Tag Archives: novel writing tips

Dog Days of Writing

bradley at computerHas your writing gone to the dogs? Are you in need of some insPAWration?

There are days whendoggone it—writers feel like they’re workin’ like a dog with nothing to show for it.




  • Is your manuscript on a genre leash?
  • Are you chewing on the bones of a plot devoid of meat?
  • Does the manuscript need to be groomed and the adverbs trimmed?
  • Does the diction needs a good brushing with tone?
  • Does the manuscript need a dose of Frontline weak verb repellent?
  • Are you trying to breath life into an old dog manuscript instead of romping away with a new one?
  • Dog-tired with editing?
  • Growling at a plot snafu?

bradley readingBEST IN SHOW

  • Feeling like you have a dog’s chance of getting an agent?
  • Not getting any ” hot diggity dog” replies after sending all those queries?
  • Feel like you’re barking at the moon when you send those queries?
  • Are you showing a dogged determination to have your query and ms be the pick of the slush litter?
  • Are you barking up the wrong agent tree?
  • Are you sniffing around for the best way to build your author platform?


  • Do you have a bone of contention with someone in your critique group?
  • Are you still licking your wounds over a beta reader’s comments?
  • Did you join a writing group expecting belly rubs and “atta boys” only to play fetch with another pup’s manuscript?
  • Feeling a breed apart from all the authors and wanna-be’s?


  • Suspicious of writers making up shaggy dog stories about their successes?
  • Feeling meaner than a junk yard dog after being bitten by a troller?
  • Are you inadvertently biting the hand that feeds you with posts and tweets that insult your readers ( or potential readers) ?
  • Is your tail between your legs after a social media gaffe?
  • Are you guilty of begging for Facebook likes and Twitter retweets?

Howl if you must, but it’s time to put on the dog, play “Who Let the Dogs Out” and let loose the dogs of writing!

A bark of thanks goes to my daughter for sending photos of her very cooperative poodle!

Related Links: Readin’ & Writin’ and Rock Your Writing

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Windows & doors & stairs, oh my!


Every man’s home is his castle! It’s also full of symbolism.

The roof over your head, the window you gaze through, the threshold you walk across— all these structural features can be used symbolically in literature.

  • let in the light of knowledge/understanding
  • allow the character to view the outside world–which may or may not be a good thing. In The House on Mango Street, poor immigrant wives sit by the window staring out into a world they are never able to participate in.
  • with dirty glass might indicate the observer’s foul view of the world.
  • with always-closed drapes might reveal a characters’ closed-mindedness or fear of the outside world.
  • are the eyes of the soul—traditionally speaking.
  • of stained glass—especially those with religious  iconography—shout RELIGION. The observer sees the world through the dogma of their religion.
doors: A symbolic powerhouse!
  • represent the divide between good and evil.
  • transition from one stage in life to another.
  • a divide between one world and another.
  • with a religious symbol or object portray reveal the occupant’s beliefs. For example a mezuzah—a scroll with Hebrew words to remind one of God’s presence and commandments–is specifically placed on the doorpost of Jewish homes.
  • with locks suggest secrets and forbidden places/worlds/experiences.
  • Note: to hear the knocking—especially if comes from a door knocker—is a sign that fate is headed one’s way. Should you hear, “…some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. “’Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—Only this and nothing more.”–you know something ‘Poe-etically–‘ creepy is about to happen. In Macbeth, the drunken porter—making the first knock-knock jokes—signals the fateful demise of the overly ambitious Macbeths. “Knock, Knock! Never at quiet. What are you? But this place is too cold for hell. I’ll devil-porter it no further.”
  • a divine or religious entrance into another state of being
  • rebirth
  • a metaphysical time-space threshold
  • strength
  • division or barrier
  • privacy
  • the earthy realm
  • being grounded in reality
  • the material of the floor may also be symbolic. Is its marble ( wealth ) or rustic wood ( humility ), or linoleum ( low income ). Does the floor’s pattern reveal something about the culture or social class of the characters?
  • sheltering
  • keeps evil out
  • the shape of the roof is suggestive, as well. Domed roofs are emblematic of heaven, low roofs suggest restriction or being hemmed in by dogmas, vaulting roofs might be metaphor for high-mindedness or lofty ideals.
  • a transitional location
  • the place of choice before deciding which symbolic door you will enter
stairs: I know, I know, you’re breaking out in Led Zeppelins Stairway to Heaven song
  • which one ascend lead to heaven or enlightenment
  • which one descends end in depravity, wickedness, evil or  madness
  • that are winding indicates mystery–one can’t see straight ahead
  • In Effi Briest the stairs in the young wife’s home are described as “crooked, rickety, and dark” which aptly describes her feelings, the house’s history, and her marriage.
  • the domain ( traditionally ) of women
  • maternal care taking, be it with food, spiritual, or motherly nourishment
  • most obvious place to use a knife—ahem
living room/drawing rooms:
  • place where proper social behavior was expected
  • location of one’s public persona
  • outward appearances
  • love
  • lust
  • one’s true self might be revealed here
  • the location synonymous with learning, knowledge, and education
  • a place where ancient wisdom or secrets are revealed
  • where memories remain tucked away
  • a place of half-remembered or forgotten truths
  • where relics of the family’s or ancestor’s past are hidden
  • your deepest darkest secrets
  • the underworld or lower realms
  • creepy or base desires

Have fun deciding which rooms to use in your novel!

Related Links:  Rock Your  WritingSymbolism & more symbols;
Click  Amazon link for novels.

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Blood Writes

bloodBlood is a powerful and often confusing symbol. From the Divine to the violent, our fascination with blood infuses our collective consciousness. An entire book could be devoted to the symbolism of Blood— and perhaps already has.

The reason behind the power of blood is obvious.  Blood is LIFE— a physical indicator of our existence. And yet, behind this crimson liquid life force, man has imbued blood with great spiritual, divine, and emotional dominion.

Here’s a very small sampling of words that reveal our fascination with blood.
  • Bloodline: A line or sequence of ancestors. In some primitive Amazonian tribes, Shaman are forbidden to taint their bloodline, for to do so destroys and corrupts their mystical powers. Bloodlines produced royal dynasties, perpetuated genetic anomalies and disorders, or got your kinsmen slaughtered.
  • Bloodlust: Intense desire to see people killed.
  • Bloodbath: a fight that ends with death and dismemberment OR a struggle that ends with a group’s total destruction.
  • Blueblood: A member–usually by bloodline– who comes from old historic aristocracy.
  • Oxblood: A really weird name for a color, don’t you agree?
  • Cold-blooded: Adjective to describe actions done without emotion or concern for others’ emotions or consequences.
  • Hot-blooded: Adjective describing one whose actions are determined by intense emotions, be it good or bad.
  • And there’s blood feud, blood sport, blood and guts, bloodcurdling, blooded, bloodguilt, bloodred, bloodstain, bloodstone, bloodsucker, bloody shirt, bloody-minded, lifeblood, and Bloody Mary.

Blood is symbolic of both LIFE and DEATH.

  • determines destiny
  • atones for sins—the goblet from which apostles drank held the symbolic blood of Christ
  • appeases  gods/placates angry gods—human or animal was offered as a sacrifice or gift
  • saves—the Israelites marked their doors with blood from  a slaughtered lamb so that the Spirit of the Lord knew to pass over their homes while on the way to killing everyone with a first born
  • destroys
  • heals
  • is lustful passion
  • is rage
  • is violence
  • is an ingredient in witch brews
  • is Divine—Christ’s blood
  • marks one’s entry into adulthood—blood brother rites and/or a woman’s first menses
  • contaminates—some  early cultures believed women’s monthly blood made them unclean
  • drinking was one way to absorb the power of your enemies
  • letting—in all it’s ancient and modern forms—releases emotional trauma or pain
  • brings emotional trauma or pain
  • a favorite of Vampires everywhere
  • purifies and corrupts
  • saves and curses
  • doesn’t wash off—see Lady Macbeth for details
  • incriminates and exhonerates
 Embrace the powerful symbolism connected with blood.
Have a bloody good time writing your novel!


Related Links:  Rock Your  WritingSymbolism & more symbols;


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From Head to Toe

head to toeThe body is a temple. We’ve all heard the expression. And everybody knows a temple is place for worship, a place to access the Divine. Even Apostle Paul said, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

It should come as no surprise that our body parts hold ancient symbolic meanings. So before fixating on a character’s body part you might want to explore the symbolism associated with it— in case you want to give your story some symbolic ZING!

Heads up! It’s time for blog-quick look at body symbolism.

  • most important part because reason, wisdom, intellect, and spirituality reside within
  • equated with authority and power ( heads of state, heads of corporations)
  • bowed is a sign of respect
  • tilts, nods, or shakes are powerful communicators
  • many-headed gods depicted different aspects or personalities —Shiva, Hecate, Brahma, and Janus have multiple heads
  • divine power and virility
  • inner and physical toughness—when Delilah snipped Samson’s tresses she reduced his physical strength
  • cutting the hair was a sign of sacrifice or surrender. In modern times—if done by women–the act symbolizes rebellion or liberation from feminine gender roles/expectations
  • Mary Magdalene’s long flowing hair was a sign of immoral sexual behavior
  • equated with a seashell or a spiral
  • associated with birth—Karma was born from his mother’s ear.
  • long ears  are linked to wisdom in Buddhism
  • the Satyr’s large pointed ears reflect his sexual and sensual nature
  • all seeing. Eye of Providence. Right Eye of Horus. Left of Eye of Horus
  • perception and spiritual enlightenment
  • giving someone the Evil Eye brings misfortune to the recipient
  • windows to the soul
  • for an entire blog on eyes click here
  • knowing
  • intrusiveness or meddlesome behavior/personality
  • valued by early man as a way of finding food
  • a phallic symbol
  • a nose that grows in length indicate lies—courtesy of Pinocchio
  • a turned up nose displays contempt
  • deemed the creative force, but it’s our mouths which can get us in trouble
  • the Mouth of Hell devours the wicked
  • articulates our heart’s desires
  • just slap a big  X-rated sign on the lips
  • symbolic of speech
  • visible manifestation of the spoken word
  • teeth are symbolic of animistic strength and aggression
  • long teeth are a sign of ambition
  • Agrippina, Nero’s ambitious mother, had double canines
  • the tongue is either a destroyer or a creator
  • sticking one’s tongue out harkens back to times when that gesture warded off evil spirits
  • strength— think Atlas holding up the world
  • power
  • carrying responsibilities
  • harbinger of death
  • Bones symbolize  strength, stability, determination
  • Chakras, the body’s energy forces, are aligned with the spine
  • intestines are symbolic of long life and eternity
  • intestines were used for divination in early times
  • the spleen is where melancholy and laughter come from ( part of the ol’ 4 Humors of the Body theory)
  • the liver symbolized passion during ancient Rome times
  • balance and movement
  • good luck
  • arms are symbolic of strength, power, protection, and justice
  • command
  • protect
  • bless/bestow
  • pledge
  • symbolize power and strength
  • teach
  • heal
  • there’s the omnipotent Hand of God
  • Hamsa hand is a protective talisman used by Muslims and Jews to protect against the Evil Eye
  • As expressive communicators, we are familiar with the meanings of: palms out, finger pointing to heaven, handshakes, hand wringing, and hand washing (Pontius Pilate and Lady Macbeth)
  • hidden hands denote respect in Asian cultures, but mistrust in western
Gender-specific body parts ( this is a PG-rated blog ). Early man was obsessed with those particular parts—wait, we still are!
  • male: strength, power, and virility
  • female: regeneration, fertility, procreation, and the miracle of birth
  • mobility
  • rooted or in touch with self and nature
  • bare feet touching the ground is man’s link to the Divine Earth
  • the monk’s bare feet signify their vow of poverty
  • in Asian cultures, feet are considered unclean so its wrong to display soles to another
  • solid foundation
  • washing another’s feet is a symbol of hospitality and humility
  • the Buddha’s footprint found at Buddhist temples indicates the Buddha’s presence
As you can see, lots of body parts were left out! This is just the tip of the Body Iceberg! A quick Google search will reveal many more symbolic aspects.


Note: I teach literary analysis and remind my students to look closely at the symbolism in a novel. Why did the author include that fruit? Or name the character Neil? Why is the protagonist sitting under a pear tree? Why is her dress blue? Why did the character lose a limb? Before jumping to any symbolic conclusions however, we look at the symbol in context of setting, history, and culture.

Related Links:  Rock Your WritingSymbolism & more symbols;
Click  Amazon link for novels.

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Writer’s Hand Signals

l.z. marie typingWhen writers are on a roll—watch out! We don’t like to stop for fear of losing our train of thought, especially if we’re having one of those days when we can’t type fast enough! You know what I’m talking about! The entire scene is THERE—the dialog, mood, imagery—the words flowing from your brain, through your heart, and into your fingertips—the story bursting with—WHAM!
“Hon, where’s my jacket?”
“Mom, what’s for dinner?”

Your Rocket of Creativity just did a nosedive into the Ocean of Interruptions.

Been there, have you?

Without being aware it was happening, I developed hand signals to communicate with my family when I was ‘in the zone.’ And without realizing it, they began interpreting and translating those hand signals. It’s working rather well. Everybody’s happy and mom doesn’t have to lose her train of thought mid…um…uh… sentence.

Mom’s Hand Signals

1. Hand out in cupped position: I smell food or hear the crinkling of snack food wrapping being opened. Give me some.
Family’s interpretation: Will we ever get another home cooked meal again?


2. One finger held up: Give me one minute and I’ll answer your question.
Family’s interpretation: Mom’s “one minute” is like a pro basketball minute—mom is incommunicado for about 30 minutes.

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3. Two fingers held up: Give me two minutes before I answer your question.
Family’s interpretation: Mom is in the zone with a scene, don’t bug her for at least an hour. Note: UK readers will need to substitute another sign here.

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4. Hand holding wallet. I’m too busy to go to the grocery store. Buy whatever food or personal grooming supplies you need.
Family’s interpretation: Carl’s Junior, anyone?

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5. Hand holding card. Get me Starbucks.
Family’s interpretation: Can I have everyone’s Starbucks order? Mom’s buying.

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6. Hand palm-side out. Stop talking to me, I’m not listening.
Family’s interpretation: Why can’t we have a normal mom?

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7. Index finger pointed to left. Make sure the dog has food and water.
Family’s interpretation: Mom can’t remember if she fed the dog.

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8. Back of hand. Bye. I love you. Drive safe. Have a good round of golf.
Family’s interpretation. Do you think mom heard anything we said?
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9. No photo needed. Flipping the bird. Note: I do not have young children.
Family’s interpretation. Mom heard our smart ass remark.


See any hand signals you can integrate into your writing life?

Related Links:  Rock Your WritingSymbolism & more symbols;
Click  Amazon link for novels.


Color My World

color your worldFrom “Love is Blue”  crooned by Frank Sinatra
to “My World is Blue” by White Trash Clan
to “Yellow” sung by Coldplay
to “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” performed by Tony Orlando
to “It’s Not Easy Being Green” croaked by Kermit the Frog

color is attached to a spectrum of emotions. Savvy writers know they can use color to symbolize, reveal, and add irony to their text. Color symbolism is fraught with ambiguity and duality, making it a vibrant way to add complexity.

Warm colors like yellow, red, and orange are considered stimulating.
The cool colors of blue, indigo, violet are soothing and peaceful.

Although cultural variations exist, color symbolism is universal.

Red: A dual-tinted mix.
  •  passion and lust
  • anger and aggression
  • war and revolution
  • fire and flame
  • All these emotions spur one to action.
  • The red planet Mars is named after the Roman god of war
  • Associated with the Root  Chakra located at the base of the spine ( our connection with earth )
Yellow: On the good side…
  • sun and gold ( metal )
  •  enlightenment and wisdom
  • flowers and warmth
  • On the bad side….
  • cowardliness
  • envy and treachery
  • Associated with the Solar Plexus Chakra
Orange: A mix of the first two.
  • luxury and splendor
  • a renunciation of earthly pleasures—think Buddhist monks garb.
  • Associated with the Sacral Chakra (the reproductive organs ).
  • In ancient Rome, a bride wore a saffron-colored wrap and an orange veil.
Blue has as many hues as meanings.
  • sky and infinity
  • the divine—the Egyptian god Amun and Hindu gods, Rama, Shive, and Krishna are blue
  • tranquility and reflection
  • intellect
  • depression
  • sexual proclivities—blue movies
  • socio-economic status—from blue-collar to blue blood
  •  In Egypt, blue was the color of truth.
  • The Virgin Mary’s blue robe signifies her purity.
  • Indigo is the color of the Brow, or Third Eye Chakra  of spiritual knowing and intuition.
  • spring  and new life
  • fertility and nature
  • youth and inexperience
  • hope and joy
  • envy and jealousy and decay
  • Recently connected with safeguarding our planet’s resources promoted by the Green Movement
  • Color associated with the Heart Chakra.
  • royalty and wealth
  • luxury
  • power—Roman senators were identified by the purple stripe on their togas
  • religion—Catholic clergy don purple vestments during Advent and Lent
  • associated with the bliss, oneness, serenity, and spiritual wisdom of the Crown Chakra
  • temperance—because it’s a mixture of red  ( action & hot ) and blue (calm & cool )
  •  femininity
  • baby girls
  •  gay pride
  • evil or darkness
  • despair and death and mourning
  • mortality
  • secrecy
  • ill-fortune
  • disease
Gray, in its many shades…
  • gloom
  • anonymity or inconspicuousness or namelessness
  • old age
  • uncertainty and unreliability and risk
  • purity and innocence—brides and those being baptized are clothed in white
  • goodness
  • holiness
  • In China, Japan and India, white is associated with death and mourning.
  •  surrender and peace

Have fun adding some color to your novel!

Related Links:  Rock Your WritingSymbolism & more symbols;
Click  Amazon link for novels.

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7 da Vincian Principles

daVinciThere’s a great book titled How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day, by Michael J. Gelb, that I pulled down from my bookshelf the other day. ( I must have been feeling genius-deprived and needed some da Vinci wisdom.)  Flipping through the book with an author’s eye offered a new perspective.

Below are the 7 principles and how I think they can apply to a writer.

Curiosita— A writer should gobble up books, read articles, attend lectures, go on tours, and engage in other learning. All that knowledge helps create in-depth characters, interesting plots, and insightful struggles.

Dimostrazione: Test your knowledge, ask more questions, discern for yourself its validity. Experience what you can and learn from mistakes. (And one must make mistakes or there is no true learning). Writers can be a prickly breed—prone to either delusional (“I’m amazing”) or self-defeatism (“Everybody writes better than  I do!”).  Quick story: An aspiring writer student once told me she never rewrote short sentences because they were too short to have anything wrong with them. My subsequent explanation about diction and syntax went right over her delusional head. Writers unwilling or too stubborn to learn from their mistakes have a tough road ahead.

Sensazione: Explore the senses—sight, sound, taste, touch, smell—used in your writing. A writer can only do this if they themselves stop to smell the proverbial roses; or listen to the inflection and tone of someone’s voice; or inhale an aroma or sniff something offensive; or see the shapes and symmetry around them or feel the texture of their surroundings.  Appreciate both the aesthetic and horrific. Only then can we write about it with any beauty and authenticity.

Sfumato: Embrace and relish the mystery that comes from the esoteric, the mysterious, the arcane, the cryptic. Enjoy the uncertainty and ambiguity–it frees your mind. The world is full of conflicting dogmas and theories and principles and morals. And conflict is good—you need lots of conflict in a novel.

Arte/Sciencza: Think with both the right (creative) and left (logical) side of the brain. Be whole-brained! Use the whole brain approach when determining which is the best way for you to develop a plot or character. When the two work in concert you can reach your full creative (right) writing (left) potential.

Corporalita: Attitude and emotions affect your body. Take good physical and mental care of yourself. Exercise brings blood flow to your brain, which stimulates thinking.  If I’m having a difficult time with a sentence I get up and walk around—it always works. During state testing time, I put my students through a silly set of classroom exercises. Get blood to your brain—no small task for writers who spend lots of time in front of a computer!

Connessione: Recognize the interconnectedness—the synchronicity that makes up our world. Understand how small changes make big impacts, how life is a gyre, how the world and universe move in tandem with one another and are interdependent. Finding and appreciating connections is important! From connecting with someone on social media to devising compelling  plots, use the phenomena of systems thinking to grow and explore your world ( or novel world).

Related Links:  Rock Your WritingSymbolism & more symbols;


Household Symbolism

homegoodsA man’s home is his/her castle. It’s also chock full of symbolic furnishings and doodads. Give your story some symbolic zing by being familiar with a few of the household symbolic heavyweights.

Books: Wisdom and learning.
  • Is the book old or new?
  • Are pages torn out (think Dead Poet’s Society) or bent?
  • ls print large or small? Do the book need a translation?
  • Does book contain esoteric or forbidden or dangerous information? ( Remember  the movie The Mummy when the Egyptologist yells,”You must not read from the book!” )
Bowls: The feminine—it’s a womb thing. Prosperity.
  • Is bowl full or empty?
  • What are the contents?
  • What material is it made from?
Box: The unconscious mind—think Pandora. Containment of emotions. Limitations. Close-mindedness.
  • Is the box open or closed? Locked?
  • What is box made of?
  • Where is box kept?
  • Who opens box?
  • Who locks box?
Broom: Spiritual cleaning. Ridding home of evil. Protection against curses. Witch transportation.
  • Who is doing the sweeping?
  • What problem is swept away?
  • Is broom constructed from a specific ( and therefore symbolic) wood?
Fan: Femininity. Social class. Dispels evil spirits. Releases soul into immortal realm (Taosim).
  • Who is holding fan?
  • How is it used— to cool, hide, flirt, conceal?
Hearth: Home. Family. Emotional warmth. Females. Maternal nurturing.
  • Is fire smoldering, blazing, or cold?
  • Who is tending the fire?
  • Who is beneficiary of the warmth?
  • What is burning? ( a romantic  or incriminating letter, a body, evidence?)
  • How big is the fireplace?
  • Is hearth ornate or simple? Luxurious, pretentious, or utilitarian?
Key: Access to wisdom. Freedom. Success. Secrets. 2 crossed keys are a Christian emblem of the Gates of Heaven.
  • What is key made of?
  • Who is using key?
  • Why is door locked?
  • Does key work in the door?
  • Who and why does someone steal the key?
Knife: Death. Sacrifice. Cutting away emotions/ideals/prejudices/etc.
  • Who is wielding blade?
  • What is being cut?
  • Is blade dull or sharp?
Loom: Mother Goddess. Luna goddess. Feminine power.
  • Who is looming?
  • What pattern is created? What colors woven?
  • What material is used?
Mirror: A zillion meanings—well, almost. Vanity. Truth. Clarity.  Distortion. Reflection of soul. Inner calm (Taoists). Transitory nature of reality (Hinduism).
  • Who or what is reflected?
  • What is NOT reflected?
  • How is mirror framed?
  • Does the mirror break? And if so, what really broke?
Pen & Ink: Learning. Creativity. Destiny.
  • What is written?
  • Who is the  writer?
  • Does writer make mistakes or blot paper?
  • Is script illegible, elegant, precise?
  • What surface is written on?
Purse: Wealth. Vanity. Prosperity. St. Matthew—once a tax collector. Judas Iscariot—betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
  • Is purse full or empty?
  • What material is purse? Remember you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.
Screen: Mystery. Concealment.
  • Who is behind the screen? Is it titillating or frightening?
  • Who is looking at the person /thing behind the screen?
  • What material is screen made of?
Table: The Last Supper. Equality—of round. A coming together. Circle of Life. The Divine.
  • What shape is table?
  • What material is it made from?
  • Who sits at the head of the table?
  • Who arrives and who leaves?
  • Is something spilled upon the table?
Thread: One’s lifetime as determined by the gods.
  • Who cuts  thread?
  • What material is thread?
  • What is thread stitching together?
  • Did thread become loose?
Timepiece: Mortality.
  • Does clock run fast, slow, or exact?
  • Does someone stop time?
  • Is time more important for one character than another?

Have fun with symbolism!


Making Eyes

making eyesEyes are powerful symbols.

The mere glance glimmer gawk gaze ogle glare bore focus beam sparkle peek peer look goggle gape leer ( did I miss any?) reveals a character’s emotions.

No wonder the eyes are the windows of the soul. But there’s more to eyes than…well, meets the eye!

Eyes are powerful symbols whose meanings have ancient beginnings.

  • The Right  of Horus– or God of Ra, is the sign Wadjet, the sky god who is depicted as a falcon ( and that’s why the eye is falcon-ish in appearance) and associated with the sun, protection, royal power, and health.
  • The Left of of Horus  represents the moon. Shown together, they represent the entire universe.
  • The Third Eye or ajna (connected to the brow chakra) is associated with spiritual sight, enlightenment, or a heightened state of awareness/consciousness. It’s the eye used by clairvoyants, mediums, psychics, and seers.
  • The Eye of Providence or all-seeing eye of God, is often depicted enclosed by a triangle (the trinity) with emanating rays of light signifying God’s omnipresence and omnipotence.
  • The Evil Eye describes someone looking at you with an evil intent such as hatred, wicked envy, or malevolence. This look it is so fraught with negative energy it’s dubbed the Evil Eye. The greatest injury is to those who do not know the Evil Eye was aimed at them–thereby allowing negative energy to permeate their bodies and souls. To counter this, people wore amulets to deflect these cursed stares. See Lucky Charms.
Eyes are symbolic of:
  • enlightenment
  • knowledge
  • wisdom
  • discernment
  • spirituality
Greek Myths:
  • Cyclopes had one eye, which suggests they did not have the wisdom or self-awareness of the humans they enjoyed terrorizing.
  • The Eye on a Peacock‘s feathers indicate mankind’s penchant for being overly concerned with appearances and the external world.Goddess Hera tossed the giant Argos’ 100 eyes (he only closed a few at a time when sleeping) onto the bird’s feathers.
Does the color of a character’s eyes matter?
  • Brown eyes are opaque and seen as less emotional and more ordinary.
  • Black eyes are deemed evil or cold-hearted OR, conversely, their emotions are of a fathomless depth.
  • Blue eyes are associated with emotional and/or ethereal qualities, perhaps they appear more transparent, and thus believe we can see into their soul. Blue eyes are associated with the water and sky, two divine and mysterious elements. It’s also easier for others to see pupil dilation in a blue-eyed person–which we know indicates emotion.
  • Green eyes are deemed mysterious, exotic, magical, and are often equated with witches and sorcery.
Eyes—no matter what color—can be described as:
  • cold = unemotional
  • hard = uncaring
  • warm = kind
  • soft = loving and affectionate
  • watery/cloudy = stricken with overwhelming emotion
  • deep = harboring secrets or unexpressed emotion
  • sparkling = excited, anticipatory, happy, and/or smitten
  • dilated = indicating sexual arousal or drug use
  • glowing = creepy, netherworld, evil, OR divine and celestial
  • bright = keen, intelligent, curious
  • sharp =accusatory, wary
  • wide = wonder, amazement, incredulity
  • blank = devoid of emotion, socio-pathic, zombie-like

A word about blindness: In literature, blindness is equated with wisdom. Prophets (Tiresias) in Greek plays are blind. They see with their hearts the truth in an event, character, or circumstance. Visual seeing is NOT believing. When Oedipus blinds himself after discovering he fulfilled the prophesy he tried avoiding, the reader understands the symbolic nature of his act. A more current example is Neo in The Matrix. In the final movie, he no longer needs to see, his inner sight/intuition/conscious the only sense he needs to “see” the truth. Another fun movie that “focuses” on eyes and is rife with eye symbolism is Equilibrium.

Have fun seeing your characters with new eyes!

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing; Symbolism & more symbols;
Click  Amazon link for novels.

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Fire & Water

fire & iceThese powerful elements are fraught with symbolic significance, their meanings stemming from a myriad of religious beliefs, legends, and myths.

Fire and water represent a world of power,destruction, ambiguity, duality, and divinity.

Whether earthy or otherworldly, these forces of nature are feared and loved with equal fervor. No wonder authors love playing with their multiple  meanings in poetry and literature.So how does an author convey their intent with two symbolic heav -hitters?

Authors will use additional words in the paragraph/ sentence to reveal: 1)  particular symbolic meanings; 2)  character; 3)  ambiguity of a theme’s dichotomy; 4) irony;  5) all of the aforementioned; and/or 6) a plot device.  Fun, yes?

(See Word Magic for ways Ray Bradbury uses fire imagery.)

Fire is:
  • war and chaos
  • linked to the sun or lightning
  • associated with to passion, creativity, anger, or wrath
  • a method of purification
  • a way to regeneration—the Phoenix rises from the ashes
  • knowledge—Prometheus brought fire to people and suffered grievously for it
  • violence and destruction
  • God’s glory—Moses and the burning bush or the flaming hearts of Christianity
  • elevated us from the animals
  • the eternal flame above an alter
  • the flames of hell
A few fire gods & creatures:
  • Vulcan; Roman god also associated with volcanoes and craftsmanship, as one forges weapons and tools from fire.
  • Chu Jung is the Chinese god who punished those who broke  heavenly laws
  • Chantico is the Aztec goddess of the hearth and volcanoes, and the patroness for goldsmiths
  • Sekhmet: A woman (usually) with a lioness’s head, this Egyptian god killed enemies with arrows of fire and kept a fire-spewing snake at her side.
  • Agni: This Vedic god ( means fire in Sanskrit) is often depicted with two heads indicating both his merciful and destructive nature
  • Maui, a Polynesian god who stole fire from the Earth mother.
  • Ifrit, although not a god,  is an Arabic and Islamic supernatural creature of fire who is usually portrayed as evil.
  • salamander—also not a god—who is one of the 4 elementals.
Water is:
  • divine wrath—almost every religion has a version of the flood story
  • transforming
  • changeable—from stagnant to raging, from shallow to deep
  • destroys
  • purifies—baptism
  • primordial, as all life sprung forth from its ooze in many creation myths
  • life-giving—Fountain of Youth
  • fertility and irrigation
  • a natural and symbolic barrier to another place (or realm)
  • reflecting—although it led to Narcissus’ drowning
  • a method of transition to the next life
  • a method of torture
  • divination
  • healing
  • the Four Rivers of Paradise
  • the river Styx separating Earth from Hades
  • sacred—from Holy Water to the Ganges
A few water gods & creatures:
  • Poseidon/Neptune is the god with the trident who rides upon dolphins and controls the seas
  • Sedna is the Inuit sea goddess ruling over all sea creatures
  • Charybdis is the monster daughter of Poseidon and takes the form of a whirlpool that sucks in unsuspecting sailors
  • mermaids/selkies
  • encantatos
  • Undines—one of the 4 Elementals
  • Nerieds/Naiads/Ningyo/Yawlyawk
  • Sirens
  • and let’s not forget Mami Wata, Jengus, Makaras, Hippocamps, Bunyips, Adaros, Kappas, Grindylows, Bishop Fish, Cetus, Kraken…and I’m sure I missed a few!

Think of all the FUN an author can have with fire and water! The names of the gods and creatures alone are fodder for countless symbolic names—first or last!

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing; Click  Amazon for novels.


Got Symbol?

symbolsWhat EXACTLY is a symbol and how is it different from a metaphor? And what purpose do symbols serve?
A symbol is the conscious and artful use of:
  • other symbols ( see photo for some common examples)
  • objects
  • characters
  • actions/events

that represent something greater and more complex than that which is obvious.

symbolsThe SparkNotes definition: Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Metaphor, on the other hand, is an implied analogy whereby one thing is compared to another. A metaphor “stands for” something else.

The BIG difference. A metaphor means ONE thing…SYMBOLS have many layers of meaning. (I tell my students if they can’t find and explain 3 levels of meaning, they need to call it a metaphor.)

A few concepts to remember:
  • are multi-layed, like an onion (that’s a simile. “Symbols are onions” is a metaphor.)
  • may change over time. For example, the swastika is a symbol of the Nazi party, evil, and a belief in white supremacy. It’s actually an ancient symbol for the sun and the cycle of birth and rebirth. It means “aspicious ” in India. Another example is the rainbow. In Judeo-Christian religions the rainbow signifies God’s promise to never again destroy the earth with water. Then leprechauns got involved with the whole pot of gold thing. Now it’s a symbol of gay pride, I would say the rainbow symbol has changed a helluva lot!
  • are ingrained in our collective conscious. The sun is universally considered to be  giver of life. Most cultures have one or two sun gods.Tomes have been written detailing the how, where, when and why symbols emerged from ancient civilizations.
  • are shared among cultures: Early symbols like the sun, rainbow, stars, and circles stem from early civilizations concern for food and shelter. Conquering civilizations brought their religions and symbols with them, thereby spreading, adding to, or forcing the Defeated to assimilate them.
  • may be culture/religion specific. The color red in western cultures is linked to love and sexual passion. Red in eastern cultures is symbolic of pure love and good luck.

Symbols add depth, sophistication, and chew-worthy deliciousness to a novel. It makes a reader stop reading ( briefly) to ponder the profound meaning of the object/action/person. That makes for a memorable yummy read.

Symbols in literature are complex! Any object, character, place, action may be  symbolic, having several layers or meaning within the text .Peel away the symbolic layers and the author may be making a statement about:

  • culture
  • mental health of character(s)
  • technology
  • emotional health of character(s)
  • business
  • aesthetics/beauty
  • government/politics
  • natural world
  • education
  • morals/values/protocols
  • wealth/socio-economic status /class
  • situation/problems/dilemmas/conundrums/risks/struggles
  • religion/ beliefs/dogmas/spirituality
  • physical health
  • country/state/city
  • family
  • society
  • group affiliation ( from Boy Scouts to nerds to the Free Masons to military units)
  • Age/ age group (toddler, youth adolescent, teen, middle age, elderly)
  • race
  • gender
  • sexuality ( because gender and sexuality are not synonymous)
  • ideals ( or lack thereof)

Another important thing to understand about symbols: Each person understands  symbols a little bit differently because each person brings their own unique life/gender/age/culture/religious/personal experiences to anything they read ( or watch or hear).

Remember, when READING or WRITING  to place the symbol in context of setting, history, and culture OR the symbol will not be understandable.

Examples of symbolism you might remember from high school:
  • Piggy’s glasses in the Lord of the Flies
  • the shark in Old Man and the Sea. ( actually, everything in that novella is a symbol, making the tale an allegory–I’ll save that for another blog)
  • the pearl in The Pearl
  • the veil in Persepolis
  • the green light in The Great Gatsby
  • soma in Brave New World

In the novel, The Merkabah Recruit, I have a few symbols. The merkabah, of course, is an ancient symbol. There is also an action that takes place several times during the course of the story: The protagonist’s attempt to put her key into the locked door in the dark. As you may have guessed, keys, doors, locks, and darkness are equally chock full of symbolic chewy goodness. Folks who have read both novels always ask, “Who is Jack, really ?” Readers know there is more to that character than meets the eye.( I lOVE when that happens!)

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing; Symbols and more symbols ( from birds to food to animals to trees–the symbolism behind the natural world);Click  Amazon link to novels.

By the way,  the images used in my Rock Your Writing series are always symbolic of the topic I’m blogging about.

 Have fun with symbols!  

Related Links:  Rock Your WritingSymbolism & more symbols
Click  Amazon link for novels.

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Light & Dark

lightThese two little words are fraught with BIG symbolic meaning!

We are familiar with the obvious uses: The Light of knowledge or the Darkness of the Soul, but writers can use darkness and light in a myriad of ways!

Light or enlightenment can refer to:
  • goodness
  • understanding or knowledge: from the prosaic to the sublime
  • divinity/cosmic power
  • morality
  • truth
  • vitality/youth
  • innocence
  • spirituality
  • an attitude, emotion, or personality unencumbered with worries
  • imagination/creativity/inspiration
  • joy
Darkness can refer to:
  • evil
  • corruption/degradation/baseness
  • netherworld/underworld
  • lies/falseness
  • guilt /sin
  • ignorance, in all its many forms
  • mystery
  • fear
  • an attitude, emotion, or personalty fraught with melancholy or ill will
  • grief
  • tainted or impure thoughts
Light and dark symbolism can:
  • describe a character’s mood or personality
  • foreshadow a character’s intent
  • foreshadow an event
  • indicate a setting’s moral/ethical beliefs
  • reveal irony
  • provide (moral/ethical/religious) contrast between opposing characters/themes/events
  • be a plot device
  • be a symbol
  • be a theme
  • be a recurring motif
 Here’s one of my favorite poems about “light.”

The Man Who Spilled Light, by David Wagoner

The man who spilled light wasn’t to much to blame for it.
He was in a hurry to bring it home to the city
Where, everyone said, there was too much darkness:
“Look at those shadows, they said. “They’re dangerous.
Who’s there? What’s that?” and crouching,
“Who are you?”
So he went and scraped up all the light he could find.
But it was too much to handle and started spilling:
Flakes and star-marks, shafts of it splitting
To ring-light and light gone slack or jagged,
Clouds folded inside out, whole pools
And hummocks and domes of light,
Egg-light light tied in knots or peeled in swatches,
Daylight as jumbled as jackstraws falling.
Then everything seemed perfectly obvious
Wherever they looked. There was nothing
    they couldn’t see.
The corners and alleys all looked empty,
And no one could think of anything terrible
Except behind their backs, so the all lined up
With their backs to walls and felt perfectly fine.
And the man who’d spilled it felt fine for a while,
But then he noticed people squinting.
They should have been looking at everything,
   and everything
Should have been perfectly clear, and everyone
Should have seemed perfectly brilliant, there was
    so much
Dazzle: people were dazzled, they were dazzling.
But they were squinting, trying to make darkness
All over again in the cracks between their eyelids.
So he swept up all the broken light
For pity’s sake and put it back where it came from.


Have fun writing light and dark into your novel!

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing; Click  Amazon link to novels.

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Word Magic

word magicAgents and folks in the writing/publishing biz tell wanna-be authors to learn their craft, to learn the magic of words, plot, and voice!
They also suggest reading lots of books in your genre. Well, I can tell you there’s a VAST Grand Canyon-size difference between just reading a novel AND breaking it down to understand the nuances employed by the author to create tone, imagery, allusion, irony, motif and symbol.

Below is an example from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

Fahrenheti anaylsis


Let’s break it down!

  • Red font indicates words with a violent connotation or violent diction. Most of them begin with “s.”
  • Bolded words have been repeated. (3xs makes it a motif). single=4x; leg=3xs;  afraid=2x; numbness=3x.                                                                               The word “single” emphasizes  Montag’s  one chance to escape.. his life–his freedom–boiling down to this one critical moment in time. It’s now or never! He only gets one shot at changing his life!
  • Green highlights indicate numerical specificity. Used here, we see exactly how far and how fast.
  • Pink font are words related to flowers! How fabulous that Bradbury uses the language of flowers to describe fire in a violent scene! Why does he do that? Is it to show readers the character’s “blossoming” intellectual awakening? Is it to reveal the beauty in destroying a mechanism of the dystopia? Is it to put in stark contrast the natural growth vs natural destruction OR nature vs machine?
  • Purple font are words that are rife with imagery: spidered, curled, metal bones, flushing, hurtling, fiddle, hallowed—we “see” these words.                               >>>>Did you notice all the colors used in the paragraph?
  • Yellow highlight is a wonderful simile with symbolic, foreshadowing, and visual ZING!   >>>>The skyrocket might symbolize 1) Montag’s own intelligence being grounded by the dystopia; 2) the new light of understanding  sizzling within him; 3) the ironic & fiery beauty of destroying an intellectually crippling society.                                    >>>>The skyrocket also foreshadows the bombs that will destroy the city in the next chapter.
  • Circled words show the symbolic progression of the mechanical police dog, known as the Hound! Notice the progression from metal dog (a living beast) to Hound (its official name) to thing!  Brilliant! The mechanism no longer has power over Montag–and it also foreshadows and mimics the collapse of the dystopia.
  • Pale green font indicates a oxymoron, Dead alive. (A symbolic punch, folks, and accurate descriptor for most of the characters in the novel.)
  • Blue highlight brings to light the fabulous use of ellipses! In this case, a sense of the uncertainty… of time passing…what will Montag do next…an example of his own mental numbness…

Did I forget anything??

Word magic! Gotta love it!
And that, I think, is just part of knowing your craft!


~~~**~~~**~~~**Have fun writing word magic**~~~**~~~**~~~

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing


imageryWE love movies because we can SEE the action and HEAR voices. And until theaters have surround Smell & Touch—as Aldous Huxley wrote about in Brave New World—the WRITTEN word still has the advantage!

In literary terms, IMAGERY is a picture made from words. (Writers, this might be a source of pleasure & joy or frustration & agony). The beauty of imagery is that it creates tone and mood. One can describe creepy things using dark, gloomy words OR NOT.

Don’t forget to include imagery (SHOW, don’t tell) in your work.

Types of Imagery:

  • auditory (sound): Is it loud, strident, a cacophony, a symphony?  Sometime using a simile helps. It sounded like _______. Similes can get old fast, though. Can you turn the noun into an adjective? I once listened to a South American howler monkey call 20 times on youtube before I could describe its unique vocalizations.
  • EX: Overlaying all this, a soundtrack:choo-k-choo-k-choo-k-choo-k-choo-k–the metronomic rhythm of an Amtrak train rolling down the line to California, a sound that called to mind an old camera reel moving frames of images along a linear track, telling a story.
  • visual (sight): Too often I see new writers use words like “amazing”  or “spectacular” to describe a view. Those words do not help the read see the amazingness!
  • EX: “…or the life of him, he couldn’t figure why these East Enders called themselves black. He kept looking and looking, and the colors he found were gingersnap and light fudge and dark fudge and acorn and butter rum and cinnamon and burnt orange. But never licorice, which, to him, was real black.”
  • tactile (touch): There’s lots of great sites and lists for “touch” imagery. Even a Thesaurus search yields results. Stay away from the banal—a word like rough is vague. There’s 2-day old facial hair rough, sandpaper rough, stucco rough, tree bark rough….
  • thermal (hot/cold):Remember, heat and cold are connected to emotions. One can be “hot” with passionate or “hot with anger. A person may have a “cold” unemotional  personality OR their “cold” actions may reveal cruel intentions.
  • olfactory (smell): I sniff my spice rack often to get handle on a fragrance I want to portray.
  • gustatory (taste)It tasted yummy? Oh, please!  Use descriptors to bring the flavor & texture of the food to your readers. Have you ever read a novel where you are hungry for the food/drink consumed by the characters? If I’m reading an English novel, I eschew coffee for tea!  
  • EX:  “Tumbling through the ocean water after being overtaken by the monstrous wave, Mark unintentionally took a gulp of the briny, bitter mass, causing him to cough and gag.”
  • kinesthetic (sensation of movement):“At last, swooping at a street corner by a fountain, one of its wheels came to a sickening little jolt, and there was a loud city from a number of voices, and the horses reared and plunged.”
  • Organic: Describes feelings, emotions, and intent.

When does one add in imagery? There’s no rule. I add imagery in the second draft, tweak & fine tune the diction in a 3rd draft—and might toss some out in a 4th draft because it was unnecessary.

Let’s take a look at two of the masters!

The opening paragraph of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

  • It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his solid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

Here’s another from Paradise of the Blind  by Duong Thu Huong:

  • The song echoed blue and icy through our space. Outside, the sun shone, but here, I could feel the chill of exile under my skin, in my bones. The song resonated like the thinnest thread of silver lost in the blue of the sky. I followed it and felt myself pulled back to the edge of the earth, to a familiar river and beach of blinding white sand. A ripped sail tossed amid the waves, buffeted by the sharp, anguished cries of migratory birds as they prepared for flight.

Have fun getting your readers to SEE, HEAR, TOUCH, FEEL, SMELL your world!

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing; Click  Amazon for novels.


Seasons in Literature

seasonThere is a season…write, write, write—what? That’s not the song’s lyrics?

Before you write that plot, stop and think about season! ( Even Southern California has seasons–sort of).

The symbolism found in seasons has deep roots in literature…and life! That’s because seasons really mattered in ancient times. Agrarian societies depended on seasons ( and weather) to plow, grow, and harvest food. Agriculture united peoples, tribes, and groups. It was a means of achieving wealth. Food is life! So, naturally, seasons, because they are tied to farming and thus food and thus life, were fraught with all kinds of symbolic meanings.

Here’s a few seasonal considerations:

Spring: The cycle of life is beginning
  • Youth  & childhood.
  • Folks are hopeful, fresh, and anticipatory.
  • New life emerges from plants. Rain nourishes new life.
  • Buds, flowers, birds, butterflies, sunshine…all good.
  • Folks sow seeds.
  • Think: A fresh start. A new beginning. Rebirth. Resurrection ( Easter)
Summer: Life is in full swing.
  • Young adulthood
  • Energy & vitality is abundant.
  • Romance and passion sizzle during summer’s hot months.
  • Think: Grease, “summer lovin’ happened so fast..”
  • Food is plentiful. There are vegetables to harvest and fruit hanging from trees.
  • In The Great Gatsby, on the longest day of the year and in sweltering heat, love, lust, and passion fare up. Thus,
  • With increased temperature brings “heated” arguments and boiling tempers.
  • Love and anger are both “hot” emotions.
Fall: Life is reaped and winding down.
  • middle age.
  • Folks are fatigued from the harvest or age.
  • Harvest is associated with abundance and prosperity.
  • Folks give thanks to their god/gods for a plentiful harvest
  • Gratitude for good harvests result in sharing & celebratory feasts.
  • A time to count one’s blessings.
Winter: Life is dormant or dead.
  • Old age & death
  • Often equated with anger, resentment, discontent, or hatred. These emotions are equated with “coldness.”   NOTE: Anger can be either hot or cold. Is the person hot-headed, or cold-blooded? The anger differs in intensity and outward appearance.
  • Worry and anxiety is another emotion associated with this season, because food had to last through the winter. Religious holidays brought joy to the cold dreary days of winter.
  • There’s a great final scene in the movie version of Phantom of the Opera. The old man places a toy on his beloved dead wife’s grave. There, in the dismal gray setting and in white snow, lies the Phantom’s red rose! A vivid contrast and reminder of passions long ago. The scene would not have been the same had it been any other season.
  • Season can:
  • be a plot device
  • be ironic ( a couple finds love in the dead of winter only to  break up in the summer)
  • be symbolic of a character’s personality; character’s relationship; a theme; a tone; and/or reveal emotions
  • foreshadow an event, problem, change in relationship
  • be thematic
  • be a pattern or mirror someone’s life or plot line.

How effectively are you using season in your novel?

Have fun writing your novel!

By the way, Ceres, goddess of the Harvest, is holding wheat in the picture!

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing; Click Amazon for novels.

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