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Subjects and Predicates: Breaking Down Sentences

We’ve covered a lot of the minutiae of grammar on the Write Practice, but today we’re taking it back to the basics and breaking apart sentences to get at some of the most fundamental parts of speech.

Smash Hammer

Photo by images of money.

What is a part of speech? A part of speech is a category of words that serve the same basic function in a sentence, and today, we’re covering the most basic of the basics: subjects and predicates.

Subjects

Sentences must have a subject and a predicate. Subjects are most commonly nouns, which, in the immortal words of the writers of Schoolhouse Rock, indicate a person, place, or thing. As long as your sentence is in the active voice, the subject is the person, place, or thing performing an action.

For example:

Carl cried. Chris ran. Ann sat.

Carl, Chris, and Ann are the subjects.

Predicates

Predicates always include a verb, and sometimes include additional phrases, but the job of the predicate is to modify the subject.

For example:

Carl cried. Chris ran. Ann sat.

Cried, ran, and sat are the predicates.

That’s a lot of fancy words and terminology, but a sentence essentially boils down to a noun and a verb.

PRACTICE

Write about Carl crying, Chris running, and Ann sitting.

Put the subject of each sentence into ALL CAPS. You can either do this as you write or after you finish.

Write for fifteen minutes, then, post your practice in the comments section.

Good luck.

About Liz Bureman

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

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  • http://www.ordinaryservant.com/ Pilar Arsenec

    Hi there, thanks for your post.  I am new here. I am an unpublished 45 year old wannabe writer. Here is my first attempt at something. However, please be warned, I don’t know what I’m doing.

    Carl cried when he found out his wife Suzy was cheating on
    him. He just broke down and wept. He felt betrayed, he felt lost, he felt
    undone.

    What have I done wrong? I have given everything she ever wanted? 
    How could she do this to me?  And with my best friend too? 

    Enraged. He started thinking he should go beat up his friend? Maybe he should pour sugar down his gas tank or slash his tires?  But going to jail isn’t a good idea.

    Thoughts like flies swarmed his mind and he thought he was going mad.

    • Mariaanne

      What a good first post.  The writing it clear here and I like the last line.  

      • http://www.ordinaryservant.com/ Pilar Arsenec

        Thank you so much Marianne. I appreciate the encouragement. :)

    • Marla4

      Great first post, Pilar.  I agree with Mariaanne.

      • http://www.ordinaryservant.com/ Pilar Arsenec

         Thank you. I really appreciate it.

    • Mirelba

       Welcome aboard.  Yup, good last line.  And I guess that’s what we’re all here for, to learn as we go along.

      • http://www.ordinaryservant.com/ Pilar Arsenec

        Thank you.  Yes, so true, we are all learning as we go along.

  • Mirelba

    I’m not quite sure about the point of this exercise, but here goes:  WE have Carl cry­ing, Chris run­ning, and Amy sitting.  Not inspiring, but…

     

    AMY sat in the living room watching television.  Another evening alone.  Another evening with Bill busy at work.  SHE idly flipped through the channels:  All those channels on cable, and still nothing
    SHE? really felt like watching.  AMY was
    feeling bored and restless.  The whole
    day SHE had been busy with the kids.  SHE
    had to deal with Chris running around 
    wild all over the backyard, and with Carl crying all day because of his
    teething.  Now SHE longed for some adult
    conversation, a chance to get out– but Bill was gone. 

    The DOORBELL rang. 
    ‘Drat’ SHE thought.  ‘THAT’s all I
    need, for someone to wake up the kids after I finally got them to sleep.

     

    SHE hurried to the door. 
    SHE could see Mrs. Gordon outside. 
    Oh dear, not quite the adult SHE’d been thinking about.  AMY hesitated for a moment, but she could see
    Mrs. Gordon raising her finger to press the door bell once again.  AMY took a deep breath, plastered a smile on
    her face and opened the door.

    “Why, Mrs. Gordon, how nice to see you.”

    MRS. GORDON snorted. 
    “Wish I could say the same.  I
    don’t know how often I have told you, but I really wish you would do something
    about that boy of yours.  I didn’t get a
    minute’s rest all day listening to him shrieking and cavorting outside all
    afternoon.”

    “I’m sorry, Mrs. Gordon.  But HE’s just a little boy.  HE was only playing.”

    “Hmph.  In my
    days, CHILDREN were much more mannerly, and PARENTS were concerned with
    maintaining good relations with their neighbors.”

    “Mrs. Gordon, I do try but sometimes children need a
    bit of release.  WE bought a house with a
    big backyard so the CHILDREN could get out and play, release all their
    energy.  WE try…”

    “Well, obviously not enough!  I do not know how often I have had this
    conversation with you in the past six months, and I see no relief in
    sight.” 

    AMY felt close to tears. 
     SHE did not really feel up to
    this conversation.   “Mrs. Gordon, I
    realize that it isn’t easy for you, but what do you really expect me to
    do?” 

    “Muzzle him!”

    For a minute, AMY had a picture in her mind of four-year-old
    Chris wearing one of Mrs. Gordon’s hand-knitted dog coats and a muzzle.  The TEARS disappeared, as SHE burst out laughing.  MRS. GORDON scowled, but then the CORNERS of her
    mouth turned up, grudgingly at first, and then SHE too joined in the laughter.
     

    • Mariaanne

      Mrs. Gordon is quite a character.  I like the dialogue too.  

      • Mirelba

         Thanks!  I wanted to work on dialogue, since I find that a challenge.  Most of  my writing tends to be free of it…

    • Marla4

       I LOVE the last paragraph.  How funny!

      • Mirelba

         :-)

  • Karen Carroll

    I’m so excited for a grammar refresher! Last month, someone said the word “predicate” to me and I immediately thought it was a type of insect.
     
    The predicate is long and green, with six spindly legs and wings twice the length of its body.
     
    Here’s my practice:
     
                    CARL sat on the stoop of his mother’s front porch and cried. CHRIS had already taken off running into the red and orange trees, laughing hysterically at his own joke that was at the expense of his younger brother. CARL held on to his elbow that had knocked against the porch railing when Chris had pushed him as the tears glistened on his pink cheeks. CHRIS had picked on him since the day he was born, and his mother had done little to defend him. HE secretly suspected that Chris was the favorite as he seemed to get away with anything and everything. CARL shoved his head into his hands and leaked a small whine, like a balloon seeping air out of a small gap until suddenly tossed into the air and left to blubber. THIS was the worst day ever.
                    THE PORCH DOOR opened and shut. CARL didn’t need to lift his head to know it was Amy. HIS OLDER SISTER could hear him crying from a mile away. Although she was eight years older than he SHE had always been his only advocate, playing with him when no one else would, applauding his artwork when no one else looked, and comforting him when everyone else walked by. SHE sat down next to him on the stoop, and waited for him to lift his head. When he did, HER FACE melted into that familiar compassion that had reassured him all these years. HE threw his arms around her and SHE wrapped hers around him, rocking him back and forth. HE snuffled and sobbed into her blouse leaving behind two large puddles to cling to the fabric, but SHE didn’t complain. “There, there,” SHE cooed. “Do YOU want to tell me what happened?”
                    “Chris!” CARL cried mid-hiccup, his voice muffled by the ruffles on her top. “HE’s such a meanie!”
                    “Oh, Carl, you know you can’t let him get to you like this,” AMY answered, rubbing his back gently with just the tips of her fingers. IT always sent a small chill up his spine that would freeze the hurt, even if for just a moment.
                    “Why won’t he just leave me alone?” CARL said in a hysterical voice, upsetting himself even more. THE SADNESS swelled in his chest and poured out of his eyes.
                    “Oh sweetheart, you’re too old to be upset over this,” AMY said soothingly. As she rocked his body back and forth, CARL’s mind drifted to a far away haven where her gentle swaying cradled him like a small boat that happily slow-danced with the ocean. HE inhaled deeply, his lungs stuttering before expanding to accept the relief he breathed in. HE could feel the sweet autumn air beginning to trickle down into the tiniest of his capillaries. HE wiped his nose with the back of his hand, and tried to smile.
                    “Thanks Amy. You’re right,” HE said, nodding to convince himself more than Amy.
                    “Alright,” SHE answered, giving him a squeeze. “YOU’re only thirty-four.”

    • Mariaanne

      I like that ending although I suspected he was kind of large from the amount of water he cried onto her shirt. 

      • Karen Carroll

        Boogers, I gave it away!  I was trying very hard to think of him as a little boy myself when I was writing it.  Note to self, have perceptive readers. ;)

        • Mariaanne

          Karen  - I think it was better that I suspected.  Surprise endings are overrated sometimes.  

    • Marla4

       You are wonderful at description!

      • Karen Carroll

        Thanks Marla!

    • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

      Haha!!  Your predicate specimen made me laugh!!

      I really liked this!  What a beautifully described picture of comfort!  And don’t worry, not all your readers are as perceptive as Marianne – the end was a surprise to me…!

      • Karen Carroll

        Thanks Zoe! :)

  • Marla4

    Just made it through the first paragraph with the CAPS, but I did finish the scene.  Here you go!

    After Darcy
    Died

    My right EYE
    had gone wonky, light splintering at the corner of my sight, and at times I
    couldn’t see at all.  I thought it was
    from the crying, because I was always crying. 
    DARCY had been dead three days then. 
    His MOTORCYCE, that had roared down my street on Monday and hit the
    sycamore at the end of the cul-de-sac, was sitting in a crumpled pile on my
    front lawn.  The GUY from the wrecker company
    asked me where I wanted it, and I pointed to the tree, where Darcy was always
    working on the thing, early Sunday mornings and late most afternoons, even at
    Christmas, while the rest of us were inside watching Elf and eating candy from
    our felt stockings that we’d hung the day after Thanksgiving in a jaunty row on
    the oak mantle.

    I had an
    amber colored bottle of Xanax beside me, and I rattled the thing, listening to
    the sound the little pills made.  In the
    medicine cabinet were two similar bottles, one Valium and the other Prozac.  I liked having pills, though I rarely took
    them.

    But now I
    needed something.  A little respite from
    sorrow.  Sorrow is boring, really, after
    you get past the first peaks and valleys, once the adrenaline wanes and you
    stop feeling as if you could throw yourself off a cliff, once you realize you
    never would.

    What would
    Darcy do if I were dead?  I laugh.  A small, birdcall of a laugh.  Likely, he’d be at Juney’s house, and they’d
    been comforting each other, and she’d brush away a tear, if he could manage a
    tear, and then they’d hug, and within a month most of his things would be at
    her house, his special wrenches in the chamois cloth, his Journey t-shirt he
    won’t give up, no matter how ratty it is.

    Juney was
    just here yesterday, all hollow-eyed and blubbering.  I held her in my arms, I comforted her, which
    is incredulous, given the situation. 
    Death will do that to you; it will make you forgive the ones who hurt
    you, at least for a while.

    “I was
    always telling him to slow down,” Juney said, and I patted her shoulder.

    “I can’t
    imagine not seeing his smile again,” Juney said, and I lifted a lock of her
    hair and let if fall through my fingers, like water from a fountain.  She looked like me.  No, she looked like I did twenty years ago.

    “You loved
    Darcy,” I said, and I felt my heart leave my body, and lift into the clouds,
    just a shell of a thing, so empty now, and it sounds beautiful I know, but it
    was the opposite of beautiful, it was the worst horrible thing.

    “I did,” she
    said, and I handed her a Kleenex.  My
    sister had brought ten boxes that morning, scattering them through the house,
    like breadcrumbs that led from one despair to the next.

    “He didn’t
    not love you.  I want you to know that,”
    she said, and took my hands in hers.

    And I shook
    my head, and I let her say it all, and I hated her as much as you can hate
    someone when your heart’s taken flight.

    My tears
    stopped soon after, and now when people ask how I feel, I just say cold, and
    they nod at me and rub their chins and act as if that’s a reasonable answer.

    So, this
    grief has gone to my right eye, it has positioned itself there, a dark throb
    like a heartbeat.  I didn’t look at Darcy
    after he died – his brother ID’d him – and now I wonder if I should have.  I didn’t want to see his light gone out. 

    The night
    before he died, we’d gone to see Pat Benatar, an imp of a woman, barely five
    feet, with a voice as big as Texas.  Her
    husband is her guitar player, a little peacock of a man, tattooed and jeans
    rolled up in wide cuffs, the kind of bravado that makes you look twice.  She kept deferring to him, letting him take
    over with his guitar, moving behind him so that all you saw was him, his silver
    hair, his biceps flexing, his guitar thrumming. 
    What causes a woman like that to stand behind her man, I wondered then,
    and at that moment Darcy took my hand. 
    Pat Benatar started singing “Love is a Battlefield,” and Darcy grabbed his
    lighter and snapped it on, and we swayed together, our arms raised high.

    I am taking
    the Xanax now.  Not one but two.  I pry open the lid, not an easy feat with one
    good eye, and I swallow them fast.  Darcy
    loved me, I say out loud.  And I, by God,
    loved Darcy.
     

    • http://thewritepractice.com/ John Fisher

      Subjects and predicates aside, this is very engaging and leaves me wanting more of the story. I’d buy a book like this!

      I would have used the word “incongruent” rather than “incredulous”, but maybe you’re right and I’m wrong!  Good work!

      • Marla4

         I believe you’re right, John.  Thank you for that, and for the encouragement.  These exercises are so much fun.

    • Mariaanne

      Marla – how do you do this? This is magic.  

      • Marla4

         Thank you Mariaanne.  I saw Pat Benatar Sunday night.  I think that’s where the whole thing came from.

    • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

      I really don’t know what to say. That was amazing!

      • Marla4

        Thank you!

    • Mirelba

       YOU have such a special writing voice.  IT comes out strong in whatever you write.  Another gem.

      • Marla4

        YOU made me laugh. Thank you!

    • Antonia

      That’s so good. I loved the last two lines.

      • Marla4

        Thank you!

    • Karen Carroll

      I really like when you say your heart is just a shell of a thing, and I also really like when you say people nodded as if being cold is a reasonable answer. It’s unique but I think it can touch something in all of us.

      • Marla4

        Thank you so much.

  • Rita Thompson

    “Amy, don’t move.” CARL moved out from behind the shadows with a gun trained on her. AMY was tied to a chair in the middle of a very stereotypical villain’s lair. Strapped underneath her chair was a neatly packaged EXPLOSIVE DEVICE. CARL pressed an object into her hands and closed her fingers over it. SHE made a motion to toss the plastic object away. “I wouldn’t do that sweetheart,” CARL said. “You’re holding a deadman’s switch right now.”
     
    “I don’t care. If I take you out with me, it’ll still be a win.”
     
    “Ah, but did I say that it was the switch for your bomb?” CARL pulled up image on the security monitors. THE IMAGE sharpened and focused on a man pacing back and forth in a white room. In the center of a room lay A BOMB. “HE’s got your switch… and you have his.”
     
    “Chris…” said AMY. THE MAN on the screen looked up at the sound of her voice. HE began running around the room searching for the source. SHE could see him screaming but no sound came over the speakers.
     
    CARL made a sarcastic cooing sound. “Oh, dear, the darling love birds. Get it now, bitch? Let THAT SWITCH go and CHRIS goes boom.” HE turned to leave the room.
     
    “You coward.” AMY’S VOICE was gutteral. “You coward! Can’t face him and kill him yourself? No YOU’ve got to sneak around and play these dumbass games.”
     
    CARL turned back around. “YOU had your choice Amy. And YOU chose him. THIS is all your fault for being such a tease.” A FEW TEARS ran down his face.
    AMY was startled by the tears. “No, don’t cry. YOU’re still my brother after all, let’s stop this Carl.”

    • Mariaanne

      Very surreal.  I think having the subject in caps makes this even  more eerie than it would be otherwise. 

    • Marla4

       Wow.  The ending was really a surprise.  Good dialogue.

    • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

      Ooh what a good gotcha ending! Nice action.

    • Karen Carroll

      I love the action and the ending! And I agree with Marianne, it makes it jump off the page more for some reason.

  • http://thewritepractice.com/ John Fisher

    (If the subject of a sentence is already capitalized for other reasons, I put parentheses (   ) around it. There are compound sentences; also, a lot of this is conversational and therefore run-on.  I treated each phrase that can stand alone, as a sentence, even if joined to another sentence by a conjunction.)

    As the rain streaked the mesh-guarded window behind him, CARL put his face in his hands and cried.  His ATTORNEY put on a sympathetic expression, but her body LANGUAGE was that of impatience. (I) just wanted to teach the little punk a lesson,” HE wailed.  ” (I) didn’t mean to kill him.”

    ANN leaned back in the hard chair.  Yeah, SHE thought.  (I) knew guys like you in school.  Now (I) get to defend you in court.  “So CHRIS ran to try to get away from you.  How far did YOU pursue him?”

    A sniff, and CARL wiped his nose on his arm before replying, “Only just from the south end to the, uh, north end — of the park, y’know.”  Suddenly HE slammed a meaty hand on the table.  Whatsa matter, YOU like guys like that?  Lady, HE was gay!   HE was queer as a three-dollar bill!  (I) don’t care what he said about it. HE was, he by-god was! YOU can tell it by the way they walk, the way they talk.  YOU can’t lie about a thing like that! And all’s I’m doin’, I’M tryina do a community service, ma’am, just tryina keep my neighborhood free of his kinda trash, and THEY want stick me in jail for the rest of my life because a punch landed wrong?”    Lady, HE was askin’ for it!”  HE sniffed loudly, still leaking from his eyes and nose. 

    “And so YOU’RE the judge and jury, right, Carl?  Guard!”

    But THREE of them were already bursting into the room before Carl bared his teeth, slammed his hand on the table again and started to rise.  “Y’know, PEOPLE  like you are what’s wrong with this country,” HE ground outbetween his clenched teeth as one guard cuffed his hands behind his back.  THIS is no longer America!”

    ANN thought:  I’ll be glad to hand this one off to somebody else. 

    • Mariaanne

      This could also go on further, like you said Marla’s could, and that wouldn’t bother me a bit. I wish I had time to write today.  This seems to be an inspired group so far.  

      • http://thewritepractice.com/ John Fisher

        Thanks everyone.  Carl  shows who he really is under the stress of being charged with a murder he claimed was an accident, seeking to justify his violence with bigotry disguised as good morality.  Karen, I bet you’ve seen some masks come off when the consequences arrive.  I enjoyed writing this and reading all your kind comments.  This blog is so much fun!

    • Marla4

       Good writing on a tough subject.  I like the lawyer, by the way.

    • Mirelba

       Wow, that was good!

    • Karen Carroll

      Good story! I’m a legal assistant for public defenders, and it’s crazy to see people actually say these kinds of things.

    • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

      Brilliant!  I love this.

  • http://twitter.com/MarlaRoseBrady Marla Rose Brady

    SEYMOUR ran out into the distance.  HE didn’t like the scenery.  The SKY looked dreary.   His HEART felt heavy.

    “What more is next?” HE wondered, “Is this all there is?”

    • Marla4

       Hey, another Marla!  I like this.  Are you going to write more?

      • http://twitter.com/MarlaRoseBrady Marla Rose Brady

        LOL, Hi Marla4, great name by the way, is that your real name?  Marla is not my real name.  Yes!  I am!  In fact, Seymour is my premiere character right now.  However, I have to kill him soon, and after reading Joe’s novel, I realize it has to happen sooner than later.  :-(   I will be posting in on my website one day when it’s finished:  marlarosebrady.wordpress.com   Thanks for asking!

        • Marla4

           Yes it is my real name.  And I will check out your website.  Good for you.  Too bad about Seymour.

  • Antonia

    Here’s my attempt. I’m not really sure that I got all the subjects right.

    ANN was sitting in the front room reading when the screaming
    started. SHE sighed. Why couldn’t THEY just give it a rest? CHRIS came pelting
    into the sitting room.

    ‘What did YOU do this time?’ SHE asked.

    ‘Nothing,’ said CHRIS. ‘I swear.’

    CARL came running in. TEARS were streaming down his face. HE
    started picking up everything he could get his hands on and throwing them at
    Chris. SOFT TOYS hit Chris and HE laughed, which just infuriated CARL more.

    Then CARL picked up one of Chris’ size 9 boots.

    ‘No,’ said CHRIS. ‘Don’t throw that.’

    CARL threw it anyway. CHRIS dodged.

    ‘Stop it CARL,’ HE said. HE wasn’t laughing anymore.

    CARL started throwing metal cars and buses.

    A couple of THEM hit Chris. ‘Dammit Carl, stop.’

    ANN sighed and stepped in. ‘CARL, stop throwing things at
    your brother.’

    ‘No,’ said CARL. HE threw Chris’ other boot.

    ANN stepped behind him and wrapped HER arms around him,
    stopping his movement.

    CARL struggled. ‘Let go,’ he yelled.

    CHRIS started laughing again. ‘Can’t get me now, can you?’
    HE teased.

    CARL started screaming.

    ‘Do YOU want me to
    let him go?’ asked ANN.

    • Marla4

      This is really good action!

      • Antonia

        Thanks. It’s based on me and two of my brothers.

    • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

      Haha!  This made me laugh!  I agree with Marla  - the short sentences and pieces of dialogue make this really punchy. 

      • Antonia

        Thanks

  • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

    ANN sat in the middle of all her shiny things.  DADDYS COIN from India that he stole from a thieving beggar.  HER glimmering pink flamingo who wore silver shoes and a black bow-tie.  And, HER prize possessions – mommy’s diamond rings.  Those weren’t really ANNS, but she flaunted them on her fingers with the greatest of gusto while mommy was still ignorant of the loan.  

    ‘It’s my turn to run,’ CARL said, tears streaking his face.  

    CHRIS ran from the roses to the herb garden in sweeping steps.  ‘We can both run, Carl,’ HE said.

    CARL was no longer listening but was rocking back and forth on the floor and touching the grass.  HE started moaning loudly.  CHRIS punched the air with his fists while wishing his brother could just be normal.  

    ‘OK Carl!’ HE shouted. ‘OK, OK, OK.  IT’S your turn to run.  Go – run.’  HE sat down next to Ann.

    CARL jumped up and down. ‘My turn, my turn, my turn!’

    He’s smarter than he makes out, CHRIS thought as he tore the green grass up in fistfuls.  For one, HE knows that whenever he rolls himself into a ball, the world does whatever he wants.  CHRIS watched as Carl ran around the garden in small circles, his mouth open wide in that embarrassing state of happiness he never knew needed to be hidden.

    CHRIS turned towards his sister, covered with lipstick on the edges of her mouth, and rings falling off her fingers.  HE scrunched his mouth slowly, making sure he had her attention, and then started laughing at her.  SHE scowled, but turned away.

    Then HE grabbed her flamingo, and ran around the garden once before hurling it as far away as he could.  IT flew high above Anns head – over the red roses, and over the herb garden and over the old brick fence and landed on their neighbour’s grass with a soft thud.  IT fell just next to Rosies paw.  

    Carl and Ann sang different notes of tearful rage as THEY watched their brothers uprising.

    • Mariaanne

      Wow Zoe.  That is like a poem almost, a prose poem.  Beginning with the Indian coins stolen from a thieving beggar, what a great line.  I am going to go over this again when I have more time.  It’s extremely compelling. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

        Thanks so much Mariaane!  Always appreciate your thoughtful comments  :) And feel free to point out mistakes, and give any constructive criticism – that’s most welcome! 

        Just by the way – I saw you are one of the most active ‘commenters’ on the site – would you say your writing has improved by reading other peoples work here? (I’m guessing so, but I’m curious!) 

        • Mariaanne

          I do think it helps me but it’s time consuming to read and comment and that takes time away from my time to actually write.  Overall though I think it’s beneficial especially now that we have so many good writers on this site.  I just feel bad when I can’t think of much to say.  

    • Karen Carroll

      I want to put Chris in time out! I like the innocence that comes out with the naughtiness, like the pulling up grass and rolling into a ball.

      • http://www.facebook.com/zoe.dyer Zoe Beech

        Thanks Karen! 

    • Marla4

      What a vivid scene. I think it’s hard to write about children, but you’ve done it beautifully!

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