somehow popular by her success. So, if this is your beginning scene, and since you spent a lot of time describing her disgusting habit, I hope that this habit plays some kind of important role in the events of the story. Otherwise, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to describe it in such detail. It would be very interesting to read how everything unfolds in this story…

  • #525467

    MeganElizabeth
    Participant

    Thanks for the feedback! That’s exactly what I was trying to get across; she’s nervous, kind of a nerd and suddenly she’s found herself in the spotlight which makes her happy, but also frightens her. The habit will play a part later on. It’s supposed to be a small clue, but hopefully it hasn’t given away too much.

  • #525468

    MeganElizabeth
    Participant

    Thanks for the feedback! That’s exactly what I was trying to get across; she’s nervous, kind of a nerd and suddenly she’s found herself in the spotlight which makes her happy, but also frightens her. The habit will play a part later on. It’s supposed to be a small clue, but hopefully it hasn’t given away too much.

  • #525469

    Connie Peters
    Participant

    Suggestions and comments
    opening line, good

    paragraph 1:moved her hand under … (i.e. strike “bloody”. We know, and blood is mentioned in next sentence)
    p.2.It was a bad habit she’d had for as long as she could remember. – Your “it” refers to the last action mentioned, namely wiping her finger. Try not to start any sentence with an “it”. (You can do so, of course, but your writing will be better if you try not to.) Look later on in the paragraph: “It didn’t hurt. Not really. She’d been doing it”. The first “it” is the bloody finger. The second “it” is biting a finger. Do you see how you have two “it”s in a row which refer to different things. (Try to live by this rule-of-thumb: Only us an “it” in the same sentence as the noun it refers to, such as “He picked up the book and put it on the shelf.”

    The first sentence was good because it had blood in it. Then, we find out the blood was from biting her nails. LET DOWN. In the 4th paragraph we’re still reading about her nail biting. TOO MUCH

    p.5: The dress paragraph…good way to slip in where she was (i.e. at the police banquet).
    By paragraph 6 I was getting a little fidgity myself. At the end of para 6 we’ve got nail biting again.
    P.7: OK, finally we get to the source of her nervousness. She’s going to speak. I think we needed this sooner.
    P.8: remembering. Confusing. You said she got on the honor roll then cursed herself for not getting on the honor roll. (I know you meant since then, but rephrase.)
    p.9 stepped outside her head? I suppose that means she stopped reminiscing, but it’s an odd way to put it. I assumed that the speaker was overusing the word “outstanding” but, in reality, the narrator (the girl, if we’re in 3rd person limited POV) uses it 3 times but the speaker only once. Did you want us to think that the girl was playing with the word or the speaker?
    p.10. excellent for the mental question of what to do
    p.11. Todd Mason’s speech. Good.
    p.12. jumped on the outstanding train … good

    Your story beginning got better as it went. Too much time (i.e. too many words) was devoted to the nail biting.
    Sentences well-crafted. No errors.
    To answer your question about action…If it’s a thriller, we’d need to get to the action a little sooner. This doesn’t mean that terrorists have to show up by the tenth paragraph. But I worry if an editor might stop reading this after the fourth paragraph, worrying that you will be dragging out other non-thrilling parts as long.
    I’m interested in finding out what happens, but stand by my worries that some readers might not. And if the reader is the editor or agent you send this to,…well, let’s try to figure out how to keep him or her hooked, too.
    -Rob

  • #525470

    Connie Peters
    Participant

    Suggestions and comments
    opening line, good

    paragraph 1:moved her hand under … (i.e. strike “bloody”. We know, and blood is mentioned in next sentence)
    p.2.It was a bad habit she’d had for as long as she could remember. – Your “it” refers to the last action mentioned, namely wiping her finger. Try not to start any sentence with an “it”. (You can do so, of course, but your writing will be better if you try not to.) Look later on in the paragraph: “It didn’t hurt. Not really. She’d been doing it”. The first “it” is the bloody finger. The second “it” is biting a finger. Do you see how you have two “it”s in a row which refer to different things. (Try to live by this rule-of-thumb: Only us an “it” in the same sentence as the noun it refers to, such as “He picked up the book and put it on the shelf.”

    The first sentence was good because it had blood in it. Then, we find out the blood was from biting her nails. LET DOWN. In the 4th paragraph we’re still reading about her nail biting. TOO MUCH

    p.5: The dress paragraph…good way to slip in where she was (i.e. at the police banquet).
    By paragraph 6 I was getting a little fidgity myself. At the end of para 6 we’ve got nail biting again.
    P.7: OK, finally we get to the source of her nervousness. She’s going to speak. I think we needed this sooner.
    P.8: remembering. Confusing. You said she got on the honor roll then cursed herself for not getting on the honor roll. (I know you meant since then, but rephrase.)
    p.9 stepped outside her head? I suppose that means she stopped reminiscing, but it’s an odd way to put it. I assumed that the speaker was overusing the word “outstanding” but, in reality, the narrator (the girl, if we’re in 3rd person limited POV) uses it 3 times but the speaker only once. Did you want us to think that the girl was playing with the word or the speaker?
    p.10. excellent for the mental question of what to do
    p.11. Todd Mason’s speech. Good.
    p.12. jumped on the outstanding train … good

    Your story beginning got better as it went. Too much time (i.e. too many words) was devoted to the nail biting.
    Sentences well-crafted. No errors.
    To answer your question about action…If it’s a thriller, we’d need to get to the action a little sooner. This doesn’t mean that terrorists have to show up by the tenth paragraph. But I worry if an editor might stop reading this after the fourth paragraph, worrying that you will be dragging out other non-thrilling parts as long.
    I’m interested in finding out what happens, but stand by my worries that some readers might not. And if the reader is the editor or agent you send this to,…well, let’s try to figure out how to keep him or her hooked, too.
    -Rob

  • #525471

    MeganElizabeth
    Participant

    Rob, thanks so much. Excellent advice! I didn’t even notice the redundancies; thanks for pointing that out. And I think you’re right about the nail biting description being too long. I will rework this and see what happens. =)

  • #525472

    MeganElizabeth
    Participant

    Rob, thanks so much. Excellent advice! I didn’t even notice the redundancies; thanks for pointing that out. And I think you’re right about the nail biting description being too long. I will rework this and see what happens. =)

  • #525473

    skyedragon1968
    Participant

    I have a few thoughts on this passage. First, you do a great job bringing your character to life. You make it very easy to visualize every nervous twitch. If anything, you do that a little too well. I think the characterization you’re going for is geeky and somewhat insecure. You do not, however, want her to come across as borderline dysfunctional.

    There are a few technical issues that can be very easily remedied. I think Rob is right about all of the “it” stuff. I’ve become very aware of that. Rob critiqued some of my work as well. As a result, I’m currently revising 19 pages of prologue.

    In addition to the IT curse, I think your wording was a bit awkward in some places. Let me give you a couple examples.

    “When she felt the wetness of blood she would usually stick her fingers in her pocket so the blood wouldn’t show on her clothes or wipe them on an inside seam of her pants.”

    “She took to holding her hands clasped behind her back in an “at ease” manner when standing and talking to someone. It was an embarrassing habit she wished she could kick.”

    In the first quotation, what is she wiping on the inside seam of her pants: her fingers, the blood or her clothes? Your meaning is obvious enough. The sentence just doesn’t read well.

    The same is true of the second quotation. What habit is she trying to kick, standing in an “at ease” manner? Again, your meaning is clear. The structure is just a bit awkward.

    As for writing from an outline, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I wish I had someone/something to tell me how my story would end. I’ve been sort of making it up as I go along. My only suggestion is that you not be afraid to stray from the storyline you’ve mapped out in your head (or on paper). Some of my best writing is totally spontaneous. Unfortunately, some of my worst writing is totally spontaneous as well. Good luck with your spontaneity. I hope it serves you well.

    Mike

  • #525474

    skyedragon1968
    Participant

    I have a few thoughts on this passage. First, you do a great job bringing your character to life. You make it very easy to visualize every nervous twitch. If anything, you do that a little too well. I think the characterization you’re going for is geeky and somewhat insecure. You do not, however, want her to come across as borderline dysfunctional.

    There are a few technical issues that can be very easily remedied. I think Rob is right about all of the “it” stuff. I’ve become very aware of that. Rob critiqued some of my work as well. As a result, I’m currently revising 19 pages of prologue.

    In addition to the IT curse, I think your wording was a bit awkward in some places. Let me give you a couple examples.

    “When she felt the wetness of blood she would usually stick her fingers in her pocket so the blood wouldn’t show on her clothes or wipe them on an inside seam of her pants.”

    “She took to holding her hands clasped behind her back in an “at ease” manner when standing and talking to someone. It was an embarrassing habit she wished she could kick.”

    In the first quotation, what is she wiping on the inside seam of her pants: her fingers, the blood or her clothes? Your meaning is obvious enough. The sentence just doesn’t read well.

    The same is true of the second quotation. What habit is she trying to kick, standing in an “at ease” manner? Again, your meaning is clear. The structure is just a bit awkward.

    As for writing from an outline, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I wish I had someone/something to tell me how my story would end. I’ve been sort of making it up as I go along. My only suggestion is that you not be afraid to stray from the storyline you’ve mapped out in your head (or on paper). Some of my best writing is totally spontaneous. Unfortunately, some of my worst writing is totally spontaneous as well. Good luck with your spontaneity. I hope it serves you well.

    Mike

  • #525475

    Cinci Kim
    Participant

    Unabashedliar,
    I don’t really have any critique to add. I just wanted to say that I suffer from the exact same habit as Alecia Avery: I bite my fingers into raw, bloody mutilations. I’m not proud of this, and I try all the time to stop and most of the time I do it almost unconsciously, but I just wanted to say that I found it strangely amusing to read about my own fault. You did a very good job on writing about it.

  • #525476

    Cinci Kim
    Participant

    Unabashedliar,
    I don’t really have any critique to add. I just wanted to say that I suffer from the exact same habit as Alecia Avery: I bite my fingers into raw, bloody mutilations. I’m not proud of this, and I try all the time to stop and most of the time I do it almost unconsciously, but I just wanted to say that I found it strangely amusing to read about my own fault. You did a very good job on writing about it.

  • #525477

    MeganElizabeth
    Participant

    Thanks for the help, Mike. I didn’t even notice the problems in the quotes you listed. Thanks for pointing them out!

    Bristol, I was able to describe it in such detail because it’s a habit that I am trying to kick. It is a disgusting and embarrassing habit, for sure.

  • #525478

    MeganElizabeth
    Participant

    Thanks for the help, Mike. I didn’t even notice the problems in the quotes you listed. Thanks for pointing them out!

    Bristol, I was able to describe it in such detail because it’s a habit that I am trying to kick. It is a disgusting and embarrassing habit, for sure.

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