BOOK REVIEW―CLASSICS: JANE EYRE

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Bronte, one of the three Bronte author sisters, was published in 1847. It is still a fascinating story as it probably was at that time since it was very successful and well-reviewed. Classified as a Victorian novel, it provides excellent insight into life during the Victorian era. In addition, it is also a faux-autobiography written in the first-person; it is a Gothic and a coming of age novel.

The story begins with Jane as the suffering child, orphaned, and being badly treated by Mrs. Reed, her deceased uncle’s wife―conjures up memories of Cinderella. Mrs. Reed punishes Jane for defending herself against James, her brutish cousin, and locks her up in the red room, the place where her uncle breathed his last breath, the place Jane describes as “Here he lay in state.” It is a room that Jane abhors, and locking her in such a room is the last straw. “I was oppressed, suffocated: endurance broke down; I uttered a wild, involuntary cry,” Jane confesses. She makes up her mind that day that she can no longer live under the roof of Mrs. Reed with her spoilt children.

Jane is sent away to Lowood boarding school shortly after this incident, but it appears she has jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire! Poorly fed, poorly dressed, treated terribly, and humiliated by Mr. Brocklehurst, the school’s supervisor, Jane eventually befriends Helen Burns. Helen is a foil to Jane, a student one could refer to as the child-martyr who practices the “doctrine of endurance.” Jane states unequivocally, that she is no Helen Burns.

In spite of the hardships Jane endures at Lowood, she survives with a determination to earn a living of her own and be her own woman―contrary to the role of women in the Victorian era. When she completes her studies after ten years, she applies for a job as a governess. The job brings her to Thornfield Hall, and here the story moves toward the Gothic.

Tucked away miles from any other structure, the manor at Thornfield Hall is large and isolated. Jane describes the view of the property from the roof this way, “Leaning over the battlements and looking far down, I surveyed the grounds laid out like a map; the bright and velvet lawn closely girdling the gray base of the mansion; wood, dun and sere, divided by a path visibly overgrown. . .” Jane hears eerie sounds and mirthless laughter, meets weird characters, observes prohibited spaces, and discovers there is a demon in the house. Four months after reporting for the job as a governess she meets the owner and her boss, Mr. Edward Rochester, an eccentric, wealthy, older man.

Jane’s life at Thornfield has its challenges, and readers obtain a good insight into the lives of governesses. Yet, life is certainly far better than anywhere else Jane has lived. . . until she agrees to marry. During the wedding ceremony, she is shockingly informed that her husband-to-be is married with a living wife! Jane runs away, and life becomes as tough and unbearable as it was at the boarding school.

After many twists and turns, and ups and downs, and Jane eventually inherits a fortune from a childless uncle, and does the unexpected. She follows her heart and returns to Thornfield where she marries the very man she had run away from, a man who is now a widow, blind, and has only one arm. Jane Eyre is indeed a fascinating story infused with several themes, morals, and excellent internal dialogue. It is a memorable classic.

Nosey Charlie Comes To Town and other books in the Nosey Charlie Adventure series are ideal for stocking stuffers.

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IS A PICTURE STILL WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS?

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

Photo by Linh Pham

Not so long ago, if you wrote an article, it was imperative that you included a picture or two. Why? Because as the old adage states, a picture is worth a thousand words. Besides, pictures help to emphasize the point of your article, or at least make it more interesting and appealing.

According to one social media guru, an article on social media with an image is 10 times more likely to be viewed versus one without. In fact, depending on the audience, a stand alone picture can attract more attention than an article. I recently experienced this personally when I posted a picture I had taken of a robin’s nest with three blue eggs on my front porch. The picture was posted on LinkedIn with a one-line caption, yet it received more views than any single 500-word article I had ever written!

It was Aristotle who said that “Art is the realization in external form of a true idea, and is traced back to that natural love of imitation which characterizes humans, and to the pleasure which we feel in recognizing likenesses.” Small wonder then that today’s article writers utilize visuals to help tell their stories.

What else is there about images why we love them so much? We love them because of our cognition and ability to pay attention, and images have the ability to attract our attention. In addition, bright colours engage attention quickly because our brains are made to respond to them. Furthermore, our sense of vision is the most active of the senses. One could say that The National Geographic Society would never have gained the prominence it has without those haunting, exotic photographs taken by the many photographers the employ.

But in the last ten years or so, the paradigm has shifted. A still photograph, it seems, is not good enough to emphasize points and attract readers to our articles. The Internet has changed the way we publish and view information. Now we utilize multi-media―a mixture of text and other media such as pictures, hyperlinks, and videos. According to Wistia, a video-hosting company, people spend on average of 2.6x more time on pages with video than without. This partly explains why video usage is growing rapidly.

Having resisted this digital media in the past, after completing the Digital Humanities course at York University last semester, I took the plunge and made a YouTube video to promote my children’s books. Why? Because authors who are keen to promote their books are utilizing videos to do so; a still picture is just not good enough anymore. It turns out that the post with the video garnered more views than any other article I have ever posted!

The essence of this story is, a picture may still be worth a thousand words, but articles with videos may be worth twice as many. Things are always changing, paradigm shifts are inevitable, and we should not be afraid to embrace technology―to some degree.

Let kids ages 4-8 unleash their creativity and colour the pictures in Nosey Charlie Chokes On A Wiener Colouring Book with wild abandon!  Amazon.com

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WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: The Struggle Between Opposing Forces (part 12)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

In our very first article in this series I asserted that every story begins with an idea. I further emphasized in part 4 that every good story has a beginning―the point where you introduce your main character and grab the reader’s interest―a middle―the place where conflict builds up, and an end―the place where conflicts are resolved.

Conflicts

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, conflict is, “competitive or opposing action of incompatibles: antagonistic state or action (as of divergent ideas, interests, or persons.” Conflict is the soul of drama, and a key component of all fiction that is required to hold the readers interest. Without conflict there is no drama; your story will be dull and uneventful.

Types of Conflict  

Literary scholars have narrowed down the types of conflicts to five:

Man versus self

Man versus society

Man versus man

Man versus nature

Man versus supernatural

In your Johnnie Rabbit story, you will substitute Johnnie for man and determine who or what he has a conflict with. Is it farmer Jones next door (man)? Or is it against the vegetables in the garden (nature)?

The Importance of Conflict

An important question regarding fiction writing is, why is conflict so important? In some of my earlier articles I wrote that character, plot, setting and dialogue were key components of fiction writing. I must now add conflict. It is the glue that paces a story; it builds and builds to a crescendo. As conflict builds, it keeps readers reading, wanting to find out more―what happens next.  In my Nosey Charlie Goes To Court story, Charlie has a conflict with his Aunt Leticia. She has instructed him never to leave the park where they live, and he is to stay with his cousin Pete at all times. But Charlie is overly nosey; he must find out what is going on in the white building next door. He sneaks out of the park without Pete or his guardian knowing, and enters the building. A chain of events occurs after that. He is almost trampled by the many feet going in and out of the building. He slips through the first door he sees and finds himself in a courtroom! The drama escalates when someone screams RATS! Mistaking him for one of those hated creatures. The story climaxes when Charlie is locked in the courtroom unknowingly and he can’t get out.

There must be a resolution

Of course, as long as there is conflict there must also be resolution―you do not leave your young readers hanging. In part 10 I mentioned The Three Little Pigs; the conflict in that story was resolved when the big bad wolf fell into the pot of scalding water and the pigs ate him for dinner. In Cinderella, she married the handsome prince and lived happily ever after. In Nosey Charlie Goes To Court, Charlie returns home safely (though scared to death) apologizes for leaving the park and Pete is assigned to stay with him at all times.

FREE BONUS GIFT, a 32-page Nosey Charlie Chokes On A Wiener! Colouring Book  offered to eBook purchasers Nosey Charlie Chokes On A Wiener! picture book for a limited time. Books are for ages 3-8.

WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: Words! Words! Play with them! (part 11)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

The English language is so complex, it is difficult to imagine anyone knowing all of its nuances. As I pursue studies in an English Major degree, I am learning more and more how complex it truly is. As you write your children’s picture books you will develop an appreciation for words and their nuances.

In the meantime, the million-dollar question is, why do we write books for children? Author, Ann Morris, summed it up succinctly when she wrote, “The stories themselves are to promote vocabulary and language skills, entertainment, learning experiences, subject matter, social skills, and any number of skills in the early reader.”  With such wide-ranging reasons, the writer must utilize certain skills in order to achieve any of these goals.

 Literary techniques

 Let us determine that your Johnnie Rabbit stories are intended to help children learn to read, to teach them about rabbits and also to entertain. How can these seemingly varied reasons be incorporated into a children’s picture book? Literary devices are important tools that authors use,  and they are numerous. Since you are writing for children, we will focus on only a few that are appropriate for this genre.

Onomatopoeia: These are words that sound the same as, or similar to the meaning of the word.  For example, in part # 8 of this series of articles, I wrote that “Charlie heard the TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP of many feet.” Children identify with sounds. Other words like “buzz” and “POP” can inject great emotion into a story.

Alliteration: Repeating the same letter or consonant sound at the beginning of consecutive or closely connected words. Children go wild when they hear or have to repeat, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”

Personification: This occurs any time a non-human takes on characteristics of a human in a story. You have already done so by making Johnnie Rabbit anthropomorphic, but you can take personification even further; you could allow the vegetables on farmer Jones’ property to think and speak!

A Simile: A figure of speech in which you compare two things that are very different. By so doing, you can make a description vivid for young readers. In part # 8 of theses articles I used the simile, “The farmer laughed like Bugs Bunny.”  Any child reading this sentence would quickly visualize Bugs laughing and identify with how the farmer must have laughed.

Imagery: descriptive language that paints vivid pictures in the reader’s mind and at the same time evokes the senses. This is achieved by employing adjectives, adverbs and words carefully.  A good example is a sentence in the upcoming, Nosey Charlie Chokes On A Wiener, “As Charlie roamed about the park he smelled the delicious aroma of hot dogs cooking on a grill.”

While these literary devices and several others can be appropriately used in children’s picture books, there are a few you should avoid. Do not use flashbacks, flash-forwards, oxymorons, and satire in this genre.

Coming very soon; Charlie is at it again in Nosey Charlie Chokes On A Wiener!

WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: Lights! Camera! Action! (part 10)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

The words, Lights, Camera, Action, may be the customary cue to a film crew to start filming, but they are words we could also consider during the writing process. The power of motion is invaluable in any story, and even more so in children’s books.

 

 

 

Flashbacks

Flashbacks do not work well in children’s picture books. For this reason, you should not reveal information about events that are long past by writing that Johnnie Rabbit is thinking about such events. Instead write about the live action that is occurring in the moment.

Let us cast our minds back to the story of The Three Little Pigs to see how action was implemented. The pigs left home, they searched for a spot, they spent time building their houses. The first pig was lazy and quickly built her house of straw. The second pig was slightly less lazy and built his house of sticks. After the building project was completed, by these two pigs, they sang and danced together. We are able to visualize these actions and we can also see the third pig working ardently as he built his house of stones. Then the big bad wolf came. We followed the action; he approached the first pig and pleaded with her to let him in and when she did not comply, he huffed and puffed and blew the house down, but luckily the pig escaped. The wolf then scooted over to the second and third pigs with the same request. The story is a series of action until the end when the wolf came down the chimney and fell into the pot of scalding water.

If you have Johnnie Rabbit sitting or standing around and occasionally saying a few words to anyone who cares to listen, your story will be dull. You must get Johnnie involved with other characters. You built a character bible for both Johnnie and his supporting characters for a reason. Johnnie should interact with these characters; he should have conflicts with them, thus adding suspense and emotion to the story. In the story of The Three Little Pigs, we held our breath when the wolf asked each pig to let him in because we―the readers―knew the wolf’s intention. Emotion reached a crescendo when the wolf began to huff and puff as he tried to blow the second house down. We asked ourselves, will he be successful blowing down this house as he had done with the first? You must show Johnnie Rabbit going from one place to another to meet with other characters or show him doing things with them. Do not simply tell us about what he did, show us.

A giveaway of three Nosey Charlie Goes To Court books is currently running at Goodreads.com.  Sign up,  join the fun and win!

WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: WHO ON EARTH IS TALKING? (part 9)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

As you write your children’s story a certain question (one of many) will pop into your head; who is narrating the story? Of course you are the writer, you are putting the prose on paper, but whose words are you using? From whose perspective are you telling Johnnie Rabbit’s story? The literary community call the perspective of a story the point of view, and it is so powerful it can make or break your story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let us review your process and your story thus far:

You had a brilliant idea to write a children’s picture book about the adorable Johnnie Rabbit. You did an inordinate amount of background work–you researched rabbits and the market for books about them and similar animals by reading tons of books, you plotted out your story, you built character bibles for Johnnie and his supporting characters, you determined where and when the story takes place–the setting, you added the occasional dialogue between characters, and you strengthened your prose by incorporating the senses. Yet a nagging question persists; who is telling the story?

Point of View (POV)

All stories are told from a perspective–a vantage point as some writers describe it. This perspective is the point of view which indicates who is doing the narration. Point of view is a subtle and complex concept. It does not necessarily rely on first, second of third person narration, but depends on whose “head” the narrator is in when he/she tells the story. For example, you write, “Johnnie hopped over the fence onto Farmer Jones’ property as if he owned it.” Who determined that Johnnie hopped over the fence in such a manner? Maybe if Johnnie told the story we would hear him say that he was really scared and apprehensive when he did the hopping. The narrator tells us how Johnnie hopped based on her perspective. As a result, the narrator will be limited to what she sees, hears, and knows.

First, Second and Third Person Point of Views

Articulating your story from a first-person point of view involves the writer narrating the story usually as the main character by using the pronoun I. This means that she tells the story through her own point of view. This kind of narration is limited since the writer cannot go into the “heads” of other characters to know their thoughts. Children’s stories are rarely ever told using the first-person.

The second-person point of view is rare in any type of fiction. It entails the characters being referred to as you. Using a second-person narrative is difficult for adults, therefore it is never used in children’s books.

The third-person point of view involves the writer narrating the story through a certain perspective and using the pronouns she, he or they. There are variations to third-person POV such as limited, omniscient, and limited omniscient. Writing in the third-person omniscient, gives you the opportunity to play God, since you see, hear and know everything about all the characters, however, this type of writing can be onerous. The third-person limited POV is one in which the narrator knows much more about the other characters than a first-person narrator, however, she does not know everything. Most children’s books are written using this point of view.

It is important to be consistent in your prose; in other words, do not jump from one “head” to another! A good way to determine which point of view to use in your stories is to try them out by writing drafts in each category. Select the one that you are most comfortable with.

A giveaway of three Nosey Charlie Goes To Court books is currently running at Goodreads.com.  Sign up and join the fun!

 

WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: SEE NO EVIL, HEAR NO EVIL, SPEAK NO EVIL (part 8)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”

“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” What is this maxim all about? It is telling us not to employ our senses to do evil. When you write children’s picture books a great way to evoke the most vivid images in the minds of readers is to infuse prose that engages the senses. While it is simple enough to get readers to read a story, it is not as simple to get them to see what you see, hear what you hear, taste what you taste, smell what you smell, and feel what you feel.

Although there are five senses, you do not need to apply them all in your text every time. You simply have to include appropriate ones to help deliver strong imagery. I was very cognizant of this when I wrote Nosey Charlie Comes To town.  In one scene I wrote: “Mama Leticia knew from experience that the crab apples would be tasty. She picked up the first fruit. . . she felt it, sniffed it, and shook it with a flurry.” As you read these words, your senses of sight, hearing, and smell spring into action. In your mind’s eye you can see the crab apple in Mama Leticia’s hand, you can smell the ripe fruit and you can even hear the seeds rattling as she shakes it! This is the kind of imagery your prose should conjure up.

Let us examine the effects of all five senses in our prose in more detail.

SIGHT

 The sense of sight is the easiest to portray. You do so with a few choice adjectives, words that describe colours, locations, size etc. In your Johnnie Rabbit story, you can simply write that the turnips were white with purple cheeks or Johnnie wore a red bow tie, and your readers can already see what you are writing about.

HEARING

 For readers to hear what you want them to hear you must employ strong verbs. For example: Instead of writing “Johnnie heard the thunder,” say “The thunder clapped and Johnnie Rabbit sprinted to his hole for cover.” Another method that is effective with children is to use the literary device of onomatopoeia. In Nosey Charlie Goes To Court, instead of writing a long sentence about many people coming and going into the courthouse, I wrote, “Charlie heard the TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP of many feet.” You can also use a simile—another literary device. “The farmer laughed like Bugs Bunny.” When you use similes be mindful that your readers are children and use analogies that refer to things they know.

 TASTE

 The sense of taste is probably the most difficult to articulate on paper in a way that is impactful. It is simple to say, “Johnnie Rabbit ate a delicious lunch,” but that is not strong enough to awaken the sense of taste. This is where the popular writing expression “show, don’t tell” comes in. Say instead, “Johnnie plopped the juicy carrots into his mouth, his taste buds exploded, and he smacked his lips.”

SMELL

There are numerous adjectives you can use to write about smells—good smells and bad ones. You should have no difficulty applying some strong ones to your prose. For example: “When Johnnie rooted up the rotten cabbage, it stunk like a dead rat.” When you read this sentence you immediately want to cover your nose.

FEELING

The sense of feeling can relate to a physical touch or an emotional feeling. The former is easier to write about because it is action oriented. “The boy slapped Johnnie on the side of his head.” You and I feel that slap the moment we read about it. To evoke emotional feelings in the readers, you have to again apply the “show, don’t tell,” method.  “Johnnie’s father moaned and writhed all night, the pain was so great.”

While you want to adhere to the adage “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” in the crafting of children’s picture books you must evoke strong imagery in your readers’ minds, and in order to do so it is necessary to appropriately apply the senses.

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WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: WHERE AND WHEN IS IT HAPPENING? (part 7)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

Nothing occurs in a vacuum. A children’s story must take place somewhere and at sometime. That being said, let us segue into a key component of any story whether it is fiction or non-fiction—it must have a setting.

 

A rustic setting of place

What is setting really? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary setting is “the manner, position, or direction in which something is set; the time, place, and circumstances in which something occurs or develops.” You will note that this definition covers a lot of ground, but important ground that will make your story either seem real or fake.

In your story, Johnnie Rabbit is up to his tricks. The questions your readers will want answered are: Where are the escapades taking place? Is he in his neighbour’s garden or running around in a park? When is he doing his tricks—day or night? Is he doing them in the winter or spring? When farmer Brown chases him, does Johnnie run north or east?

Without placing the story in an appropriate setting, your young readers will not be able to visualize the scenes. While Johnnie Rabbit and his friends are important to the story, the setting can be just as vital. Imagine the Goldilocks story without the house of the three bears in the woods. Where would all that interaction take place?

 How much setting is required?

The right amount of setting based on the context of the story is also important. For example: In Nosey Charlie Goes To Court, the second book in the Nosey Charlie Adventure series, the title gives readers an idea of setting from the beginning. The story is going to deal with something in a court. My young readers are not led astray or disappointed! There are a few scenes set inside a courthouse with a judge dressed in a robe and wig to boot! In addition to the court scenes there are other settings showing how and why Charlie came to be in the courthouse. Of course, you are writing a picture book. The artwork will provide answers to some of these question, however, you and the illustrator must first grasp the situation.

Injecting context

Context is the ingredient that seasons the story, and you spice it by setting up scenes. I injected character into the courthouse by stating that it has gleaming white tiles on the walls, that the hallway is wide, and the courtroom is filled with dark wooden benches. Even without looking at the illustrations, a young reader could visualize the room, and although Charlie could not be seen in the courtroom  pictures, I know readers are able to imagine him hiding under a bench.

Writing picture books does not require a lot of description; good illustrations cover most of this, but placing the story in a proper setting is crucial for young imaginative readers.

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Writing Children’s Picture Books: Enrich Your Story With Dialogue (part 6)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

Your Johnnie Rabbit story is progressing nicely, and you are loving his every move. Then half way into the tale you realize that the story cannot be all narration. There must be interaction between Johnnie Rabbit and other animals—family members, friends, even enemies. The missing link is dialogue. Your anthropomorphic rabbit, behaving like a human being, must speak to someone in order to make some scenes come alive.

Dialogue 

Written dialogue is very different from real dialogue.  It is important that you develop a good ear for people’s conversation and translate what you overhear into written dialogue that is smarter and funnier—dialogue that makes your character unique. You may recall in part 2 of these articles, “You Don’t Know Everything,” I suggested that you watch cartoons. The reason for this is not only to see what the trends are, but to help you grasp current speech patterns. By incorporating trendy speech patterns into your story the characters will seem more engaging and children (your readers) who watch the cartoons will relate easily to the dialogue.

In the character bible you built for Johnnie and the secondary character (part 5) you listed certain attributes that help to make them stand out. Dialogue is another way to develop your characters. So when should you use dialogue? Unfortunately, there are no specific rules about when to use it, however, if you find that you are writing long descriptions and endless narrative, infuse some dialogue and see if it makes the story better. For example, in Nosey Charlie Goes To Court, there is a scene when Charlie finally returns home after disappearing all afternoon and causing his aunt, uncle and cousin a great deal of worry. Charlie wiped tears from his puffy eyes and blew his nose. He could barely speak, but he managed to say, “Mama. . .Papa. . . Pete, I’m very sorry. I shouldn’t have left the park. Please forgive me.” Instead of employing dialogue, I could have narrated the information this way:  Charlie told Mama, Papa, and Pete that he was sorry. He acknowledged that he should not have left the park. He asked the three of them to forgive him. Which version is more engaging and appealing to a child reading the story? You be the judge. In addition, dialogue can be used to provide information and to move the plot forward. Dialogue is a significant tool in literature; do not hesitate to use it.

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 WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: IS HE A GOOD GUY OR A BAD GUY? (Part 5)

By Yvonne Blackwood~

The creative juices are flowing and you are writing as if there is no tomorrow. After all you have carefully plotted out your story. Great start. As the story progresses, Johnnie Rabbit is up to some tricks and you have an idea how to articulate it and how the matter will be resolved in the end. But somehow your rabbit character seems flat. Why is this?

Although you are writing a children’s book with few words, there is an important step every author should take at the beginning of telling a story—you should build a character bible for your main character and the secondary ones. It is the greatest way to create interesting characters, and a way for you to truly know them.

For Johnnie Rabbit to appeal to readers they don’t just want to know his name. These are some of the information readers will want to know: How old is he? How big is he? What is his colour? Where does he live? What is his weakness? Is he a chatterbox? Is he introverted?  Does he have a best friend or any friends at all? Does he have a family? What are his habits and idiosyncrasies (does he blink continuously?) When I was writing Nosey Charlie Comes To Town and he got into trouble, I had him say, “What have I done, what have I done? I only wanted to have some fun!” I found this to be catchy and made it unique to Charlie as his go-to expression which I’ll use throughout the series.

Writing down details about your protagonist serve two main purposes. (1) You know your character in great details and therefore know what he is capable of, and this will assist readers to know him well also. (2) You do not have to rack you brain to find out about Johnnie Rabbit when you write because you have the information at your finger tips. This is especially helpful if you are writing a series.

While Johnnie Rabbit is the main character of the story and we should know a lot about him, we do need to know some information about the supporting characters in the story too, especially if they reappear. These characters will have different attitudes and points of views from Johnnie Rabbit, therefore recording details about them will help you to avoid writing misinformation. Building  character bibles for both main and secondary characters is a good thing.

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