Structure Part 3–Introducing the Opposition

Welcome to Part III of my Structure Series. If you want to self-publish or indie publish, I would assume most of you want to be successfully published, regardless the format or distributor. To be considered “successfully published” we have to sell a lot of books. To sell a lot of books, we must connect with readers. That is what this series is about. Structure is how readers connect to stories. The stronger the structure, the better the story. I highly recommend that you read Part I and Part II of this series, if you haven’t already in that each lesson builds upon the previous lesson.

Let’s get started.

Conflict is the core ingredient to fiction, even literary fiction. Yes, we can break rules, but we must understand them first. Conflict in any novel can have many faces and often you will hear this referred to as the antagonist. I am not going to use that term in the traditional way because I think it can be confusing. Every scene in your book should have an antagonist, but I am getting ahead of myself. Today we are going to start with the Big Boss Troublemaker. No BBT and you have no story. Your opposition is the most important ingredient for a great story readers will love.

The Big Boss Troublemaker is whoever or whatever causes the hero’s world to turn upside down. The BBT creates the story problem that must be resolved by the end of your tale. The BBT is also who or what must be present at the Big Boss Battle. In Star Wars, the BBT was the Emperor. It is his agenda that causes the inciting incident and it is he who must be faced in the final battle or the movie ain’t over.

In the beginning of The Chronicles of Riddick, Riddick is running from bounty hunters. Due to the nature of the story, it begins right in the action. Who is the antagonist? In that scene it is the bounty hunter.

Riddick’s goal—remain free

Bounty Hunter’s goal—capture wanted criminal Riddick

Their goals are in conflict (This technique, called the Conflict Lock–is taught by NYTBSA Bob Mayer). The bounty hunter is the antagonist in the scene, but he isn’t the Big Boss Troublemaker.

Lord Marshal actually was the party responsible for bounty on Riddick’s head (via the Elementals). The Lord Marshal was also responsible for the extinction of Riddick’s home world in an effort to kill the Furyan male who was prophesied to bring his end. Who is fighting in the Big Boss Battle?

Riddick and the BBT, Lord Marshal.

The stronger your BBT, the better. In the beginning, your protagonist should be weak. If pitted against the BBT, your protag would be toast…or actually more like jelly that you smear across the toast.

The Big Boss Troublemaker doesn’t have to be a person. It can be a storm, like in The Perfect Storm or disease, like in Steel Magnolias.

Remember high school literature?

Man against man.

Man against nature.

Man against himself.

The first one is pretty simple, but the next two? This is where things get tricky when the BBT is not corporeal. Humans don’t do so great with existentialism. Thus, your story likely will lend itself more to a character battle. What is it about your protagonist that will change when pitted against nature or the worst parts of himself?

In The Perfect Storm, was the storm really the BBT? Or was it merely a catalyst that brought forth the real BBT…pride, manifested in the ship’s captain who acts as the proxy. In the end, the men lose. They believe that their skill will be able to triumph over the storm, and they are wrong, which is probably why I really didn’t care for the book or the movie, but that is just me.

In Steel Magnolias the BBT is disease/death, manifested in the proxy of the daughter Shelby. Shelby’s decision to get pregnant despite having diabetes (Inciting Incident) is what changes the mother M’Lynn forever. What must change about M’Lynn? She is a control freak who must learn to embrace life for all its ugliness. She cannot beat death, or can she?

We see M’Lynn in the beginning of the movie fluttering over her daughter’s wedding, controlling everything and tending to the flowers and the broken glasses (symbol). When Shelby dies, M’Lynn is once again trying to control everything, tending the flowers and the broken things—her husband and sons. She falls apart after the funeral.

M’Lynn has let go of control and the arc is complete. In the Big Boss Battle, the BBT is defeated. How? Shelby is dead. The BBT is defeated in that there is resurrection. Diabetes and death have been defeated. Shelby lives on in the son she left behind, a grandson that M’Lynn would never have had if she’d gotten her way in the beginning and been permitted to control Shelby’s life. (Note that this entire movie is bookended by Easter).

In the movie Footloose the BBT is religious fundamentalism, which is represented by the town preacher and father of the protag’s love interest. Kevin Bacon wants to dance, BBT wants no dancing. The town preacher is responsible for the story problem. How can a dancing city boy hold a dance in a town ruled by religious fundamentalism?

Your BBT is the entire reason for your story. No Emperor and there is no Star Wars. No Lord Marshal and Riddick would be off doing what Riddick likes to do when he isn’t killing things. If everyone agreed the storm was too big to mess with, then there would have been no Perfect Storm. If Shelby didn’t have diabetes, then there would be no challenge and, thus no story. In Footloose, if the town had been Catholic there wouldn’t be an issue.

So, once you have your Big Boss Troublemaker, you will have emissaries of the BBT. Depending on the type of story, usually the BBT will have a chain of command. Some will be actual characters. The Emperor had Darth and Darth had Storm Troopers that he could send out to cause massive inconvenience to others. They all trace back to the original BBT, though. The BBT is the core of the story and must be defeated by the end of the story. Everything leads to destroying the BBT.

So we have Big Boss Troublemaker.

We have the BBT’s emissaries.

Ah, but EVERY scene has an antagonist. What is the antagonist? The antagonist is whoever is standing in the way of your protagonist achieving her goal.

In Romancing the Stone who is the Big Boss Troublemaker? The BBT is the crooked inspector. Who are the emissaries of the inspector? The two thieving brothers who have kidnapped romance author Joan Wilder’s sister (the crooked inspector is using them as unwitting pawns to get the map and get the jewel). What is the goal? The jewel. What is the final battle? When the inspector and one of the thieves are fed to the alligators in an act of poetic justice, and the younger brother is taken to jail.

Who is the antagonist? That changes, but Jack (the love interest) often serves the antagonist’s role. Joan wants to just give the map to the thieves in exchange for her sister. Jack wants to use the map to find the jewel.

Some Pretty Hard and Fast BBT Rules—Break these Rules at Your Own Risk

Rule #1–BBT (or a proxy of the BBT)  MUST be introduced in Act I. No leading us on for 50 pages before we get an introduction. BBT is responsible for Inciting Incident.

Rule #2–The love interest CANNOT be the BBT. He or she can wear the antagonist’s hat, but he or she CANNOT be the BBT. Why? Because the BBT must be defeated in the Big Boss Battle, and utter defeat isn’t exactly grounds for a lasting relationship. Also, in romance, even though guy and girl might not get along in the beginning, they do come together as a team for the final showdown against the BBT.

Pizza has rules and so does romance. I am sure there are exceptions, but it defies the code of great love stories and often leads to a very unsatisfactory ending.  Audiences have tastes that we are wise to appreciate. If we want to write romance, then there is a fairly strict code that guy and gal end up together in the end. It’s the whole point of reading romance, so we can believe love conquers all. If our romance mimics life too much, then there is no escape and that defeats the entire purpose of reading romance.

Yes there are exceptions. I am here to help you guys grasp the overall rules. Once we understand the rules, then we can break them.

Rule #3–BBT MUST be defeated in your book. Period.

There has to be a Big Boss Battle in your story or the story problem is not fully resolved. A lot of new writers are “writing a series.” And, oh, but Such-and-Such dies in book 12 of my series. No. Sorry. Try again.

In a series, the protagonist in every book MUST DEFEAT the BBT responsible for the story problem. We must treat that book as a stand-alone. If we were hit by an ice cream truck and never wrote another, the problem of our last book would be resolved.

We will talk more about this on another blog, because series are a whole other ballgame. I will give you a nugget to hold you over, though. Think back to what we talked about earlier. BBTs have emissaries sent to do their evil deeds. Treat each emissary as your BBT in each book (only you don’t have to tell the reader unless you want to). Each BBT is a necessary step to complete in the overall defeat of the series’ MAIN BBT.


Lord of the Rings

Defeat Uruk-Hai–> Defeat Saurauman–> Defeat Sauron

Okay, well that’s enough for today. Need to stop before your brains all explode and then you have to clean up your keyboard. Structure is tough, and hopefully this series is breaking it down in to bite-size, manageable pieces.

I want to hear your comments. Who are your favorite BBTs of all time? Do you still have questions or other topics you would like me to explore? Do you have any books or techniques you would like to share?

Exercise I–Watch your favorite movies. Who was the BBT? Who were the emissaries? How was the BBT’s agenda introduced?

Exercise II–Recall your favorite books. Again. Who was the BBT? Who were the emissaries of the BBT? How was the BBT’s agenda introduced?

Exercise III–For the literary folk. Who was the protagonist? What internal flaw was the protag forced to confront? How was it manifested (BBT)? Was the character flaw defeated? How was the BBT defeated?

In Steel Magnolias the character flaw (need to control) is defeated when Shelby dies. M’Lynn lets go of control. Diabetes/Death (the BBT), however, is defeated with life. Shelby will live on through her son.

Yeah, it’s a brain-bender but great exercise for our story-telling muscles.

I do want to hear from you guys!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of October, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of October I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Last Week’s Winner of 5 page Critique–Angela Quarles. Please send your 1250 word Word doc to my assistant. Gigi. Her e-mail is gigi dot salem dot ea at g mail dot com.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.


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  1. Great post, Kristen. Thanks for the excellent assessment and advice. By the way, Chronicles of Riddick is very well structured, great movie to study if someone is looking to learn.

    • Monique Headley on October 17, 2011 at 10:20 am
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    Another great post, Kristen. I learn so much from your blog. Just a thought I have running through my head, can your BBT be introduced in Act 1 but not identified? Meaning, the reader knows that this person is there pulling the strings but they dont know exactly which person in the group the bad guy is.

    As always, thanks again!

  2. This was a great read, Kristen, and of course, you picked some of my favs. What say you about the more subtle works like Out of Africa?

  3. I remember arguing with you about these points when you first started working with me. Bweep, bweep. Sorry about that. You are so right, and writing a proper book has shown me that. A story is only as strong as the antagonist. A protag is only as heroic as the BBT is evil. Great post.

  4. Love this post. I’m really, really, really digging your structure series. Lots of meat to chew on.

  5. Well my favorite thing about this post is that you used Romancing the Stone as an example. I love that movie and quote it more often than I should…probably. And the use of Steel Magnolia is a great example for how to use the BBT in a more subtle way, but still with intensity for the reader. Great work. And perfect timing for us FOW’s starting evos in WWBC. Thank you!

  6. Oh wow, was scrolling down past your standard ending to leave a comment and saw my name! Thank you! Will send it tonight. anyway to what I was going to say: great post and I’m glad you brought up romances because I was fuzzy on that. I think I have a BBT (being thrust back in time) but this has given me food for thought.

  7. What a great way to explain one of the most difficult aspects of storytelling in an easy-to-grasp format. Great examples, too.

    You didn’t mention mysteries. In a way, their structure is the easiest to follow, but they don’t always introduce the BBT in act 1, do they? We have the effects of the BBT (the dead body) but often don’t meet the BBT (murderer) in person until the end. (Although in the best mysteries, we know the character well before we know he/she is the BBT.) Or am I not interpreting that right?

    1. The dead body (crime) serves as the proxy for the BBT. The BBT is the killer (criminal) and the purpose of the story is the unveiling. Yet, he is introduced via the murder (or crime). In mysteries, the BBT must be introduced before Act III. We can’t just hide this person and then in Act III the culprit is some person we (the readers) have never met. That is a good way to get ur mystery thrown across the room. We must have all the clues we need to solve the mystery before the turning point into act III.

      Thanks for the comment!

  8. One thing that has always stuck with me was an interview John Carpenter did years ago. He gave an example of a Native American medicine man sitting with people around a fire, warning them of an evil. In one story, the medicine man says the evil is out in the darkness. In the other version, the medicine man says evil is within the light of the fire, meaning evil is within. I always think of this when I see man against himself as an opposition and how Carpenter said people don’t like the second kind of story as much. I wonder if that’s why you don’t see those types as much.

  9. I’m so glad that I’m only breaking two of your rules. Or maybe three.

    Love your blog.

  10. I love The Shawshank Redemption. The Warden is so much more evil than any of the criminals on the yard. I also love The Green Mile. That stupid Percy is the worst, but I’m not sure if he is really the BBT. SPOILER ALERT: When John Coffey (symbolically JC) gets the chair, it just feels so unjust. *grabs a tissue* And we are so glad that Coffey has poured all that sickness into Percy because he was so rotten. But is Percy just an antagonist or is he the BBT? This is where I get confuzzled. I understand there has to be a BBT who must be toppled (and I’ve got a doozie), but sometimes the big picture is fuzzy for me.

    1. The BBT is injustice. Percy is a proxy of a flawed system with a flawed sense of justice. Remember there are two time-lines, including the current day plot-line with the orderly who is another Percy. Again…injustice. But by toppling them, justice is served. I think the BBT’s MAIN proxy, though, is actually Billy the Kid, the real perpetrator of killing the two little girls. We can let go of Coffee and mourn him because The Kid gets his comeuppance. The real killer is given justice.

  11. Thank you Kristen. This was concise and on-target. I eagerly await your future installments on structure.

  12. This is a great lesson to learn and re-learn. It’s something I am trying to perfect as we speak. I love the LOTR series and the BBT’s in that storyline. Harry Potter, for the younger audience, is another obvious one to me. The thing with these villains who are not always scene, or given ‘stage presence’ is the reactions that others give them. I don’t think they would be half as horrible if you didn’t see how scared people got when they are mentioned.

  13. There’s really nothing more I can say about this post other than, FANTASTIC!
    So glad you’re here to keep us all on the right track.
    Thank you for your wisdom!
    Have a wonderful evening,

  14. Lord of the Rings is a great example of antagonists and BBTs. I remember a debate my peers had a long time ago about who was the most villainous character in LoTR. Really, it depended on which protag you asked. Each one had their own antagonist. Sure, Sauron was THE BBT, but not all characters hated him equally.

  15. Can the BBT be internal. My protagonist is a Beta male who is subordinate to somebody most of his life. I can’t give him BIG TROUBLE externally because he is an ordinary guy. I want to let his inner demons pelt him with shmutz. Personally I’m not ready to tackle BIG demons, ’cause I’m afraid of making them parodies of evil. Thank you.

    1. Yes and no. There MUST be an external proxy. For instance in the movie, 28 Days, the BBT is Alcoholism. But the proxy is the protag’s boyfriend who is a likable addict. She has to stand up to her addiction and we see her “triumph” when she is able to walk away from this toxic person that represents the addict’s path. Too much inner angst is therapy, not fiction.

      1. I’ve got to externalize the BBT. Can his inner conflict be manifested in a physical form. Like drugs or alcohol that cripple him when he has to face the inner monster. Sobriety is a release and a conquering of the externals and by proxy the internals. The symptoms mask the weak soul and battles against it are the conflict. He’ll backside of course, until he gets the weapons to win the fight, Thanks for the push.

        • Courtney on October 21, 2011 at 9:57 am
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        “too much inner angst is therapy, not fiction.” I’m going to have to think about that one for a long while.

  16. This awesome post just cleared up a question for me. I had written a description of my protag and her problem and was asking you which of two possibilities was the BBT. By the time I finished writing out my question to you, I had my answer. so I erased what I had written to write this— ‘Now that’s what I call a teacher! Thanks so much Kristen for helping me find that answer…it makes all the difference.’

    • EmilyR on October 18, 2011 at 7:20 am
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    Great post! Voldemort is a fun BBT to follow, as he morphs in each book, growing stronger each time.

    • Keith Rowley on October 18, 2011 at 8:23 pm
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    Still struggling to apply this to Half Share – the first trader tales book. Perhaps the BBT is internal in that book. Can I have you review someone else’s book if I win?

  17. Hello Kristen,

    I’m new here, and happy to join the conversation. Your writing advise is superb!

    Since I just got started with you, I went back three posts to read your essays about structure, and as a personal challenge, I broke down my latest completed novella into your terminology. I hadn’t thought about the BBT in your terms when I outlined the plot and theme. So it took time to find my beasts, because they weren’t tangible and obvious.

    They weren’t obvious because my monsters were embedded within the two main character’s psyche. A young man and 36 year old woman are trying to fall in love. Why are they TRYING? What is keeping them apart? Their own conflicted wills, and their fears of failure.

    My couple is finding it difficult to TOUCH, because they both have mental KEEPERS blocking their hearts from experiencing LOVE. The Keepers are suppressed FEARS. My characters are afraid to feel emotional pain generated from the loss of love in their pasts. Their battles are their internal contradictions. Should I do it? Should I not do it? Can I love him? Or will I get hurt? Sound familiar?

    Now, how did I externalize that? One way, was to add a third female character which also became a love interest. And I had a dog die too. But the problem remained, how should I externalize a mental conflict and build the big battle at the end? The battle to embrace LOVE! To let it in.

    Plotting the structure was a mind bender, and to be honest, I don’t know yet if my characters are ENGAGING. No one, besides myself, has read the story to the end.

    Still, I’m blog-publishing it in sections and getting comments along the way. We’ll see if I can break that many rules and still make the structure “work.”

    In the meantime, I will continue to follow your thoughts on this site. They are quite stimulating.


  18. You make it sound so simple 😀 Yet another great structure post and I loved your examples. They have something for everything and they showcase well the different types of BBTs.

    The Emperor and Darth Vader definately are epic Big Bads. And I just re-read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and was blown away (again). Every chapter has solid conflict that ups the stakes, and every page has micro-tension that keeps me wanting to read on. Donald Maass would be proud.

  19. Hmm, this gives me much to mull over.My very first ms, and the one still in re-write land (perhaps permanently) is a series. The antagonist does hold over to the next book, and the next. I have someone who is a proxy, but they are not strong. Sounds like that may be one of the many issues that ms has. OK, maybe it should remain in the drawer and I can apply this to the newer WIPs!

    • Wil Maddeaux on October 19, 2011 at 1:45 pm
    • Reply

    In Dick Francis’s book, Twice Shy, the BBT has to be defeated twice, once by the older brother, and then 14 years later, by the younger brother. He uses a completely different way of doing it — read the book!
    In the case of the younger brother, the “weakness” is actually in his thoughts, and he thinks about how he is geting stronger!
    Great article.
    Just great.

    I find that in NCIS and in The Mentalist (I hope I can bring in TV here), the ongoing search for the Port-to-Port killer and for Red John is a real turn-off, usually of the TV.

    • Susan Kelly on October 20, 2011 at 1:49 pm
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    Great post, Kristen. I like the simple rules, and I never, ever, ever thought I’d say that. However, my pizza that is constructed of meringue, roast beef, ketchup and tiny paper umbrellas is looking increasingly ugly. Back into the kitchen!

    • Courtney on October 21, 2011 at 10:20 am
    • Reply

    There is so much to process here. I fear my main character’s true Big Bad Troublemaker is that she is… stupid. This is not good. When did I lose sympathy for her? Thanks for bringing this to light.

    • Julia Indigo on October 23, 2011 at 9:46 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, you have given me much food for thought! In my novel, the protagonist’s dark side is the antagonist, and as he keeps giving in to his dark side, he is losing more and more of the things that he truly values.

    My plotting problem? I don’t know which side is going to win out. And from my reading on structure, one needs to know the ending (where you’re going) in order for the book to make sense. Never mind, the book is pouring out of me, and when I finally get to the end of the first draft, I’ll know what to do.

    What an adventure writing is!

    • Julia Indigo on October 23, 2011 at 9:48 pm
    • Reply

    Oh, and BTW – I have *both* of your books on my kindle, and I’m LOVING them! 😀

  20. Riddick has a lot more going on. Riddick is the last of his kind because Lord Marshal killed every single one in his planet except for him. Lord Marshal is scared of the prophecy–that someone from Riddick’s race would kill him. Ironically, Lord Marshall’s killing spree was the very reason why Riddick killed him.

    In a way, it reminds me of the Greek stories–you can’t change your fate.

  21. I’m a little confused on “Rule Number 2.” In the movie, 500 (Days) Of Summer, the antagonist/BBT is the love interest (Summer). The First Plot Point/Inciting Incident, is when she tells Tom (the protag) that she doesn’t believe that soul mates/true love exists. This is the incident that propels Tom to make it his goal to prove her wrong throughout the remainder of the movie.

    Is this just an exception to the rule?

    1. Never seen the movie, so can’t comment. But, I would say that disbelief/doubt is the BBT and that they come together to defeat doubt that true love exists…unless, of course, they don’t end up together at the end and then that is kind of a sucky movie. Her goal isn’t to defeat him and his goal isn’t to defeat her. The goal is to defeat the idea that soul mates aren’t real.

  22. Not only does this post help me with my own writing, but it also clarifies why I’ve had issues with novels I’ve read. I’m thinking about a certain writer who shall go unnamed, but recently had the first book of his planned seven book series made into a premium cable channel miniseries. Ahem. I’ve struggled through his last two books, which has been heartbreaking, because I love the characters and the underlying themes. The problem? The BBT has yet to be defeated! It just gets drawn out more and more with each novel, and I’m starting to really resent the author. Now I know why – and that I don’t want to ever put a reader in that position. Thank you giving me something to think about!

  23. This is a great bit of inspiration for everyone gearing up for NaNoWriMo, Kristen. Thank you so much for posting about the 3 classic struggles! My high school English teachers would applaud you.

  24. This is right,…remembering the BBT, both major and minor, is important. I have sometimes introduced the first scene with dialogue as an argument between the hero and one of the BBT’s. And to be satisfying, the BBT has to lose, but it’s important to remember, too, that the conflicts that ensue should have a cost so that our story doesn’t decline into a fairy tale (unless, of course, that’s what it’s supposed to be). Some of Frodo’s and Luke Skywalker’s frinds die.

    • Katie on November 7, 2011 at 1:32 am
    • Reply

    Thank you so much for this series. Exercise III gave me an ah-ha! moment concerning my WIP. I’d like to see you speak more to using man v. himself plot structure and structure as it pertains to literary works, as this area can seem so fuzzy but, at the same time, is so fascinating and complex. I love the way you break things down to make them easier to digest. The examples are particularly helpful.

  1. […] From Kristen Lamb: Structure Part 3 – Introducing the Opposition […]

  2. […] To paraphrase Kristen Lamb, if you have no “Big Boss Troublemaker,” you have no story.  Want to learn more?  Head over to read Structure Part 3 – Introducing the Opposition. […]

  3. […] Kristen Lamb continues her series on Structure with Part 3 – Introducing the Opposition. […]

  4. […] a micro-scale. Part II explored the big picture and offered an overview of common plot problems. Part III introduced the most critical element to any novel, the BBT (Big Boss Troublemaker). Each of these […]

  5. […] from a flawed structure. Week three we discussed the single most important component to plot, the Big Boss Troublemaker, and last week I gave you a tested method to make sure your core idea was solid enough to be the […]

  6. […] grand and still exists in this crazy world. The hero cannot be your Big Boss Trouble Maker (read Structure Part Three if you want to know what a BBT is). Yes, the guy will likely be an antagonist, but that is […]

  7. […] ~ Part Three: Introducing the Opposition; […]

  8. […] act structure, conflict, ARC’s, inciting incidents, antagonists, protagonists, minions, Big Boss Trouble-makers and, oh yeah, pulling me out of my comfort zone, I realised what a load of rubbish I’d […]

  9. […] good hero, if pitted against the Big Boss Troublemaker in scene one should be […]

  10. […] by Kristen Lamb. (Don’t forget to also check out Kristen’s latest entry into structure: “Structure Part 3 – Introducing the Opposition”) Numbers, folks! This week, there’s been talk and more talk about the numbers – and more talk […]

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