Vaginal Fantasy Book Club discussion

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Writing and Self-Promotion > Men writing from a woman's perspective

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message 1: by Andy (new)

Andy Dainty (kosmopolite) Hey, all. I've just started watching the VF series, and a comment one of the ladies made really stuck me. I think it was Felicia who said that it was always obvious when a man wrote from a woman's perspective. Well, I'm doing just that in my novel, and it got me thinking about the pitfalls, tropes and missed steps that come up when a man tries to write as a woman.

An example: Bram Stoker's women use lots of feminine-sounding adjectives. "Dear Mina" springs immediately to mind.

So that's my question, I guess: how do guys mess up when they write women?


message 2: by Jeffery (new)

Jeffery Sargent (thesarge) | 169 comments Goose, gander. Gander, goose. Just write what you're going to write...it's your voice.


message 3: by Andy (new)

Andy Dainty (kosmopolite) Yeah, I know. I'm just interested in people's opinions.


message 4: by Alex (new)

Alex (trienco) | 80 comments Is there even anything in particular that you can point at and say "typical for a male writer"? Or is it just the overall feel?

When you write her, is it based on women you know, what you imagine her to be or what you feel a female reader would expect her to be? Maybe the problem is trying to hard and falling for stereotypes.

I'd probably have to go through my shelf and re-read a bunch of books by female authors, just to see if their male characters feel "off", too. If I wanted to find something wrong with them, it might be that they always feel too idealized, often being "the best" in something and those I can remember off the top of my head would qualify for "bigger than life with a tragical angle" or "reformed bad boy".

If you're really worried about it, you should probably just get a woman involved in it. Let her read it, so she can let you know what does and doesn't feel right (to her).

The Ilona Andrews method is probably the best way to get the genders "right". Be a couple.


message 5: by Andy (new)

Andy Dainty (kosmopolite) Sorry, this wasn't really a thread about my writing. I was more wondering about the dynamic in general in people's reading.

Personally, I've never really noticed anything like that. Though come to think of it, I can't think of a memorable male-written woman.


message 6: by Alex (new)

Alex (trienco) | 80 comments That's why I brought female-written guys into it. If there really is something that gives it away that male authors are always "getting wrong", I probably wouldn't notice it as a male reader.

Though I also have to admit that unless the book is making a point of a characters gender, I don't really pay too much attention to it. They are all just fictional people that happen to be either male or female.


message 7: by Katherine (new)

Katherine (masquerader888) | 22 comments I think one of the main things when reading that tips-off male writers who write female characters is the inner dialogue (or lack there-of) of the female characters.
That said, I have read very few books where a male author chooses to have a female lead, and as side characters it is a bit easier to pull-off a foreign perspective. Because I have no doubt males and females think differently.


message 8: by Carolyn-anne (new)

Carolyn-anne Templeton | 27 comments Sasha, by Joel Shepherd, is one of the most well-written female lead characters by any author, male or female, that I've encountered. What I enjoyed about the characterization was that Sasha, decidedly a female warrior, didn't agonize over her path in life. She didn't force herself to be more masculine, or conversely, overly feminine. She was simply Sasha. I actually think the main downfall with authors writing outside their gender is that they assume a grand canyon of difference in how the 'other side' approaches the world: and our humanity will always outweigh our gender. The change is peripheral... Female and male responses differ primarily in how they expect society to handle their actions.

On a more specific note, I've encountered a whole bunch of male authors that think that women only ever think about romance and dresses, but then again... I'm sad to say that I find the same pitfall with more female authors than I'd like to admit.


message 9: by Seawood (last edited Jun 01, 2012 12:58AM) (new)

Seawood

Why is it that so many male writers, when trying to write strong female characters, fail?

Why do they default to a shorthand, lazy equation, where strong equals bitch?

I can speak for myself, and I can share my suspicions. First? Many men simply don't see it. They don't read what they've written, or if they do, they're blind to the content of their words, or they just don't recognize that there's work to be done here. For many, sadly, stereotype is enough, and the implicit failings in such writing either don't factor or don't matter.

But second, and far more damning? I think it comes from ignorance. Plain and simple ignorance, a crime no author should be allowed to commit.



From an interview with Greg Rucka at http://io9.com/5912366/why-i-write-st... an interesting read, there are some good insights here. Also interviews with Joss Whedon often cover his writing of female characters.

I think some men can do women brilliantly - George RR Martin's Cersei Lannister springs to mind - and some women are *terrible* at writing men. So I'd agree with Rucka that it's about ignorance, or a lack of empathy, the ability to put oneself in someone else's shoes.


message 10: by Necrophidian (new)

Necrophidian | 74 comments Caroline beat me to it, but I'll underscore it: read that Greg Rucka piece.

Tara Chace, baybee. Tara Chace.

Also, this is worth reading:

http://www.sfnovelists.com/2009/04/16...


message 11: by Susan (new)

Susan (coineghean) | 1 comments While we're mentioning authors that are doing it right, I'd like to mention Robin Hobb as a female author writing male characters. Granted, I'm female myself, so maybe I'm not the best judge, but I think her FitzChivalry Farseer is an amazing and complex character. Even if I am still upset about the...aw no, that's a spoiler.
At any rate, I think that the best authors are going to write complex and interesting characters regardless of gender. George RR Martin and Joss Whedon are both good examples of male writers who are genuinely interested in people, their motivations, and their relationships and so write believable characters.


message 12: by Kamil (new)

Kamil | 938 comments the problem whith female characters is that men and women had historically speaking different role, so it's hard to write a good character whithout making her/him an outcast in the society we set the story. And we have different dreams and expectations so it's hard to walk into someone's shooes


message 13: by Seawood (new)

Seawood Kamil wrote: "the problem whith female characters is that men and women had historically speaking different role, so it's hard to write a good character whithout making her/him an outcast in the society we set t..."

Only if you're trying to mimic historical society. You could create an entirely different society - that's why it's called fantasy! There's no need to be bound to what went before; it's just popular (and, dare I say, comfortable for writers) to do so.


message 14: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 68 comments Andy wrote: "Hey, all. I've just started watching the VF series, and a comment one of the ladies made really stuck me. I think it was Felicia who said that it was always obvious when a man wrote from a woman's ..."
I think this is because men and women think differently and communicate for different reasons...? Maybe someone who's done some gender studies can chime in?

To use a typical example, when a wife complains to her husband about some problem that happened at work. Her husband will immediately try to tell her how to solve the problem. However, this only aggravates her further as she really only wanted to have someone to talk to.

Now the man, he's confused because he only wanted to help her fix the situation, and maybe be the hero in her eyes.

But the woman, she's annoyed now because she feels slightly patronised by her husband. It's not as if she was incapable of sorting out her own situation. She just wanted a sympathetic ear, maybe someone to validate her feelings of outrage against that so and so know-it-all!

I think it takes a particularly observant writer to pick up on these little details and craft their characters so we get a consistent and distinct feel for the different genders throughout the novel.

For most writers, they will fall back into writing from their own point of view, even if they're writing as the opposite gender.

Obviously the example I used is very stereotypical. This is not to say to all novels written from a female's point of view has to be an incessant whinger. And not all men are problem solves by default.


message 15: by Alex (new)

Alex (trienco) | 80 comments The research part is kind of interesting, especially when he mentions talking to women about the character a lot (kind of back to my "get a woman involved" suggestion).

It's just really frustrating that you can't ask a woman "how is it different from being a man?". Thought experiment: imagine that everybody perceives colors in a different way and one persons blue is another persons green. They would obviously still call them the same name. How would you ever find out about this difference at all? How would you be able to communicate how you perceive a certain color?

I guess the question of "what does it feel like to be a man/woman" is much like that.


message 16: by Kamil (new)

Kamil | 938 comments Caroline wrote: "Kamil wrote: "the problem whith female characters is that men and women had historically speaking different role, so it's hard to write a good character whithout making her/him an outcast in the so..."

i was trying to find a general idea of the problem. for me writing is like sitting in a pub and waiting for a stranger to tell his/her story


message 17: by Andy (new)

Andy Dainty (kosmopolite) Okay, now I *will* talk about my writing. I tend to write female main characters because I have a lot of difficulty empathising with a typically male hero.

Take Lisa's point, for example - I'd much rather have a cuddle than a solution. Usually I've thought of the solution and it hasn't helped.

I'm sure I'm missing some important elements, but I think (from a fictional perspective), I think more like a heroine than a hero. In the novel I mentioned at the top (working title: "Laura: In Search of a Better Title), I have evil men or gay men.

I've noticed this trend in a lot of urban fantasy, too. Take the much maligned Anita Blake series, for example. In early books there are three types of secondary characters: women, monsters, asexual colleagues. I'm not suggesting late-wave feminism, but that maybe it's easier to make the opposite sex 'other' than to try and get inside their heads...

This was a rambling comment. I hope you took something from it.


message 18: by Kamil (new)

Kamil | 938 comments Lisa wrote: "Andy wrote: "Hey, all. I've just started watching the VF series, and a comment one of the ladies made really stuck me. I think it was Felicia who said that it was always obvious when a man wrote fr..."

actually the example you gave is the kind of situation examined in beginner's psychology classes; there is a difference between giving a solution and saying what one would do; and giving solutions is not the best choice
I won't make bad jokes about the multiple meanings a word (spoken by a woman) might have.
Observant writer.... i think that's the key.


message 19: by Alex (new)

Alex (trienco) | 80 comments Hm... so as someone who would prefer the cuddle _while_ finding a solution... so confusing.

Also, it might just be me being weird again, but isn't trying to get inside someone elses head part of the fun? You might start out having a character do something, because the plot requires them to (not one of the good reasons). But it's hard not to wonder "why would he/she do that?".

Suddenly trying to figure out a characters motivation can result in tons of backstory and personality. Plenty of history, experiences and baggage.

Otherwise they just exist to say their lines and push the plot along, never being much of a character.

Of course you can't always allow yourself the luxury of spending weeks to work out why a character would carry a grudge for centuries. But it just might turn a stereotypical villain into a complex character.

I guess one big trick in telling a good story is moving from A to B to C and making it look like a natural consequence of who everybody is... instead of the other way round.


message 20: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 68 comments I think maybe I'm taking this gender difference topic too far.. But it's pretty fascinating.

Men and women are intrinsically different, regardless of personality traits. Mostly due to the expectation, society as a whole, has of us based on our gender.

Like Kamil said, throughout history, there were different roles assigned to each gender and that would have a huge impact on the individual's psyche.

And while there is more blurring of those lines in today's society, still, the way a person would initially interact with another individual, are already predetermined by what is socially acceptable.

Parents, for example will cultivate boldness and adventure seeking traits in boys, while they're perfectly content for their girls to hang at the back of the crowd - encourage it even.

Our perception of ourselves, and our role in society, are formed from the opinion of others. This is especially so in our formalities years from the way our parents treat us.

Now add to that, a lot of stream of consciousness, to give readers quick insight into the character and it all just get very complicated.

Anyway, getting back to the point at hand.. It's not that it's impossible for an author to write as someone of the opposite gender.. and with the examples given, it's obvious that some do it very well.

It's just that, sometimes because of the way we've learnt our whole life to pick up on the little nuances between men and women, and how they react to and expect to be treated. When we read a book that is not 100% consistent, we pick up on the little discrepancies right away and we just "know".

Anyways like Alex said, the best way to get around this would be to have a female editor read your books and give you suggestions on improving it so it feel more 'natural'. :)


On a side note, I'm definitely the "husband" in that example I just gave. Don't tell me things unless you want me to fix it! :P


message 21: by Kamil (new)

Kamil | 938 comments Lisa wrote: "I think maybe I'm taking this gender difference topic too far.. But it's pretty fascinating.

Men and women are intrinsically different, regardless of personality traits. Mostly due to the expecta..."


if I'll ever have a daughter she'll be allowed to stad in the backlines only if she'd need time to reload her crossbow


message 22: by Jeffery (new)

Jeffery Sargent (thesarge) | 169 comments Lisa wrote: "Parents, for example will cultivate boldness and adventure seeking traits in boys, while they're perfectly content for their girls to hang at the back of the crowd - encourage it even."

And then there's my family. I'm the youngest of 4, and the only male. Most folks who've heard this said I must have been the little Prince. Uhhh yeah. Right. Somehow most of the worst chores in the chore pool kept finding their way onto my section of the chore chart. They put Ivory Liquid in my milk, and gave me lemons and told me they were sweet... It didn't take long for me to learn to check ANYTHING that came from them. My sisters are all (or were - we lost Shannon, the eldest, Christmas before last to cancer) smart, forward, and talented. My sister Penny went off backpacking ALONE in Europe when she was 17 back in the late 70's, in search of the life of an artist. My sister Jeanne studied, amongst other things, Anthro, and worked with Koko for a time (the signing Gorilla). All of them fierce and and principled - the first to call people on their shit, the first go to someone's defense when they are being harassed. What little good there is in me, was, in part, because of the examples they gave.


message 23: by Carolyn (new)

Carolyn Smith | 34 comments Here's a quote from a Cracked article (I don't actually like the article all that much, but this quote is amusimg):

" Right now I’m reading a book from mega-selling fantasy author George R. R. Martin. The following is a passage where he is writing from the point of view of a woman -- always a tough thing for men to do. The girl is on her way to a key confrontation, and the narrator describes it thusly:

“When she went to the stables, she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest …”

That’s written from the woman’s point of view. Yes, when a male writes a female, he assumes that she spends every moment thinking about the size of her breasts and what they are doing. “Janet walked her boobs across the city square. ‘I can see them staring at my boobs,’ she thought, boobily.” He assumes that women are thinking of themselves the same way we think of them."


message 24: by Andy (new)

Andy Dainty (kosmopolite) "she thought boobily" is the best speech tag I've ever seen.


message 25: by Kamil (new)

Kamil | 938 comments Elizabeth wrote: "To be fair, if you're changing from one type of clothing that's fairly boob-supportive to one that isn't you do spend a bit of time feeling 'thinking boobily' (which really might be one the best ph..."

be happy no one mentions moving testicles.... it wouldn't be a pleasing description


message 26: by Emy (new)

Emy (emypt) | 67 comments Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest

For me the thing to have made that bit more convincing would be to change the 'moves freely' to something more concrete, like comfortably/uncomfortable/oddly, or whatever. In the context of that quote, the adjective seems to me to be one that would be used by an observer, not the person inside. But I'm inexperienced at the luxury of non-heavage so maybe 'freely' is a good thing to her - I haven't read the book so maybe the character has previously been complaining of her breasts being restricted...?


message 27: by AnnaBanana (new)

AnnaBanana Pascone (snapdragnful) | 89 comments I think about romance and dresses an awful lot, (also shoes) and my boobs are in the forefront (haha) of my mind pretty regularly, even more-so if they are moving freely...

I actually can't think of any example where I was unhappy with how a male writer wrote a female character, but that could be because I generally stick to female writers (since I like more female-type books.) I actually notice more when a female writer does a crappy job with a male character. From my perspective, romance uses stereotypes more than other types of fiction. Fantasy can excuse a lot of different personality types.

If there is back story for the character and the reader can rationalize WHY the character made the decision, it's usually all right...Female readers may not agree with her decision but if it makes sense based on what she has gone through before, then it will be accepted. Even the sappy, wimpy, weak kinds can be sympathetic if we can understand what made her that way.

Sarge - my condolences. And I am both glad that you had great female role models in your life and horrified at what they did! I'm a big sister, it makes me feel guilty for everything my three sisters did to my brother lol.


message 28: by willaful (new)

willaful I'm pretty easy; I have read one m/m romance I found unconvincing because it sounded too female, but most of the time the sex of the author doesn't matter to me.


message 29: by PointyEars42 (new)

PointyEars42 | 476 comments AnnaBanana wrote: "From my perspective, romance uses stereotypes more than other types of fiction."

Wait..what? Do you mean solving the problems arising from a man's traumatic childhood or current philandering tendencies doesn't spontaneously happen when he meets Miss Right and her Magic All-healing Quim? But Johanna Lindsey promised me it worked that way....


message 30: by Cassandra (new)

Cassandra | 2 comments I realize this discussion has probably moved on to new subjects since the original post, but I just had to say this...

The thing men do wrong when they write women, is they leave out the insecurity. Especially when the character is attractive. Attractive women are the most insecure, I swear to all that is good and holy. Also they never show the woman being embarrassed, which women writers usually include. Maybe it's because men shy away from these topics in general, maybe women feel them more acutely, especially from being treated as less than human etc. etc.


message 31: by Brian (new)

Brian (bthomsen) | 9 comments How about the Honor Harrington books. How does the author get her character wrong?

I'm not saying he does, just asking the question.


message 32: by Kamil (new)

Kamil | 938 comments Cassandra wrote: "I realize this discussion has probably moved on to new subjects since the original post, but I just had to say this...

The thing men do wrong when they write women, is they leave out the insecurit..."


I personally leave out the insecurities to avoid getting to attached to the character ( in case I'd have to use a dramatic device to move the plot forward)


message 33: by Necrophidian (new)

Necrophidian | 74 comments "The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel" - Steve Furtick


message 34: by Keith (last edited Jun 14, 2012 11:12AM) (new)

Keith (keithatc) Brian wrote: "How about the Honor Harrington books. How does the author get her character wrong?

I'm not saying he does, just asking the question."


Honor Harrington, I think, takes...well, not an easy out...but Weber concentrates more on the military-ness of the character than the gender, which is fine by me. The Honor books aren't particularly deep character studies. They are explody, bashy military sci-fi. His concentration is on military archetype and political shenanigans.

However, I'm about to start the fourth book, which sounds like it's going to be substantially more personal and relationship motivated, so I might have to take back everything I just wrote!


message 35: by Carolyn (new)

Carolyn Smith | 34 comments I think Weber does a good job with Honor. She's a whole person in the books, imo. In general I like Weber's world building--from the gender balanced world Honor is from to the religious structures in some of the ones she visits--Weber explores this very well, and I found most of his women and men relatively believable (well, I had trouble with some of the Havenites)

I don't really like talking about characters as "a believable woman" or "a believable man" as neither gender is a monolith--I don't really think that the differences across genders are bigger than the differences between any individuals.


message 36: by Kalyn (new)

Kalyn (laydenyght) | 22 comments I would submit Mutineer by Mike Shepherd to be a little more toned down version of Honor Harrington and David Weber. I don't suggest that he tones her down to be more feminine (I have a shakey memory of Honor at best, sadly), just that he set out to write an involved but not super technical universe. When our heroine, Kris, does reference her chest, it's only to be grateful she doesn't have a bigger one so that she can fit her computer setup in that area.

I've always appreciated how she was written, and never actually thought "Oh, total man writing this" until it went off into how the space navy (I'm pretty sure he calls it something a little classier) is run, then I just thought "Oh, I bet he was in the armed forces."

I agree with relating it to descibing colors. I was about to say that Happy Hour of the Damned by Mark Henry might be an example of "clearly written by a man" as it (to me, who can't distinguish a Prada from a Mizrahi) seems to hit a few gender stereotypes... but then I think about Sex and the City, and that she's intentionally written to be shallow, and I get confused again.

Somewhere the issue of how Ripley, from Alien, was supposed to be a man, but they changed it somewhere near the last minute has been mentioned. A lot, probably. The lesson I would take from that is not to write a man *or* a woman, and just aim for genuine. How do they react as a person and not as a stereotype?


message 37: by Melissa (last edited Jul 22, 2012 04:58PM) (new)

Melissa | 3 comments Just an aside, going back to the Initial topic of how writers of one sex get character perspective wrong for characters of the opposite sex. It is important to realize that biological sex DOES NOT equal gender. Biological sex is based on male or female DNA sequencing. However, gender is based primarily on personal and individual traits often categorized as fitting in a specific "gender" role. In our western society there a generally only two gender categories, masculine And feminine. There are other societies throughout the world that actually classify individuals into more gender categories to account for people who have a variety of characteristics in their personalities that make it difficult to define them as masculine or feminine because they come from both classifications.

How does this apply to any of us as writers? Simple: Rather than focus on whether we can write from the perspective of someone from the opposite sex or the things we notice ourselves about the opposite sex, focus on the personality of the character you are writing. If you focus on empathizing with and understanding your characters, you will be writing their perspective accurately. We all are able to recognize that not everyone who shares our genetic sex has the same personality traits as we do, we need to recognize that there is just as much variety in the individual's of the opposite sex.

Also, don't fear empathizing with your characters. It is not the same as sympathy, where you feel what they do or for what they do. It is merely recognizing what they are experiencing and understanding what their responses might be. It is not necessary for you to share the same traits with them and thus risk putting your own response to their situation. In fact it is important to keep sympathy out of you writing because if you allow sympathy to come through you are no longer writing your character's perspective, but rather your own.

Good luck to all of you with the characters who are allowing you the most personal glimpse into their lives through your imaginations.


message 38: by R.H. (new)

R.H. Watson (rh_watson) | 2 comments Melissa wrote: "Just an aside, going back to the Initial topic of how writers of one sex get character perspective wrong for characters of the opposite sex. It is important to realize that biological sex DOES NOT ..."

Great summation. If I could vote up your comment, I would.


message 39: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Swapp | 1 comments I don't know if this will further the conversation (I'm new here and this is my first post) but Jane Austin never wrote a scene with only 2 men conversing alone in a room because she said she had never been in the room to learn how men spoke to each other without ladies present. That always stuck with me, I don't know why.


message 40: by Kamil (new)

Kamil | 938 comments Ryanandelizabeth wrote: "I don't know if this will further the conversation (I'm new here and this is my first post) but Jane Austin never wrote a scene with only 2 men conversing alone in a room because she said she had n..."

The point is that men talk really differently when there are no ladies. We can bring up topics, jokes and use words that would be unacceptable if there was even one conscious female being in the room.


message 41: by Amber Dawn (new)

Amber Dawn (ginger_bug) | 147 comments I think as long as you write characters as people you'll be ok. The only thing that really bothers me when men write women is when they are more like things/props for the male character to save/have sex with/etc.. If she has personality and motivations of her own that's most of what matters. Everyone is different, there is not a single authentic way to sound female or male and I think concentrating on that idea would do more harm than good.


message 42: by K.M. (last edited Sep 14, 2012 12:25PM) (new)

K.M. Frontain (kmfrontain) | 1 comments I've read a number of books written by women who chose a male perspective to write from. I've done it myself. Keep in mind that my market is women readers when I write as I respond to this thread and this particular comment. I'll do my best to explain what I do with my writing and why, and also what I've seen and felt as a reader.

When reading female perspective written by male authors, in the badly written stories, the women don't feel real. I'm recalling Heinlein's novel Friday here. When I read this, I didn't get the feeling I was vicariously living the life of a real women. Heinlein was trying to write a gutsy woman, but I couldn't engage with the character. The primary reason that comes to mind is that her emotions fell flat. The balance of action and thought/emotion necessary to make this woman seem real did not exist in the novel. That's a big pitfall if you're a man writing a female POV. Without it, the woman can come off flaky, two-dimensional. She can become a novel-long prop that feels like a prop that readers eventually want to shove aside.

This brings me to women writers writing male POV and their major pitfall: their male characters think too much. I've read books that were 50% thinking, waffling, droning on about the whys and whynots of the male character's decisions, actions and feelings. Not good. Yes, thoughtful men exist, but aside from boring readers with ages of dithering, if you want to show a man dithering, it's always been best to show it through some form of action.

And this brings me to writers who can engage the reader of any gender: they write with balance. Try to get enough of the motivation in the story without drowning the action. The Belgariad comes to mind. There are love stories going on in that fantasy adventure. There's motivation mixed with action. There's this feeling that the characters a real, and there's this need to keep reading, because the action doesn't let up. The motivational sentences do not interrupt. They enlighten while smoothing the pace.

I don't recall once getting bored reading The Belgariad. Brilliant balancing act between motivation and action.

So what I think male writers should do is find a book that is popular with both male and female readers and take note of the motivation versus action in the story. And also, listen to women and watch successful movies about women who are like the character you want to write. Then go for a comfortable balance of action and motivation when you write them. Hope that helps.

Alex wrote: "Is there even anything in particular that you can point at and say "typical for a male writer"? Or is it just the overall feel?

When you write her, is it based on women you know, what you imagine ..."



message 43: by Susan (new)

Susan (susieblu) | 5 comments Adding to the gender roles set by society.

When coming up with your characters motivations I think it is important to think about society. If you are creating a new world for your story how people react to your character's role can give readers a bit of that world that you don't have to lay out for them.


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