Jan 022018
 

5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #4): Sovereign Powers

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is sovereign powers. You can read more in Chapter 5, “Creating Sovereign Powers”, from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).

Tip #1: “Is the Sovereign Recognized?”

Just because your sovereign power declares itself to be one, that doesn’t mean other countries acknowledge this sovereignty. Even within a power, some might not recognize it. This sort of dispute gives rise to stories like Game of Thrones. When Napoleon dubbed himself emperor of France, the rest of Europe disagreed. We can leverage such scenarios.

Tip #2: “You’re Head of What?”

There’s a difference between the head of state and head of government, though the same person can be in both roles. Certain government types separate them while others don’t. Conflict can be easily achieved by pitting two people against each other, but you’ll need to know when this makes sense.

Tip #3: “Invent for Today”

You should have a present state in mind for your sovereign power because the form of government may have changed repeatedly in the past – and again in the future. This happens for quite a few reasons, including war, a weak ruler, and economics. A past colors the present both in monuments, buildings, and other architectural items, but in population attitude, which is something to add to character backstories.

Tip #4: “Decide Who Lives There”

We should have an idea what percentage of the overall population each of our species/races is. This helps determine how common other languages are and if the culture of other species is an influence or not. A reason for the inclusion or exclusion can add tension, such as racism or one species preferring a landscape feature (like a forest) and being there despite attempts at eradicating them.

Tip #5: “What’s the World View?”

There are many ideas we can give our sovereign power, including the freedom (or lack thereof) to perform magic, own property, use vessels and space craft (or technology), or how welcoming they are of other species and cultures. Creating Places has a list of things to consider.

Summary of Chapter 5—Creating a Sovereign Power

Kingdoms, empires, dictatorships and more are types of sovereign powers that world builders can create. Before we do, a high-level understanding of the differences between them is crucial. Many variations to government types exist, which gives us freedom to tweak details for our needs, but we should know the rules before we break them. The role of sovereignty, including how it is gained and lost, is examined in this chapter along with the “divine right of kings.” We also look at the head of state and head of government roles, the differences between them, and the conflicts that can arise. The nature of each branch of government is examined along with parliamentary systems. Democracies, federations, theocracies, monarchies, autocracies and more are examined for their key differences.

Inventing a sovereign power should include friends and enemies who shape policy, lifestyle, and culture. The form of government has significant impact on inhabitants and results from world view. History affects this as well, and while creating a history is optional, it enriches the dynamics of relationships and can create heroes, villains, and attitudes in the population. We should consider which species are present and in how great a percentage, and what languages are spoken or forbidden. Our power’s location and climate will impact lifestyles and vegetation, which also influences what natural resources it has or lacks, and what the power does as a result. These can all lead to tensions both with other powers or the residents. Symbols, colors, flags, and slogans will be a source of pride and even fear for both foreigners and the population.

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Dec 192017
 

5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #3): Land Features

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is land features. You can read more in Chapter 4, “Creating Land Features”, from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).

Tip #1: “Know Where Volcanic Mountains Aren’t”

When an oceanic and a continental tectonic plate meet, the former descends under the latter and causes volcanoes, but when two continental plates meet, they fold on top of each other, creating the highest mountains on Earth. They also aren’t volcanic. Your interior mountains will be the tallest.

Tip #2: “Olympus Mons on Mars is Huge…And Boring”

With Mount Everest being 29,035 feet, Olympus Monson Mars might sound far more impressive at 69,459, but it’s not. It’s so wide, the size of France, that you wouldn’t even realize you’re standing on one. It won’t cut a majestic figure against the sky. Bigger isn’t always better.

Tip #3: “A Volcano Can Be Anywhere”

Due to random faults that appear in tectonic plate, we get put a volcano anywhere we want.

Tip #4: “Mountains ‘Humanize’ Dragons”

Dragons often appear to be invincible, but if we want to be more realistic, make it harder for them to fly at high altitudes. This happens with real Earth birds, who struggle to get over very tall mountains. Making your dragons struggle, too, gives them a vulnerability and makes them seem more plausible.

Tip #5: “Decide How Old a River Is”

Younger rivers tend toward being fast, rapid, and somewhat straight. By contrast, ancient rivers are slow, wide, and meander in a zig-zig pattern. Using these wisely lets us avoid all rivers being shown as the same.

Summary of Chapter 4—Creating Land Features

A continent will have mountains, volcanoes, lakes, rivers, forests, woodlands, savannahs, jungles, prairies, wetlands, and deserts, but world builders should understand each to place them in believable locations. While some aspects are obvious, minor details can change our decisions and augment our resulting stories. Why say characters have entered a run-of-the-mill forest when we can say it’s a savannah instead, describing how it looks and what life is like for inhabitants and those traversing it? This chapter aids world builders in making a more varied landscape—one that is accurately depicted.

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Dec 052017
 

5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #2): Continents

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is continents. You can read more in Chapter 3, “Creating a Continent”, from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).

Tip #1: “Decide How Many Continents to Create”

Even if our story only takes places on one land mass, we should at least roughly create other continents and give them names. Knowing their direction from our main one and how hard they are to reach tells us and readers how likely visitors from far off lands are. Each continent might be known for a few things, however fairly, such as slavery, rare gems or other items, strange lands, or interesting creatures. Some of these things might find their way to our main continent, which is why we ought to have some idea on this. It makes our continent seem less like an island.

Tip #2: “Decide on the Hemisphere”

If we’ve lived our life in one hemisphere, we might need to remind ourselves that the season are reversed in the other one. The visible constellations are, too, and the moon appears upside down. Most importantly, an expression like “going south for the winter” makes no sense in the southern hemisphere.

Tip #3: “Understand Plate Tectonics and Mountain Ranges”

We don’t need to be experts in plate tectonics. Just know that explosive, volcanic mountain ranges along coastlines are common due to two plates converging there. If this happens at sea, we can a chain of islands. But when it happens between two continental plates, we get the tallest mountains, none volcanic. But technically a volcano can happen anywhere if there’s a flaw in the plate below.

Tip #4: “Waterways”

Did you know a sea and ocean are the same thing? Sea is just used to denote a smaller area of an ocean. Bays, gulfs, coves, and fjord are all bays but of different sizes and configurations. They can be connected by a strait, channels, pass, or passage, which are also all the same thing!

Tip #5: “What’s an Island?”

Some islands are so big that we might be tempted to call them a continent (Australia, anyone?). The distinction is largely one of size. Use your judgement. However, actual islands are either oceanic or continental. The former are far out to see and volcanic.

Summary of Chapter 3—Creating a Continent

Which hemisphere our continent lies in affects the seasons and might impact where we place constellations. Understanding plate tectonics can help us build believable mountain ranges and place volcanoes where they might occur. This can also determine where deep areas of the sea are, giving our sea monsters somewhere to call home. We have some liberty to name bodies of water what we want, but this chapter includes details on when to use which name, including seas, bays, inlets, and more.

 

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Nov 212017
 

5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #1): Planets

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is planets. You can read more in Chapter 2, “Creating a Planet,” from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).

Tip #1: “Understand What Our Moon Causes”

If we want a world with no moon or more than one, we should understand how this affects tides, seasons, hours in the day, and moonlight. Tidal locking is also what keeps the same side of our moon facing us, but does your moon rotate and how quickly? And what does this imply about your worlds? More than one moon means more interesting conjunctions of planetary bodies and eclipses, too; Creating Places includes a spreadsheet to help determine orbits.

Tip #2: “Determine the Solar System’s Other Planets”

There’s a tendency in fantasy to not mention other planets, even though they could be seen from Earth during ancient times, not just with modern technology. In SF, world builders often decide these matters. We’ll need to understand the different planet types and where they are likely to form or be now (it can change!). Mentioning them and having characters imagine that they are realms to which one can be banished, for example, adds realism.

Tip #3: “Be Careful with Constellations”

Did you know that people in the northern hemisphere see one set of constellations and those in the south see different ones? This can matter if we decide that the world’s gods have constellations. Each deity might need two of them: one for each hemisphere. Otherwise, half the world may never know they’ve got one, not to mention see it.

Tip #4: “Don’t Forget Dark Constellations”

There are dark constellations that most of us in the northern hemisphere might be unaware of, because most are only visible in the southern hemisphere. These are clouds of interstellar gas that block the light of stars behind them from reaching us. These could be used to represent our “evil” deities.

Tip #5: “Use Tidal Locking”

The phrase “tidal locking” makes us think of tides, but it’s unrelated. This means that an orbiting satellite doesn’t rotate, like our Moon, which is tidally locked to Earth. This is why we always see the same side of it. This is the eventual result of all orbiting bodies, as gravity will cause this in the end. We can use this for habitable moons. Or even a planet, which, if tidally locked to its sun, will roast on one side and freeze on the other. While this might make Earth-like life impossible, it’s an interesting place to visit if properly protected.

Summary of Chapter 2—Creating a Planet

This chapter focuses on creating an Earth-like planet. World builders should understand the role of the moon and its effects on tides, seasons, and more if we intend to have a moon different from our own or multiple moons. Mention of other planets, constellations, and comets can make our world seem like it’s not an island. The equator, climate zones, prevailing winds, and rain shadows all affect how much precipitation falls in an area, which in turn affects all life there, including vegetation or the lack thereof. Understanding these basics will help us create believable landscapes.

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Sep 072017
 

5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #10): Species

This is the tenth in a series of world building articles I’ll be sending you! Today’s theme is species. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 2, “Species,” from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Don’t Give a Species a Uniform Disposition”

Much of the tension in life, at least among us humans, is not knowing whether someone is good or evil, to be simplistic about it. Making invented species be uniformly one way or another makes them predictable, which is less interesting, but if we invent multiple races of them, this variety makes them more entertaining.

Tip #2: “Use Avatar Creators to Invent a Head”

A free, online avatar creator can help you invent faces that are typical of your invented species. This can help visualize something and be provided to an artist if we want someone to draw our creation. It also helps us avoid being unintentionally ridiculous.

 

Tip #3: “Create Races for Variety”

If all the elves, for example, look the same, that means a wood elf and drow can masquerade as each other. This gives us opportunities for mayhem that don’t exist if every race of a species looks the same. Besides, why not surprise other characters and readers alike?

Tip #4: “Decide How They Get Along With Everyone, Not Just Humans”

It’s easy to overlook how two invented species get along with each other because we’re trying to figure out how each gets along with humans. More thought given to this makes our world more believable and engaging. Envision each race’s viewpoint on how people should behave and then what they think of another race’s behavior. Read Creating Life to learn more.

Tip #5: “Determine Their View of Magic/Technology”

We should decide how educated a species is, as this may impact their ability to do magic or invent/use technology. If they can’t read and spells are hard to learn orally, they may be unable to cast them, unless they can do it without a spell, like a god. Even uneducated species can steal a space ship, for example, and those need janitors, too, so be clever in finding ways that the less fortunate can have power that maybe they shouldn’t!

Summary of Chapter 3—Creating a Species

Audiences are familiar with using “race” to distinguish between humanoids, especially in fantasy, but species may be a more appropriate term. This chapter explores the meaning and implications of both words, with some examples of which one to use, when, and why.

Creating a species is challenging and time consuming, but the risks and rewards can be navigated and achieved, respectively. This chapter helps us decide on our goals and if the effort is worth it. SF writers might have little choice but to create species because there are no public domain species available like the elves, dwarves, and dragons of fantasy. The benefits of creating something different can outweigh the investment and help our work stand out.

An invented species must compete with legendary ones like elves, dwarves, and dragons; this chapter helps us achieve this. Starting with habitat helps us decide on physical adaptations that affect their minds, outlook, and society, and what a typical settlement might be like and even whether or not they live in jointly formed settlements. Their disposition affects their relationships with other species but can also limit their usefulness to us unless steps are taken to avoid this. Characteristics like intelligence, wisdom, and dexterity all play a role in how they can be used in our work, as does their society and world view, both affected by a history we can invent to integrate them with our world. Their familiarity with the supernatural and technology influences their prominence and how they compare to other life in our world.

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Aug 222017
 
5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #9): The Gods

This is the ninth in a series of world building articles! Today’s theme is the gods. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 2, “Creating Gods”, from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Create a Pantheon”

A group of gods is more work to invent but offers opportunities for conflicts among the deities. These can reflect cultural and moral issues, such as myths about gods struggling in much the same way as people. Pantheons offer a good way to characterize our residents, as everyone might worship someone else.

Tip #2: “Make the Gods Vulnerable”

Beings that can’t be hurt or killed are less interesting. If you decide one is dead or wounded, determine how, who did it, and the impact this had on gods and mortals alike. Do they die from natural causes, too? For ideas, read Creating Life.

Tip #3: “Children”

Make your gods capable of reproducing, whether that creates more gods, demi-gods, or just super humans (or other species). This can give a world heroes like Hercules. It can even make a mortal woman want to seduce a god. Now there’s a story idea!

Tip #4: “How Does Time End?”

Decide how life as everyone knows it will end, even if you never use this in a story beyond someone mentioning your world’s Armageddon. It’s fun deciding how everyone will be destroyed. Find a good reason for it happening, whether it’s moral decay or something more physical. For ideas, read Creating Life.

Tip #5: “Create Myth”

Myths make a world more entertaining, but only invent them if there’s a chance they’ll be used. Self-publishers can use a myth as bonus materials in a newsletter, website, or short story.

Summary of Chapter 2—Creating Gods

Our species will invent gods to believe in even if we don’t invent them, so we may need some deities for people to reference in dialogue, whether praying or swearing. In SF, belief in gods may still exist despite, or even because of, advances in science. In fantasy, priests often call on a god to heal someone, and this requires having invented the gods. Pantheons offer advantages over a lone god, including dynamic relationships between them and the species. Half gods and demigods are other options that help us create myths and legends to enrich our world, especially if gods can be born, die, or be visited in their realm.

Myths about how the gods or species came to exist help people understand the purpose of their lives and what awaits them in death. Symbols, appearance, patronage, and willingness to impact the lives of their species all color a pantheon and world. Gods also create places people can visit or items that can fall into the wrong hands, offering possibilities for stories.

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Aug 082017
 
5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #8): How Many Worlds?

This is the eighth in a series of world building articles I’ll be sending you! Today’s theme is analogues. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 1, “Why Build a World?”, from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Determine Your Goals”

If you’re intending on a long career, maybe it makes sense to build one world extensively. Otherwise you might build 20 worlds for 20 books. Is that more or less work than one in-depth setting? Figure out your intentions.

Tip #2: “Use Extreme Worlds Sparingly”

Extreme worlds might best be suited to one-off stories due to the risks inherent in taking big chances with believability. Such places are ideal for SF when characters are planet-hopping. But there’s no reason characters in a fantasy setting can’t be using magic or portals to do the same thing.

Tip #3: “Be Earth-like Most Often”

For any setting that’s frequently used, it’s wise to make it Earth-like in many basic respects (gravity, light, oxygen, etc.) unless we really intend to feature the unusual features often. If we’re less into world building, this is the default approach. We can change a few things, like adding species similar to dwarves, elves, and dragons, while keeping the rest normal.

Tip #4: “Reclaim Wasted Time”

World building can be done in small bits. We don’t need to devote months on end like with a novel, where we can lose our train of thought if we stop. It’s a great way to reclaim lost time, like when standing in line somewhere – jot down ideas on your phone and flesh them out later. College often prevented me from writing, so I did world building in small bits, ten or thirty minutes at a time when I felt like it or had an idea.

Tip #5: “Don’t Get Overwhelmed”

Remember that world building is optional. Yes, we might need to create a setting, but we can essentially make it Earth by another name if desired. Don’t let world building become a chore or get overwhelmed by a big to-do list. Otherwise, you’ll just give up. World building is fun!

Summary of Chapter 1—Why Build a World?

While world building is expected in many genres of fantasy and SF, we must decide how many worlds to build. This will depend on our career plans and goals. Learn the advantages and disadvantages of building one world per story vs. one world for many stories, and when to take each approach. Sometimes doing both is best, allowing for greater depth in one world but the option to step away to keep things fresh. Using analogues can help us create believable societies quickly but has pitfalls that can be avoided. Do you have the ability to create many interesting worlds, and will they have enough depth to make the effort worth it?

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Jul 252017
 
5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #7): Undead

This is the seventh in a series of world building articles! Today’s theme is undead. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 7, “Creating Undead,” from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Decide If You Need To Invent Undead”

Creating new undead is challenging because so many useful types exist and are public domain, meaning we can use them. Inventing something similar to an Earth analogue is ripe for ridicule as “just a vampire with insert-minor-difference-here,” for example. Make sure you really need your need undead’s skills, appearance, traits, or behaviors before creating them.

Tip #2: “Determine What the Undead Wants”

Everyone needs a goal in life, or in this case, undead life. But some undead are in denial about their status, so decide if it knows it’s dead and how it feels about that if so, or why it’s unaware. This can determine whether it wants peace, revenge, or has unfinished business that keeps it here.

Tip #3: “What Type of Undead Is It?”

Determine whether it’s spiritual or if it has a body, and what state of decay that body is in. That will help determine the impact it has on those who see or encounter it. Don’t be afraid to create undead plants and animals. If it’s alive, it can be dead. And if it can die, it can return.

Tip #4: “Decide Its Origins”

Did someone create your undead on purpose or by accident? We can use phenomena, technology, or magic to do this. Also decide if the undead can create more of itself, such as the way vampires do. This will determine their numbers, which in turn decides how much experience people have with it. That will decide if they know how to kill it.

Tip #5: “Can It Be Killed?”

Whether or not the undead can be permanently destroyed is what the living will most want to know about it, so make a decision. Then figure out how and when this can be done. Feel free to be inventive, as everyone loves a good death, including things that are already dead.

Summary of Chapter 7—Creating Undead

Many types of undead already exist and are public domain, and it’s challenging to invent something new. Undead are often classified by appearance and behavior, but it is also their origins and how they can be destroyed that will help distinguish our undead from pre-existing types. The two basic ones are those with a body, like zombies, and those without, like ghosts. Those with a body might have a soul or not. We can decide on the mental faculties of our undead by deciding if the mind goes with the soul, but there are other factors that can impair the minds and even emotional states of undead. All of these affect behavior, as do their origins, goals, and what they’re capable of.

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Jul 112017
 
5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #6): Plants and Animals

This is the sixth in a series of world building articles! Today’s theme is plants and animals. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 6, “Creating Plants and Animals,” from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Decide Whether to Invent Plants or Animals”

Learn the benefit of creating either and how to speed up the process using analogues or the templates below. In SF, we really need to invent them if characters are on other worlds where they will be different. Fantasy can get away with mostly Earth-like life with some additions if we have ideas. Creating Life can help you think of some.

Tip #2: “How Will You and Characters Use It?”

There’s no reason to invent something if we don’t have a plan for it. Both plants and animals are good for products to make life better. Create a list of these uses, such as decoration, food, medicine, entertainment, guards, pets, transportation, pets, and domestication. This will create goals for you to achieve with invention.

Tip #3: “Research Earth Analogues”

Creating plants and animals from scratch isn’t easy, so learn to model them on analogues from Earth. Researching even known ones can turn up surprising facts we didn’t know. These can be used as inspiration while freeing us to tweak details to our liking. That way, we don’t have to “get it right” because we’re the authority, not the truth.

Tip #4: “Understand Classifications”

Animals are classified as amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles, while plants are classified as seedless, seeding, and flowering. Understanding the differences can help us be specific and invent details that make our new life forms worth the time to invent. Creating Life includes extensive research that world builders need to know about this.

Tip #5: “Know Your Limits”

It’s usually best to invent only a few plants and animals for a setting simply because we won’t have much occasion to mention them. This is true of even worlds we’ll use for decades in a long, cherished career. In such cases, new life can often be invented on the fly, so this is an area of world building that is ripe for doing piecemeal rather than all at once.

Summary of Chapter 6—Creating Plants and Animals

In fantasy, creating plants and animals is optional due to expectations that the world is very Earth-like, but in SF that takes place away from Earth, audiences are more likely to expect new ones. It takes less time to create these than other life in this book, but we’ll want to consider our time investment, how often our setting will be used, whether our creations impact our work and the impression it creates, and whether the desire to do something unique and new is worthwhile for both us and our audience.

Plants and animals are classified into categories, such as cycads, conifers, and flowering plants, and amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles. The lifecycle of the former and the behavior of the latter help distinguish them and can be used to propel or inhibit stories involving them. While we may have purposes for them as an author, our world’s inhabitants have them, too, such as decoration and medicinal uses for plants, and domestication, sports, guards, pets and transportation for animals. Both can be used for food and materials to enrich life and our world.

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Jun 222017
 
5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #5): Monsters

This is the fifth in a series of world building articles! Today’s theme is monsters. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 5, “Creating Monsters”, from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Do You Need Monsters?”

Our story might not need monsters, but in games, what else is there to kill but species and animals? Adventuring characters need threats to worry about, but a species/animal can suffice. The best reason to invent a monster is the reason they’ve historically been created: to instruct us in morality and other concerns about how to live. Find your theme and invent your monster.

Tip #2: “Determine What It Can Do”

A monster’s skills are often the reason it’s terrifying. Decide on one or two traits it uses to kill, hide, or terrify people (even if on accident). This should coincide with your purpose. Get started by fantasizing scenes of people hunting it, being hunted, or fighting it, and what signs of its existence it leaves behind.

Tip #3: “Understand the Difference between Monsters, Species, and Animals”

A species is a lot smarter than a monster, usually, a villain like Dracula being an exception, partly because he was once human and not dead for long. Animals differ in being numerous, whereas a monster is typically the only one of its kind. But we can break these “rules” once we think about them. Read Creating Life to learn more.

Tip #4: “Decide Where Your Monster Originated”

Accidents are an easy way to create monsters, especially in SF, where imaginary technology can wreak havoc. But magic and other supernatural forces can do the same. Consider whether someone created your monster on purpose, too, and for what reason? This can give us a world figure. Evolution might also have led to this creature’s existence. Determine its origins to create a well-formed monster.

Tip #5: “Decide What the Monster Wants”

Whether it’s food, revenge, security, peace and quiet, or to hoard treasure, knowing what the monster wants will determine its behavior and lair. Treasure is actually a silly thing to desire, given that money is only useful when we’re part of society, and a monster isn’t, by definition. Read Creating Life to consider other factors.

Summary of Chapter 5—Creating Monsters

The difference between monsters, species, and animals is largely sophistication and numbers. Many monsters are created by accidents that turn an existing species or animal into something else, but sometimes monsters are created on purpose. In the latter case it’s especially important to decide who caused this. A monster’s habitat has an impact on its usefulness and sets the stage for creating atmosphere and characterization that will largely define our audience’s experience with it before the terrifying reveal. Its motivation in life, or in our work, also determines what it does and the sort of trouble it’s causing for our species.

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