Best of the Best – Speculative Fiction Resources

The Best of the Best series is back, this time focusing on resources for Speculative Fiction writers. Previous installments looked at Agent Blogs, the Writing Blogosphere’s Major Players, and Romance Writing Resources.

Since I’m slowly shifting gears from my historical romance MS to my speculative fiction WIP, I thought it was an appropriate time to share with you the resources I’ve collected for writing speculative fiction.

And remember, these are links I’ve personally found useful – if you’ve come across your own resources, be sure to share them in the comments!

General Resources

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America – Although there’s a lot of members-only content, you can still find tons of valuable information that’s publicly available on the official SFWA site. Blog entries on the right-hand side of the home page run the gamut from craft to author news. The Author Information Center includes advice for beginning writers, the craft and business of writing, and copyright. Links to SFWA member fiction are also available in case you want to see what it takes to be published in a pro market.

Tor.com – An online portal for all things specfic. Blog posts cover book reviews; fandom notes for SF/F books, games, movies, and TV shows; polls; and con recaps. An impressive numbers of first-rate short stories, novel excerpts, and comics are also available on the site.

io9 and Blastr – Two sites I use for my specfic pop culture fix. io9 is affiliated with Gawker, while Blastr is an extension of SyFy (the cable network). Both sites include movie casting info and spoilers and speculation on upcoming releases. I tend to prefer io9 since they cover a broader range of mediums (Blastr emphasizes primarily visual media) and io9 also has a series of science-related posts – new findings and the like – that always give me story ideas.

Science In My Fiction – A blog where contributors examine different SF tropes and synthesize the research that is available (research findings, technical reports, mythology, history, you-name-it) into eminently readable articles. They present the science behind such topics as nanotechnology, quantum gravity, and what aliens should look like. If you want to write specfic but don’t have a background in hard science, Science In My Fiction provides a great primer on a variety of subjects.

Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy – Podcasts with established and up-and-coming SF writers as well as other futurists, hosted by author David Barr Kirtley and Lightspeed and Fantasy Magazine editor John Joseph Adams. Interviewees include George R. R. Martin, Orson Scott Card, Paolo Bacigalupi, Carrie Vaughn, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Ralan.com – A wonderful resource for speculative fiction markets, including detailed listings for pro and semipro markets. The website also provides a helpful list of writing resources and articles.

Specific Writers*

Janice Hardy – Hardy, author of the Healing Wars Trilogy (MG Fantasy), examines every aspect of writing craft on her blog. Regular readers will recognize her from some of my Resource Roundup posts because she does such an exceptional job covering writing topics in a thorough yet accessible manner. Even if you don’t write specfic, you should be following Hardy’s blog. The Kristen Nelson is also her agent, for those of you keeping score.

Juliette Wade – Wade’s blog TalkToYoUniverse includes thoughtful posts not only on writing craft but how linguistics and anthropology (her academic background) inform her writing process. She also hosts a Wednesday Worldbuilding Workshop where she provides line-by-line commentary on how volunteers employ worldbuilding techniques in the opening paragraphs of their story.

Christine Yant – Yant’s perspective as a specfic writer and assistant editor with Lightspeed is particularly helpful for those of you looking to break into the market. Her blog blends the personal with anecdotes from the writing life, but I’d say it is her Lessons from the Slushpile posts that are required reading: The Numbers, Why I Refuse to be a Snarky Slusher, What Editors Owe Us, Your Cover Letter and You, and Good versus Great.

Magical Words – I’ve been a bit lax on the fantasy-specific resources since I’m more towards the SF end of the specfic spectrum, but Magical Words is a wonderful resource for specfic writers of all stripes. Writers A. J. Hartley, C. E. Murphy, Carrie Ryan, David B. Coe, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Edmund Schubert, Faith Hunter, Lucienne Diver, Mindy Klasky, Misty Massey, and Stuart Jaffe all take turns tackling different aspects of craft, publishing, and the writing life, often using examples from their own works.

*This isn’t to say it’s not worth your time to poke around on say Ursula K. Le Guin’s site or Neil Gaiman’s or other SF/F author sites (I’d also recommend Orson Scott Card and Holly Lisle’s sites for writing resources), but the websites I mention above are my go-to resources that I read on a regular basis.

Other Resources

Resource Roundup Part 4 – Opening Your Story

Your opening pages will make or break your story. I wish I was overstating it, but there it is, in cold black text. If I had to boil down what I learned in the WD webinar Start your Story Right – How to Hook an Agent with Your Opening Pages, it would be that your first pages are the single most important thing in determining your success with agents, editors, book buyers, and ultimately paying readers.

Sounds daunting. But Resource Roundup is here to help.

As in previous posts in this series (Finding the Right Word, Conjuring Up Titles, and Crafting Dialogue), I focused on online resources. There were a ton of posts out there, which I’ve gone through and evaluated for their usefulness. But if you’ve come across other valuable resources, please tell me about them in the comments, and I’ll include them when I add this to my Resource Roundup page on the sidebar.

And if these posts aren’t enough for you, be sure to check out the Writer’s Knowledge Base, a new search engine for writing related posts (thanks to author Elizabeth Spann Craig and Mike Fleming).

The Industry’s Take

Think of the last time you browsed at a book store or library. When you skimmed through the first chapter, what made you keep reading? What made you put the book down and pick up something else? Now imagine that process on larger scale as agents and editors weed through submissions. Yikes.

Some conferences offer workshops where opening pages are read and a panel of agents and editors indicate when they would stop reading and why. Author Therese Walsh went through this process as described in Agents and the First Two Pages via Writer Unboxed, and she provides some impressions for how to make your work stand out. Writer Livia Blackburne (who you may know from A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing) also identified the 7 Reasons Agent’s Stop Reading Your First Chapter in a post at Guide to Literary Agents based on a similar conference session.

From the other side of the table, agent Kristen Nelson offers her insights from these types of sessions in her posts The Toughest Workshop to Give and Post Workshop Debrief. If you want to know what types of openings do work for her, check out this post Opening Pages that Caught Our Attention.

The post First Pages, First Impressions via Routines for Writers provides a librarian’s insights as to what makes her keep reading a book. And if you don’t know how influential librarians can be to book sales, shame on you.

Author Janice Hardy says writers have essentially 250 Chances to grab a reader. More recently, Author Jody Hedlund discusses the Increasing Importance of the First Chapter not just for unpublished authors who want to stand out in the slush pile, but also for published authors given the availability of digital previews.

Opening Lines

Some people say forget the first chapter, forget the first few pages, you must grab me with your opening line. That’s a lot of pressure for one sentence – the lynchpin for the rest of your work.

So how to you begin? Fiction Notes thoroughly classifies different types of Opening Lines. You can also get a sense of more general Types of Book and Chapter Openings from Kathy Teaman’s blog Writing and Illustrating.

Author Janice Hardy offers some insights for how to write a good first line in her post First and a Lot More than Ten at her blog Other Side of the Story.

Want some inspiration? Check out the 100 Best First Lines from Novels courtesy of the American Book Review. Adventures in Children’s Publishing has also collected compelling openings from Young Adult and Children’s novels.

Balancing Act

There are a lot of story elements to juggle when starting your story. As Les Edgerton, author of Hooked explains, an opening scene has ten core components: (1) the inciting incident; (2) the story-worthy problem; (3) the initial surface problem; (4) the setup; (5) backstory; (6) a stellar opening sentence; (7) language; (8) character; (9) setting; and (10) foreshadowing. (To learn more about Hooked, see this recap.)

Author Joanna Bourne assures us that it is “technically difficult” to start a story, and she offers some general advice in her post Technical Topics – Five Pointers on Openings, including hitting the ground running and revealing character.

Freelance editor Jason Black provides some insights on How to Establish Your Characters in the opening pages of your story.

You’ve probably also heard the mantra “Start with action.” But action without a strong sense of character or emotional context can leave your readers scratching their heads. Publishing guru Jane Friedman deconstructs this idea in her posts The Biggest Bad Advice about Story Openings and Story Openings: What Constitutes Significant/Meaningful Action? Be sure you aren’t starting with action for action’s sake.

When you think you’ve done all you can with you opener, take a look at A Litmus Test for Your Opening Scene via Fiction Groupie to see if you got what it takes.

If you are still having difficulty crafting a satisfying opening, check out the post Trouble Opening Your Story at Write Anything to see if their suggestions help you rework your beginning.

What Not To Do

Still not sure if your opening is a winner? Take a look at the following posts to ensure you aren’t making common mistakes with your beginning:

Agent Kristen Nelson gives examples of Killer Openings that can almost guarantee a rejection.

Author Kristen Lamb offers up some common problems from your opening pages that may foreshadow other issues later on in your story in the post The Doctor is in the House – Novel Diagnostics.

Author Therese Walsh from Writer Unboxed shares her impressions on Beginnings as a result of judging contests.

Remember 7 Reasons Agent’s Stop Reading Your First Chapter from earlier? If you’ve found you are guilty of one of these examples, read Janice Hardy’s post Seven Deadly Sins (If You’re a First Chapter) to see how to fix your beginning.

Special Case of Prologues

Prologues are out of vogue right now. Some agents and editors have an autoreject policy when a dreaded prologue comes across their desk. Why do they have such a bad rap?

Agent Kristen Nelson suggests that they are often employed incorrectly or are simply unnecessary in her post Why Prologues Often Don’t Work. Former agent Nathan Bransford also weighs in on what makes a prologue work (or not).

Authors Janice Hardy in Pondering the Prologue and Kathy Temean in To Prologue or Not to Prologue offer questions to help you decide whether a prologue is essential to your story.

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I hope you find these resources as you craft your awesome opening for your story. And if I’ve overlooked anything, please let me know in the comments.

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Best of the Best – Romance Writing Resources

P.S. This is my last post for the year. But I’ll be back the first Wednesday in January. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday with family and friends.

The Best of the Best series is back, this time focusing on resources for Romance writers. Previous installments looked at Agent Blogs and the Writing Blogosphere’s Major Players.

Writing Romance is harder than it looks. With the requirement of a happy ending, the real trick is how to make your story stand out from scores of others playing with the same boy meets girl tropes. I don’t have any answers for how to do this – asides from writing the best book you are capable of – but I can share with you the resources I’ve collected geared specifically toward Romance writing.

Romance Writers of America – The largest membership organization for published and unpublished authors, with a huge educational focus. Their website also includes scores of info from their annual conference, including valuable handouts and recordings.

eHarlequin – One of the biggest Romance publishers, Harlequin has a Learn to Write section on their webpage to help hopeful writers target specific Harlequin lines. But many resources are general enough to help writers of any genre.

Romance University – Dedicated to helping writers develop their career (Mondays), uncover the male mind (Wednesdays), and perfect their craft (Fridays). The site can be a bit cumbersome to navigate, but there is some good stuff here.

Romance Divas – A great meeting place for writers, including valuable articles on different aspects of the writing and publishing process and a forum – which is currently closed to new members, but should reopen in the New Year.

Romance Writer’s Revenge – A group blog capturing the trials and tribulations of romance writer’s life. The pirate talk can be a bit fatiguing at times, but the contributors pose thoughtful questions from the writing trenches.

Author Gabrielle Luthy – Provides a slew of writing resources on a variety of topics, including Agents & Editors, Plotting & Structure, and Revising Your Novel.

Author Jenny Crusie – Website includes a host of essays addressing pop culture, publishing, and romance writing in genre, with the same insightful wit she’s known for in her books.

Brenda Hiatt’s Show Me the Money! – Gives you an idea of the advance you can expect from a variety of Romance imprints. Remember, you shouldn’t be in this for the money. 

Babbles from Scott Egan – The blog provides a nice balance of content, including both industry insights and discussions of craft, from an agent who only reps romance and woman’s fiction.

The Passionate Pen’s Agent List – A great resource for when you are ready to query. The site also has a selection of other resources for writers as well.

All About Romance – Reviewing novels since 1996, AAR has a great search engine for finding titles that may be comparable to your WIP. The AAR blog also provides educational insights and commentary from women who are completely immersed in the genre.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books – Another Romance reviewing site, SBTB provides brutally honest assessments of books and their covers. One of the founders recently started writing for the Kirkus Review. The site’s Help a Bitch Out (HaBO) series lets readers ask for help in finding titles they read once upon a time – it’s always fascinating to see what narrative aspects stick out in their minds.

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You may find it odd that I didn’t talk about resources for writing historical romance, since that is the subgenre I write in. But believe me, that is a post for another day.

If you’ve come across other valuable resources for romance writing, please include them in the comments. Thanks!

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Resource Roundup – NaNoWriMo Edition

In case you’ve been living under a rock, November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo or simply NaNo for short. 50,000 words in 30 days (1,667 words/day). Whether you are sailing along or have already found yourself in troubled waters, consider this your one-stop-shop for NaNoWriMo resources when the going gets tough.

As with previous Resource Roundups (Finding the Right Word, Conjuring Up Titles, and Crafting Dialogue), I focused on online resources. There were a ton of posts out there, which I’ve gone through and evaluated for their usefulness. But if you’ve come across other valuable resources, please tell me about them in the comments, and I’ll include them when I add this to my Resource Roundup page on the sidebar.

Post Series: 

Write Anything‘s NaNoWriMo Workshop by contributor Karen covers planning your NaNo project in addition to specific aspects of craft so crucial to storytelling. She pulls the best bits from numerous books on craft and technique to give NaNo participants a helping hand.

Find, and Flush Out, an Idea
Setting It Up
Character
Point of View
Plot
Constructing Scenes

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp courtesy of Agent Nathan Bransford is a must read, if only because Bransford condescended to write about NaNo in the first place. Besides, you should be reading his posts on craft and publishing anyway. He has 4,660 Goggle followers (and counting) for a reason.

Choosing the Right Idea
Goals and Obstacles
Editing As You Go

Countdown to NaNoWriMo by Paulo Campos at yingle yangle gives you tried and true advice from a NaNoWriMo veteran. When you hit the wall, Campos’s posts provide options for moving forward.

Part 1: Winding Up Your Writing Clock
Part 2: Why Outlining Your Novel Is Essential
Part 3: Outlining A Novel Worth Reading
Part 4: Your Outline Will Fail
Part 5: Making the Most Out of A NaNoWriMo Crisis
Part 6: Making A Mess of A NaNoWriMo Crisis
Part 7: Why NaNoWriMo Naysayers Should Please Shut Up
Part 8: So Your NaNoWriMo Novel Sucked

Stand Alone Posts:

The Pros and Cons of NaNoWriMo – Gives a great overview of the benefits of participating and the trade-offs you’ll make when you lock yourself away to reach the goal.

NaNoReaMo – Author Natalie Whipple decides she’s going to spend November reading instead of writing.

Putting the NANO in NaNoWriMo – An alternative take on what “NaNo” really means.

NaNo Checklist – The title says it all. Make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.

6 Golden Rules of NaNoWriMo -When you start questioning where your story’s headed, read this for a reality check, courtesy of editor Victoria Mixon.

9 Ways to Prepare for National Novel Writing Month – Another post from Write Anything to make sure you’re ready for NaNo.

Other NaNoWriMo resources from those who know:

***Please let me know in the comments if you’ve found a NaNoWriMo resource that should also be included. Thanks!
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Resource Roundup Part 3 – Crafting Dialogue

This installment of Resource Roundup, I’m tackling dialogue, which is perhaps one of my favorite aspects of writing besides coming up with story ideas in the first place. I especially love banter – I think it’s because I can never come up with sharp comebacks quickly enough in real life and so I save them all for the page. By the way, the French have a word for this inability to come up with a timely, clever retort (of course the do): l’esprit de l’escalier, roughly translated as staircase wit.

As I did in previous Resource Roundups (Finding the Right Word and Conjuring Up Titles), I focused on online resources. There were a ton of posts out there, which I’ve gone through and evaluated for their usefulness. But if you’ve come across other valuable resources, please tell me about them in the comments, and I’ll include them when I add this to my Resource Roundup page on the sidebar.

Now, let’s get started.

The Basics

Don’t know where to start? Be sure to check out author Barry Lyga’s series on dialogue: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5. Each segment is chockfull of examples and tips you can implement in your own writing.

Michael Stearns of Upstart Crow Literary also provides a whole host of information for beginners (including a helpful checklist at the end) in his article Dialogue, Some Basics.

More recently, Annie Evett over at Write Anything posted a wonderfully in-depth exploration of dialogue: The Trouble with Dialogue Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

And if you are writing dialogue, for the love of all that is holy, please learn how to punctuate it correctly. Marg Gilks’s article Punctuating Dialogue will help get you started. Also, be sure you know the difference in punctuating a speaker who has been interrupted versus one who just trails off (Dialogue Interruptus from Blood-Red Pencil).

Whose Line is it Anyway?

When crafting dialogue, it can sometimes be difficult to ensure your reader knows exactly which character is speaking when. This is what’s known as talking heads syndrome, and you can find a good example of this type of exchange in Are Your Characters Talking Heads? via K. M. Weiland’s blog Wordplay.

So how do you avoid this? You can rely on speech tags (which are detailed in the next section) or you can find a way to make each character sound distinct from one another, so that even if you don’t explicitly tell the reader who is speaking, they can infer the speaker through the way the speech is constructed.

As discussed in All Write With Coffee’s post Dialog: Distinctive Voice – The Three V’s, each character should have their own level of 1) vocabulary, 2) verbosity, and 3) velocity, which can help writers make their characters’ speech distinctive.

Jason Black at Plot to Punctuation suggests you start by imitating the speech patterns of people you know in his article Un-Clone Your Characters with Distinctive Dialogue. He also suggests giving your characters certain mannerisms and deciding how formal or informal their speech is relative to others in your story as a way of making them stand out.

Speech Tags and Saidisms

Speech tags are another way of leading your reader through conversations to help them understand who is talking when. But tags are a contentious issue. Some people advocate only using he said/she said and avoiding things like he whispered/growled/screamed etc. since the emotion should be clear from the dialogue itself. Then there are the dreaded adverbs, which can creep in like “he said softly” or “she said hesitantly” which are generally no-no’s. As a post over at the Ruff Draft explains, these techniques are throwbacks to a style of writing exemplified by Tom Swifties, a series of books dating back to the early 20th century.

Mary Kole’s post Tag, You’re It! How To Write Excellent Dialogue Tags and Janice Hardy’s post Hey, Who Said That? provide a good overview of the different ways you can use dialogue tags effectively.

But sometimes, variation in your speech tags can be a good thing. Historical romance author Joanna Bourne provides an in-depth exploration of occasions when saidisms may be appropriate in her posts When to Use Saidisms and More Maunderings about Saidisms.


Verisimilitude not Verbatim

When writing, you want your dialogue to sound authentic to readers and to accurately portray your characters. But if you make your dialogue sound too realistic, you run the risk of having dialogue that is vague, irrelevant, or just plain boring. Similarly, you don’t want to slow down your dialogue with verbal pauses (um, so, like, yeah) because although they are ever-present in real life speech, you don’t want to have read them on the page.

In Speaking of Dialogue, author Robert J. Sawyer discusses how everyday conversations get translated to the printed page, and pitfalls beginning writers should avoid. Screenwriter Robert Piluso’s post Writing Fun, Funky Dialogue From The Hip provides a nice overview of ways to add the appearance of realism to your dialogue through fragmenting exchanges, portraying miscommunication, and cursing, to name a few.

Dialect is another tool writers use to make their characters sound more realistic. A reader can immediately determine things like geography and social status, which can help flesh out characters in a story. But it can be fatiguing to read if overused, and some people today have strong knee-jerk reactions to it. Juliet Marillier’s post A Wee Bit of Dialect for Writer Unboxed discusses why she chose to keep Welsh dialect in one of her books and why she now regrets that decision.

Also keep in mind the Rule of 12 (which I picked up from Pearl Luke’s Writing Dialogue with Good Tension), where characters (and real people) rarely speak more than 12 words at a time. If your character is going on and on without a break, you need to interject some narration to keep your reader on board, as explored in the next section.

Setting the Stage

Your characters’ conversations don’t exist in isolation. There are things your characters can think, see, smell, taste, touch, and do, even if they are talking to one another. Start with your dialogue as the skeleton of the scene, and then layer in action and description to make it more fully realized. Janice Hardy’s post Tag! You’re It, gives successive examples of this type of layering to strengthen dialogue-heavy scenes.

In addition to coming up with a story and characters, you must also be a choreographer and make your scenes move on the page. As Tom Leeven explains in Theater Techniques to Sharpen Your Dialog (a handy post from WriteOnCon):

“Blocking” is a term referring to the physical movements actors make on stage. It could be an entrance, exit, sitting, standing, a cartwheel . . . whatever. Blocking is physical action, motivated by emotional responses. Your characters have blocking, too. It’s most often found in the narrative surrounding your dialogue.

But some techniques are better than others for inserting action and description into your dialogue. Holly Bodger’s post Breaking Dialogue provides a great overview of how to break up your dialogue before, after, or in the middle of your character’s speech.

When to Put the Die in Dialogue at Make Mine Mystery talks about the importance of nonverbal reactions in conversations. You’ll find a good list here of behaviors people do depending on their emotional state. Also be sure to check out The Nonverbal Dictionary for other ideas, which I stumbled up thanks to Angela Ackerman’s Zombie Crew.

Double Duty

We often approach dialogue as a specific aspect of writing, but if done well, it can function in a variety of ways. A post over at The Blood-Red Pencil called Dialogue: Just the Way We Talk? shows that dialogue can be action, a means of defining character, showing emotion and mood, and intensifying conflict.

Theater Techniques to Sharpen Your Dialog provides a useful overview of how to make your dialogue show characters’ motivations and suggests that each line of dialogue should represent a win or a loss for each character – another way of introducing or intensifying the conflict in your story.

How you present dialogue can also influence your story’s pacing. In “Good Dialogue,” the Editor Said, the author states:

Manipulate the story’s pacing with dialogue. Don’t ignore the emotional state of your character. If she’s upset, don’t let her think deep thoughts, or speak in long sentences. We’re human. When upset, we speak in fragments. Clipped tones. To convert the emotion to the writing, use short, terse sentences and paragraphs. Forceful verbs. No frills. No fluff. Nothing to slow the reader down. This technique quickens the pacing. The reader reads faster, thus senses urgency. Conversely, to slow the pace during tender, poignant moments, do the opposite–allow your characters to think longer, more leisurely, unhurried thoughts, and let them speak in flowing, sensory-oriented sentences that slowly drift down the page. This tool conveys a character’s emotions to the reader, gains reader empathy.

When Revising

All stories need to be revisited at some point, and the links below offer useful tips and tricks to keep in mind when revising your dialogue.

20 Questions to Help Improve Your Dialogue from yingle yangle is a useful revision checklist to ensure your dialogue is in tip-top shape.

Writing the Short Story 6: Dialogue includes a list of generalizations for dialogue, revision tips, and exercises to make your dialogue snap, crackle, and pop.

How to Revise Your Dialogue from Plot to Punctuation details a method for ensuring your characters sound distinct and speak consistently in their own ‘voice’ throughout your story.

Dialogue is Not Necessarily How We Talk from The Blood-Red Pencil provides a nice list of dialogue no-no’s and includes helpful revision suggestions from writing handbooks.

Other Considerations

For the ladies out there, read Therese Walsh’s post Turning X’s into Y’s – Guy Talk that Works to ensure your representing your male characters’ speech patterns correctly. And yes, the Gender Genie does work.

Trying to channel your inner teenager? Check out YA Characters – Four Tips for Portraying Young Adult Characters and Strange Things about High School in YA Books to get a better sense of how your YA characters should act and sound.

Internal monologues are the dialogue of your character’s brains. They can do a lot for deepening character and setting the tone, but the can also bring the action of the story to a screeching halt. The Dos and Don’ts of Internal Monologues at Wordplay explain the best way to implement internal monologues in your story.

What if you only have one character who spends the majority of time on the page alone? Author Clarissa Draper has a list of Creative Ways to Add Dialogue to One-Character Scenes.

Finally agent Nathan Bransford weighs in: About Those Books Beginning with Dialogue.

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I hope you find these resources valuable as you craft the perfect lines for your characters! And if I’ve overlooked anything, please let me know in the comments!

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