What is the Emotional Investment in Your Stories?

by Joe Bunting | 63 comments

When you’re only just starting out as a writer, there are so many questions to be considered before you even begin: what to write about, your genre, your style, how often you should practice, not to mention all the technical questions that pile up the more you actually involve yourself in the craft of writing.

Writing Advice

These are questions that inevitably hit everyone sooner or later, so the proliferation of writing tips and advice shouldn’t be surprising at all. Most of the literary masters have offered invaluable counsel on the matters.

emotional investment, pouring your heart in writing

Photo by Jayashree B

Though some of the advice can contradict itself (understandable, given the unique nature and personality of each human being), several recommendations do find a common place and tend to serve almost as a universal truth for writers.

This wide range of writing tips is good because it means there’s a bigger chance that somebody will find another person to relate to. Another positive aspect is that it shows there isn’t a common pathway to follow, that the final conclusion is that the answers are individual and depend on perspective.

Emotional Investment

There’s one piece of advice that I’ve found extremely helpful and which, in my opinion, can save a lot of trouble for any aspiring writer at the beginning: pour your heart out and invest emotionally in your work.

Skip the little reactions and experiences that just interest you. Rather, jump deep into the pool of what moves you to the core, what shakes and trembles you, what wakes you up in the night and keeps visiting you in your dreams, what never ceases to completely fascinate you.

In other words, you need to find your material and your own story—not somebody else’s. Even if you think your story would be boring for others, you need to trust your guts and go for it.

Because only the passion you invest in the writing can intrigue a reader. It doesn’t matter if it’s small or big, plain or complex, cliché or new—it is yours and yours only.

In few of his letters, F. Scott Fitzgerald advises his friends, including his own daughter, on how important it is to sell your heart—especially for a young writer, an amateur, who hasn’t yet developed the technique so as to be able to make any minor everyday detail sound interesting. He points to Charles Dickens and how he did exactly this with Oliver Twist.

Passion is contagious, and if you display it delicately and intimately in your work, you’re probably quadrupling your chances of touching another human being. In order to be relatable, you need to be personal.

Are you pouring your heart in your writing? What is the emotional investment you’re willing to make?

PRACTICE

For fifteen minutes write about a personal story that has always been compelling for you. The goal of this practice is to show your passion in the theme as much as possible.

When you’re done writing, post your practice in the comments. As usual, don’t forget to support your fellows too.

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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63 Comments

  1. Sandra Hould

    The week had been a good one; having rekindled with my lost love had been the best thing in the world. Excitement filled my very core each time I could hold his hands, kiss him and spend lost time with him. I had known him since I was a mere babe. At three years old, my older sister even married us as I remember my wedding gown was mere jeans and a plain t-shirt. My bouquet was a handful of bright yellow dandelions who then became my favorite flower of all time. Little did I know that my world would be turned upside down by the start of the weekend and we were only Wednesday at this point. Still, I was on cloud nine for a few days, in love and fourteen years old young.

    I was thinking of how much I was anxious to seeing my love the next Monday at school when the phone rang. But unlike what I expected, it was not my love who called me but his distraught parents. They informed us that he had died Friday night and they had found him dead in his bed Saturday morning. My world had stopped spinning and my heart had been ripped off of my chest that day. I could not believe it, no, not my love!??!

    How could I go one living now? How a fourteen year old young girl does goes on living when the love of their life is suddenly ripped away from them? Life did not mean anything to me, and my heaven at school was now the most brutal place in the world where everywhere I looked reminded me of my lost love. These places I could not avoid as I had to go through them in order to go to my classes. Pain was in every cell of my body and would continue to be up until today. And the day the principal made a short eulogy on the intercom was a day during my French class became one of the hardest day for me. That day, I cried in silence in my class, letting the tears flow on my cheeks and yet nobody even noticed my pain. I became nobody that day.

    And a few years later, when in one of my French classes once more, a young man entered and he was the spitting image of my lost love. I froze, I panicked and I stopped breathing all together. This whole year was the hardest one for me because I could not concentrate and my grades were on the verge of making me fail my class once again as I had failed my French class two years before and I had redone my class a second time the year prior with excellent grades that time. But this year was torture and my grades were pitiful. But I held strong and I was still able to pass my class with the grace of God, but I will never forget the pain I felt that day while I was shacking so hard I could not even hold my pencil all throughout this class.

    I still hurt today; still cry every march 10th and still counting the years my lost love was taken so brutally from me. I still remember these few days where I was still young and oh so happy! Life has never been the same for me and It will continue to be like this up until the day I too give my last breath.

    Reply
    • PJ Reece

      Sandra… it sounds like this sort of pain could reside in you for your whole life, acting as a source of energy for many works of fiction that may appear to have nothing to do with these sad events. I read somewhere recently, that in order to protect and conserve this valuable emotional energy, it’s best not to actually turn these events into a story. Keep it as fuel for a lifetime of writing. Good luck.

    • George McNeese

      Wonderful. Such a beautiful piece. I wanted to cry for her.

    • Giulia Esposito

      Sandra, you conveyed the trauma of the experience vividly.

    • Steve Stretton

      Sandra, a very moving piece. While I don’t understand the depth of the emotion, I think you have conveyed it very well.

    • Sophie Novak

      Sounds very traumatic and painful Sandra. You write about it all so well though. Writing can be a therapy, and I hope it is. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  2. Giulia Esposito

    I cannot breathe. This is not
    happening again. This doctor is not telling me this. I didn’t think it’d mean
    this, didn’t think I would have to go through this again. Not another surgery.
    The surgeon blinks at me as I burst into uncontrolled tears. I don’t know why I’m
    so shocked, they said it was my gall bladder after all. But I didn’t think it’d
    mean an operation. Insanely stupid as I realized now as I try to control my
    tears, try and control my breathing, and fail. The suregon seems intent on
    making an escape and I feel foolish. My chest shakes uncontrollably and the
    fear is knotted there. I barely register anything the doctor might be saying,
    but he’s pretty much out the door and even through my tears and terror I think
    the man has a horrible bedside manner. A nurse comes in and soothes me until I’m
    calmer and finally I’m sitting alone, still wiping my tears, wondering how it
    could be that I have to face a surgery. I went through them when I was young,
    and the experience has scarred me horribly. The woman in the bed next to me
    gets up to go outside for a smoke and assures me I’ll be fine, and I laugh it
    off with a wry remark about soon having scars on my body than a war vet. I’m
    terrified.

    Reply
    • Chase G

      This is good, but it seems monologic, meaning it seems one way. There is no getting the readers involved. Do you think you could rewrite this with a bit more mystery? You got emotion down pat though. 🙂

    • Giulia Esposito

      Thanks Chase. Will have to give that some thought.

    • eva rose

      This lonely, scary moment is described well. Could you add a line or two about why you were terrified? That you would not recover? That it was worse than you were told? That it would be painful? These answers may add even more emotion.

    • Giulia Esposito

      Yeah, I probably should have mentioned I have bad memories of the other surgeries and how hard recovery was for me. I actually got anxious all over again just writing it. Thanks for pointing that out.

    • Sophie Novak

      So emotional and personal Giulia! You should write a short story on this.

    • Paul Owen

      Beautifully written, Giulia – I felt I was sitting there with you in that room. Sophie’s right – this would make a powerful short story.

    • Giulia Esposito

      Thanks Paul. I think might work on that.

  3. Eva Rose

    The twisted frames of Dan’s eye glasses were found beside the road and held tenderly in my hands, a precious connection to a lost life. The horrific car crash scattered debris across four lanes of highway. After eleven years, the memory was still vivid and painful.

    I climbed the hillside for my annual visit. A child’s pinwheel spun crazily in the spring breeze. Tinkling music from a nearby wind chime drifted over the slope. Both were attached to a smooth granite stone. A small teddy bear lay on its side, faded and damp from exposure. I walked past the stone and stood in front of another a short distance away, deep in thought. An old NASCAR cap with “03” on the front was tucked into the curves of granite. The remains of a floral arrangement drooped in a vase. So much love still tended these memorials. My head bowed in memory.

    A single bluebird swooped in to snatch a dried flower and hurried off to build a nest. That made me smile. New life from old memories.

    Reply
    • Jessica

      I love your last three lines. Touched me deeply.

    • plumjoppa

      The child’s pinwheel got me. The whole scene was very vivid, with just the right amount of detail to convey the emotion.

    • John Fisher

      Simply beautiful.

    • Sophie Novak

      Such a beautiful end – New life from old memories. Amazing.

  4. Karoline Kingley

    I recently began writing a book, and realized that the story and characters were like reading my diary, only with different names in different times. Honestly the thought that scares me most is publishing my own emotions. Yet at the same time I firmly believe that it is my duty as an artist to give my all in what I do.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Absolutely agree Karoline. Be brave and share your story.

  5. Max

    Once upon a time, there was a boy named
    Jack. Jack had a friend named Jim, and Jack and Jim knew each other
    from the time they were children. Jack and Jim were the same sex.

    Over time, friends came and went for
    Jack, but Jim was constant, always there, always ready to be a
    friend. When the time came for the high school prom, Jack and Jim
    went together, as friends, and had a wonderful time.

    When Jim revealed himself to be
    bisexual, Jack thought nothing of it. But again over time, Jim’s
    behavior toward Jack changed. He became more physical, and often
    wrapped his arms around Jack during their time together. Jack didn’t
    react. Though inside he enjoyed the physical contact, he was afraid
    to reciprocate Jim’s feelings, not only because of his own struggles
    with sexual identity, but because he was afraid of what would happen
    to his friendship with Jim if he did.

    Jack left the state for college without
    letting Jim know that he returned his feelings. But he came to regret
    that as he spent more time living far away. He realized Jim meant
    more to him than he ever knew. His doubts turned to certainties. He
    got over his fears.

    That Thanksgiving, Jack went home and
    drove to Jim’s house. When Jim came to meet him, Jack took him in his
    arms and kissed him.

    Reply
    • John Fisher

      Beautiful. The passion comes right through the simple words. It’s never wrong to love, as Jack appears to have discovered.

    • Kate Hewson

      I love this! Like John (below) I love the simplicity of it, but the feelings really come to the surface! Great piece of writing!

    • Sophie Novak

      What a beautiful story and the happy ending makes it ever more sweeter!

  6. John Fisher

    Looking back, Jim found it impossible to remember just who it was that alerted him that his father’s wife Suna occupied another room just down the ward from Kimberly’s.

    So many ambivalent feelings swirled around those days leading up to Kim’s second below-knee amputation, the culmination of yet another effect of the diabetes that had been a fact of her life since the age of eleven. So many momentary but indelible impressions — Kim rolling down the hall ahead of him in her wheelchair, arms extended to each side, fluttering her hands playfully in imitation of a bird in flight; her laughter and joking with everyone; standing around her bed praying with his church friends on her behalf, and feeling such faith-filled assurance that God would not allow the loss of the second limb; the anguish, even the anger with God as expressed by their friend Rita a day or so later after the doctor said the amputation must happen after all; his heart unable to see anything but the beautiful girl he had married . . .

    . . . and somewhere during all of this, he learned that Suna, whom his dad had married just months after his mother died, was on the same floor. Jim had originally had a problem with his father marrying again so soon; after forty-six years of being married to Mother, not long after the memorial dad looked around a bit and found another woman to love; but now twelve years later, with a love of his own and a more contented heart than before, and with a compassion for the man who had had an aortic aneurism the day he and Suna were moving to their new apartment and was now in a wheelchair of his own for the rest of his life, Jim had forgiven him.

    His dad was not in Suna’s room when he went there — probably home in the assisted-living facility where they now resided — nor was anyone else. Suna lay comatose; the nurses had told him she was not expected to wake up. She seemed smaller, shriveled, so pale, the blue veins in her arms visible. He heard her in his memory telling him, “I know that I can’t take the place of your mother, but . . . ” what had been the rest of it? he couldn’t recall. But he remembered the gentleness and caring in her eyes when she said it.

    He closed his eyes and saw his father’s steady blue eyes upon him. And he felt an agreement between them that it is never . . . never . . . wrong to love.

    Reply
    • Kate Hewson

      That’s a lovely story. Regret and hope and love all in one.

  7. Steve Stretton

    It’s interesting that I cannot do this exercise. I can write about the emotions of fictitious characters, but not about my own or those of people I know. I block whenever I try to think of a time or incident that might be appropriate. I guess I’m afraid to expose myself to ridicule or censure or worse, to be completely ignored.

    Reply
    • Paul Owen

      I hadn’t thought about it until I read your comment, Steve, but it’s the same way for me. Much easier to get into a character’s emotions that try to deal with my own! The practice I just posted was tough to do. Not sure I conveyed it all that well, but just writing about that incident dredged up some emotions I’ve struggled with for decades. Hooray for fiction!

    • Steve Stretton

      Thanks Paul, I thought your practice was courageous. I can just feel the humiliation you must have felt as you left the field.

    • Sophie Novak

      I feel like that often. There are things that tear us apart and it’s hard to put them on paper. Though, I promise you it gets easier and is utterly rewarding. The underlying passion makes a huge connection with the reader.

    • Steve Stretton

      Thanks Sophie, I know you’re right, it’s just tough doing it.

  8. Paul Owen

    Thanks for the great prompt, Sophie. The story below is based on something that happened to me many years ago (it’s American football, by the way). I think I got over it, but sometimes I’m not so sure…

    I can’t believe this is actually happening. I’ve just been invited to join the game, and that’s a first. Some of the boys play football during recess. I often stand off to the side and watch, but today is different. Kevin looked over at me and asked if I wanted to play. Does this mean I’m part of his group now?

    Kevin has intimidated me for a long time. Not that he’s trying to. I’m not sure he’s known I existed until today. Kevin has a loud, commanding voice. The leather-looking jacket he wears adds to his swagger. Wherever you see him at school, he’s in charge. That’s completely foreign to me, and it’s scary.

    But maybe that’s changed now. I walk onto the field and try to find the right place. The trouble is, I’ve watched football on TV, but have never actually played it. Not even a pick-up game like this. Since I’m on Kevin’s team, maybe he’ll tell me what to do.

    Time for the first play. The other boys must assume I know what I’m doing. Bad idea. Kevin is our quarterback, of course, and he’s getting ready to take the snap. I’ve seen this move on TV where one of the players runs behind the quarterback, then down the field. I decide to do that.

    Kevin gets the ball and the play starts. I make my move, doing that cool end-run thing I’ve seen. Except Kevin doesn’t know I’m going to do that, and I run smack into him. Fumble. Somebody on the other team dives on the ball, and it’s all my fault.

    And then it’s over. Kevin shouts at me to get out of the game. I’m dismissed. If I mattered to him at all for a minute or two, I certainly don’t now. Walking off the field, crying, I feel a crushing emptiness. Recess is far from over, and I’m alone. I find a quiet spot near the school building and wait for it to end. I wish someone had seen what had happened, someone would tell me it’s okay. There’s none of that, though, like it never happened. I feel small and insignificant.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Thanks for sharing Paul. It feels you’re still remembering clearly the emotions prompted by the event, and writing about it can release them and show the power od words.

    • Paul Owen

      Thanks again for the prompt, Sophie. It was cathartic writing out this practice

    • Sophie Novak

      Very glad to hear that. We should do it more often here – the personal writing I mean.

    • jennastamps

      I love that you shared this story of insecurity. So many times, we read about protagonists who are secure and determined and know what to do, but since we’re not always there in our own lives, it’s nice to have an outside character to relate to who’s insecure like we are. Thanks for writing this and for sharing it with us.

    • Paul Owen

      Thanks for the kind note, Jenna

    • Eyrline Morgan

      Paul, I really relate to your story. I was always the last one to be chosen for any kind of sports, except running. Trying to play softball for the first time was horrible. I was up to bat, but I couldn’t see when the pitcher threw the ball. That was my last time to be picked for that team. Then I retreated to my corner.

    • Paul Owen

      That does sound awful, Eyrline. There were definitely those on the inside track for school sports. Then there were the rest of us!

  9. GuesD

    The Timid Boy

    There once was a boy, in his mid-teens, who fell in love with a girl in his class. The girl was more beautiful than angels in heaven, and as was expected, every boy in the class ( and many seniors too) wanted to “court the maiden”. But as fate would have it, the girl befriended the timid boy. Their friendship grew but so did the timid boy’s apprehension that they might get stuck in the “friends zone” forever. He let out a war cry and started racking his brain for ways to woo the maiden and find out whether she loves him (as he did her).

    An idea presented itself, a good idea indeed, but its difficulty caused the timid boy to think – “What if it goes wrong?”. A few days passed and his resolve hardened as he made for the maiden’s lair in the middle of the fateful night. Her room was a story above the ground and as he very well couldn’t knock on the door, he decided to climb the pipe.

    Thereon, struggling for the next fifteen minutes he reached his love’s window, but was befuddled to find it ajar. He peered into the dark room, confused, but soon his despair knew no bounds as he saw his beloved, lying on the bed,in another man’s ( a senior) embrace.

    The timid boy climbed down and walked away feeling betrayed and broken. Inside his room he crawled into his cozy blanket and wept, blaming his timid nature, and knowing full well that his timidity was lost ( as was his love for the girl) forever.

    Reply
    • jennastamps

      This is a character I would like to read more about. I enjoyed witnessing his longing, and would love to see where else it leads him. Nice job portraying his deep feelings.

    • GuesD

      thanks.. but I would like to extend a biiiig thank you to Sophie Novak for this inspiring post… that’s what really allowed me to fictionalize a true incident!!!

      🙂

    • Sophie Novak

      Great job. I love the timidness of the boy 🙂

    • GuesD

      !!

  10. jennastamps

    Aren’t grown ups supposed to already have discovered their own personal identity? I still feel like after nearly 40 years, I’m trying to figure out who I am. Maybe I’m going about it the wrong way, maybe I’ll never get there, but I do know one thing, even if I don’t make sense to me, I do love who I am.

    I have sometimes referred to myself as a hopeless romantic, for lack of a better label. The thing that I think is the most curious about my soul is that I have an overabundant capacity and sometimes seemingly incessant ability to fall in love.

    I started practicing when I was in first grade. I had searched the classroom full of six and seven-year olds, and found a boy I deemed worthy to be the recipient of my first love note. I placed it on his desk and awaited his approval. Instead, I got a look of confusion, and a look that asked me “what is wrong with you?” But I was not swayed from my design. I chalked it up as a learning experience and continued on my merry little affection-expression path.

    I developed in my growing up years the skills necessary to nurture many many healthy dating relationships, and finally met the man who was meant to be my true love for life. We’re now together fifteen years and going strong.

    What doesn’t make sense to me is that my overly sensitive falling for love nature did not stop with the end of my search for a spouse. I still get those feelings of wanting and needing and wishing and wondering, whether it’s towards that hero in the romantic drama I’m watching, or the next piece of eye candy to pass me on the street.

    I go home and ask my husband to feed me some romance, and although he loves me deeply and completely, I am reminded that I did not marry someone like myself, who would love to be stuck in the “falling” part of love for the rest of our lives.

    Thank heavens my principles keep me true to my marriage and my family. You see, even though my thirst for love may forever remain insatiable, it’s what love has brought me–my husband and my children–that fills me up entirely. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Wow, I absolutely love this and can relate to it myself. You said it so well: ‘to be stuck in the “falling” part of love for the rest of our lives’. Brilliant!

    • jennastamps

      Thanks, Sophie! I was so relieved to know that you could relate to it. I felt very insecure after posting, thinking “no one will know what I mean, I must seem like a wacko”. Do most authors feel that way when sharing their personal experiences? Thanks sooo much for the positive feedback, it made my day!

    • Sophie Novak

      Yep, all authors are vulnerable toward personal exhibition, and yet it’s so powerful when it comes out eventually! Great practice – keep it up.

    • Li

      Gutsy.

  11. Brittany Wallace

    I squat down onto the grass for fear of collapsing; one hand clutching the green blades and the other holding a phone to my ear. My aunt knows that I know, so our conversation is short. “You need to come.” Still crouching, I look up at the familiar scene
    around me. It has always been my favorite spot on campus. A slope that has
    benches among the trees, ideal perches where you can unobtrusively people
    watch. It reminds me of a park from childhood that my mom would take us to. She
    loved to watch us play, the same way I enjoy noticing the expressions of students
    making their way around campus. It’s like peering into their lives for just a
    moment, just long enough to glimpse their stories. But today their faces all blur
    together in a dark haze of emotion. Occasionally I catch a smile as I walk towards
    the full parking lot. My haze allows me anger at their joy. Pleas of questions
    voice rebellion in my mind: Why are you going about your trivial business as if
    all is well? Don’t you care that the world has lost such a beautiful person? And
    why is it still turning when her heart has stopped? Why don’t you care? They carry on unaffected. Betrayal. Couldn’t you at least pause to honor her memory? I remember pausing my play at our childhood park to make sure my mom was still there watching, and I always found her smiling at us. Now memory is the only place I can find her. I continue my journey to saying goodbye to my mother for the last time. I promised her we, too, would carry on.

    Reply
    • Paul Owen

      The combination of past memories and present pain is powerful. Nicely written, Brittany.

    • Brittany Wallace

      I really appreciate that Paul!

    • Sophie Novak

      Well done Brittany!

    • Brittany Wallace

      Thank you for the inspiration Sophie!

  12. JccKeith

    I noticed a few people saying they had trouble dealing with their own emotions but not in writing out a character’s emotions. I am the opposite. I find that I constantly have to stop and step back from my characters because I am always putting my own emotions into their actions and thoughts. I have to distance myself from them because they have different emotions and reactions than me and in a lot of cases are nothing like me.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Thanks for bringing this out. It’s a useful observation, and an experience shared by many authors at the beginning. They say the more someone practices the better he/she becomes in moving away from the autobiographical and depicting more fiction. But I think it’s inevitable to write about the emotions you’ve experienced yourself and ascribe them to characters.

    • Eyrline Morgan

      As a beginning writer, I write mostly about my own experiences. I do have a project of a fictional novella, and part of me will be there. My greatest passion is music, and writing about music.

  13. Daphnee Kwong Waye

    That’s so true and that is why I usually tend to write about morbid stuff, evil characters becoming good and vice versa… and homosexuality. It’s all me. Deep inside.
    Thanks for this great post!

    http://evilnymphstuff.wordpress.com

    Reply
  14. Eyrline Morgan

    My first love, or passion, was music. That was what came to my mind during this fifteen minutes. Writing came later.

    From the age of four, my passion was to play the pipe organ. Not just any organ – the Hillgreen Lane & Co. pipe organ at Olivet Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. At that age, I heard this organ, in fact, the first pipe organ I ever heard. I was stunned. It was all my mother could do to keep me from running to the organ to sit on the bench with the organist. Realizing my love of music, Mother took me to the balcony where I could look down on the organist, especially to watch her play the pedals. No word could describe how I felt listening to that magnificant King of Instruments.

    Soon, my mother found a piano teacher for me. She was also to be my Kindergarten teacher the next year. I had a problem that I didn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t see the music on the piano rack. The teacher would play something for me and I would play it back to her. This went on for six years before a teacher discovered my secret. She sent me to the hall to see the time. I couldn’t see the clock. Even when she went to the hall with me, I still couldn’t see it. A note was sent to my mother to take me to the eye doctor. He examined my eyes and asked Mother if she knew I was almost blind. My vision was 20/500. I had compensated all through school and taking piano lessons to keep from wearing glasses. I was very thin, before thin was in. Children are cruel to those who are different and to keep from being teased at recess, I sat in a corner of the building, outside, every day. I went into the proverbial shell. Being almost unable to see clearly, and afraid of being teased, I became very shy. This shyness carried over into my adulthood.

    Back to my passion. As soon as my feet reached the pedals of the organ, I started lessons. After finding out I couldn’t see the music until the age of ten, I was unable to read the music at that time. My piano teacher quit playing pieces for me, making me read the notes. Although I could play advanced music, she started me back at the first until I could read music at my level of competence. When I started organ lessons, I could read music and was good at sight reading – being able to play music the first time I saw it. I progressed quickly on the organ and was even asked to substitute for the organist. Although I played all the right notes that first time to play for a service, the music lacked feeling, as my stage fright took over. It was only after playing for many years that I was able to conquer this fear.

    Reply

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