WandaVision: Genre, Structure, Theme, Engine and Your Voice as a Writer
When you watch WandaVision, you just can’t help but think: “I am so frickin’ lucky to be writing in this golden age of television!”
The fact that Jac Schaeffer and these writers could actually get away with WandaVision, not as an experimental thesis project for film school, but part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Disney Plus, with a gigantic budget shows you is that the lid has literally been blown off of what you can and cannot do as a screenwriter today.
WandaVision reminds us of a screenwriting concept we discuss on this podcast all the time, the idea that as a screenwriter, success doesn’t come from following some formula, it comes from finding your voice as a screenwriter.
It comes from going inside and finding that story that literally only you could write, telling that story that literally only you could tell, finding that unique voice that only you have.
There’s a habit that we all have of surrendering our power.
We want to play nice, we want to play by the rules, and we want to do the things that we’re supposed to do. We often think that if we play nicely like that, and if we follow the rules and if we follow the formulas, that somehow we are going to have the Hollywood life that we envisioned for ourselves or that you could sell out into the future that actually works.
And of course, that’s exactly the opposite of what’s true. What’s actually true is there are way too many experienced writers who can write a clear well-told story with a good premise. The thing that breaks you in as a writer is that unique voice, that unique take, that unique thing that literally only you could come up with.
Sometimes, it’s the script that doesn’t get made that breaks you in as a writer. Sometimes, the script that people don’t have the courage to write makes people decide, “I need to read more of their work. I need to work with this person because they have this incredible voice.”
You may have noticed as I’m talking about your journey as a writer, it sounds oddly similar to Wanda Maximoff’s journey in WandaVision.
That’s because WandaVision is more than just a history lesson in television. WandaVision is more than just a thematic lesson in how to build a superhero movie that’s actually about something. WandaVision is more than just a structural lesson about how to focus even the wildest work into a shape that a mainstream audience can connect to and understand.
WandaVision is also a commentary on the journey of every writer.
Just like Wanda, we come from influences. We grow up watching shows. We grow up watching movies. We grow up inspired by other writers and believing that we are supposed to have a life like theirs. We buy into other people’s vision. And often in the process, we end up surrendering our voice and surrendering our power, or trying to please those around us and trying to hold onto this vision of who we are supposed to be.
We also hold onto that vision in the way we structure our scripts. We make these beautiful, very clear outlines that seem to make “so much sense.” We come up with a great pitch. We come up with a great logline. We come up with a great synopsis that makes us feel like we know exactly what story we’re telling.
We have a vision for that story, and where does that vision come from? It often comes from (even though we’re not conscious of it) what society is telling us a story is supposed to be or what Hollywood is telling us a show is supposed to be, or what we’ve already seen on film or television, rather than from our own voice and our own experiences and the truth of what actually is.
We get attached to that vision. We get attached to that structure.
And sometimes, along the way, we end up smothering our characters– just like Wanda smothers her character’s voices with her grief and her need for control– not allowing them actually show up on the page as they really are, not allowing them to be who they want to be, not allowing them to express themselves.
And in the process, we inadvertently rob them of their voices in the same way that we are robbing ourselves of our own voice.
There’s a beautiful and painful process by which we all as artists have to come to this place where we honor our influences and honor the beauty of our aspirations and honor the great things we want in our lives and our careers.
But just like Wanda in WandaVision, we also have to let go of our past and let go of our plans and sometimes even let go of our vision in order to own our voice and step into our power and to step into our present as artists– to honor the characters as they are on the page, the structure of the story that is unfolding, which may be much different than we want it to be.
There’s this very complicated balancing act that we’re all doing. And oftentimes, as writers, we feel like Wanda in Episode 1.
We’ve got all these pots and pans and plates and forks and knives and spoons, and we are balancing them all together, trying to impress some boss who doesn’t even appreciate what we are doing.
And just like Wanda, our desire to impress, our desire to please, ends up getting in the way of us being who we really want to be.
Now a little warning: There are going to be spoilers in this podcast. You cannot talk about WandaVision without spoilers. So if you have not seen WandaVision yet, please run and subscribe to Disney Plus and watch WandaVision because this show is going to redefine what it is to write a TV show. This show is going to influence the way that everybody thinks about what a show can actually be and how far you can actually push the limits and the supposed rules. You need to watch WandaVision if you want to be a television writer.
Quite frankly, you need to watch WandaVision if you want to be a screenwriter, because WandaVision just at one time blew the lid off the rules of genre, and also found a unique way to honor them. And WandaVision’s achievement in doing so is going to forever change the rules of screenwriting and TV writing.
When you sit down for a Marvel movie, you have some very specific expectations. When you sit down for an Avengers movie, those expectations become even clearer.
If you spend nine episodes watching WandaVision and you never get to a place where two crazy Visions are fighting in the sky, and Wanda and another witch are fighting it out with magic, and the military is descending and all this crazy stuff is happening—if you never reach that moment—the audience is going to feel robbed.
In fact, one of the reasons that the early episodes of WandaVision actually succeed is because you already know Wanda and you already know Vision. You already know Marvel.
So, you are meeting these characters in this incredibly odd place. We don’t expect to meet Wanda and Vision in I Love Lucy— in a 50’s sitcom. We’re like, “What?!”
We also know that there’s no way this show is going to be just a 50’s sitcom because it’s Marvel, because it’s Disney, because it’s Avengers, because it’s Vision, because it’s Wanda.
We convince ourselves, in the next episode, that it’s not just going to be Bewitched. And then that it’s not just going to be The Brady Bunch. We know it’s going to go somewhere genre-wise that’s much more alarming, much more dramatic, much more action-packed and adrenaline-pumping. We know this because we trust Marvel and we trust Disney.
(Or if you’re not into the Avengers and Disney and Marvel genre shows, a part of you is thinking, “Well, as cool this is, I know eventually this is going to turn into that kind of dreck.”)
Regardless, you know that there are going to be certain genre elements in this project, and just seeing those characters is a little whisper that there’s going to be some big fight sequences.
And just in case that isn’t enough, just in case you don’t know Wanda and Vision, just in case you’re not anticipating that things are going to get super action-packed as WandaVision proceeds, just in case, as many people were, you’re thinking about bailing on WandaVision after episode 3, Jac Schaeffer does some little things early to let you in on the places she’s planning to go from a genre perspective.
She is taking huge risks and making really bold decisions, but she’s dropping in some little clues, and making some promises to her audience.
At the end of the first episode, we pull out of the black and white. We are now in a very modern world watching it on a TV screen. There’s just that one shot that lets us know, “Hey, baby, the Marvel Universe is coming.”
In Episode 2, we expect it to go to much, much more Marvel-esque kind of places. It doesn’t. Instead, we’re basically going to watch them try to do their magic show together, but we’re going to have three little moments that remind us of the coming genre.
We have the moment when Wanda picks up the toy helicopter, and it’s the only thing in color. We don’t know exactly what it means, and it seems like neither does Wanda. But we know that something is happening, pressing in from outside of the world of Wanda’s show.
We have the moment where the snobby neighbor crushes her glass as something weird comes over the radio, and there’s red blood that’s also in color, and a weird, inexplicable shift in that character as well.
And at the very end of the episode, we see the weird man dressed as a beekeeper, exiting the sewer with bees buzzing around him. And just as he’s turning toward Wanda, she says “no!,” as if she could erase him with her will… and it seems that she does.
These little elements are promising you where this show is going to go. So in this way, the engine of the show is actually also getting established.
There’s a very simple engine at the center of WandaVision, an engine that literally anyone could pitch.
Anybody can watch WandaVision and see that it’s about these two superheroes living in sitcoms, and each episode is another decade. We go from I Love Lucy to Bewitched to The Brady Bunch. We’re going to go through the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s. Each episode is going to be another decade of television and it’s going to be made in that style.
There’s also this Marvel world that is going to keep intruding and that is going to keep putting pressure on Wanda. It’s going to keep on driving into this world. We don’t know what the world is, but we are learning and we want to understand it and we’re feeling the pressure.
In fact, by the time we get to Episode 4, we’re suddenly going to be in full Marvel world. We’re going to start to feel that pressure grow tremendously between the Marvel world that wants to break in and this hexagonal bubble of television shows that Wanda has created.
And though we don’t know why yet, central to the engine is that pressure and her desire to say “No.”
We are going to watch Vision, who has no memories of his past, start to become curious and start to recognize that what’s going on here is not right. Wanda is keeping something from him. Wanda is controlling not only him, but everybody else. There’s something false and wrong going on here. And that growing realization is going to split Wanda and Vision apart.
We are going to watch Wanda and Vision go through an entire relationship, an entire lifetime together, and that lifetime is going to be informed by each episode. We’re going to go from “Hey, we’re married” to “Hey, we have kids” to “Hey, our kids are 10 years old.” Everything is going to happen at hyperspeed in each episode like they’re living their life at 100 miles an hour.
So, all of these qualities of engine are being suggested in those first two episodes. We’re already starting to learn them, and then they grow and grow.
Just like in any action movie, what ends up happening in WandaVision is that the pressure between all these elements will keep growing and growing until they build to a crescendo of superhero action.
In a way, every action movie and every action series is like a fireworks show. It starts off with some cool displays, and then they gain more and more power. By the time it’s all done, you have this big crescendo where all of the themes all come crashing together. The excitement and battles and powers end up clashing all together.
If you think about the final episode of WandaVision, of course, that’s exactly what happens.
You have two Visions fighting in the sky. One is Wanda’s creation of Vision and the other is S.W.O.R.D’s creation of Vision, and they are fighting it out with crazy superpowers.
You’ve got Wanda squaring off against Agnes who turns out to be a witch, as well. Those two are also fighting it out. (And we’ll talk more about Agnes and where she comes from and why that matters, later).
You’re also going to have the kids held hostage, the military (S.W.O.R.D.) coming in from the outside, the subplot with the FBI agent coming to fruition, the Rambeau character from Captain Marvel and Wanda’s brother, and all the townspeople converging on Wanda. All at the same place, all at the same time, all of these different problems that have been building are going to blow up into one giant action crescendo, just like they do in every single action movie.
So, there’s something very interesting happening in WandaVision. On the one hand, you have this radical film school thesis structure of the engine: these TV shows. On the other hand, you have this very traditional genre structure where you set up a bunch of problems and things just keep getting worse. You get a crazy spectacle of things blowing up and fight sequences and all those things crescendoing.
And guess what? None of those things mean anything without the theme underneath.
Yes, on the surface level, we have to serve the genre. Yes, on the surface level, we need to serve the engine, but what’s really driving the engine underneath is theme.
What is the theme of WandaVision? It’s exactly what Vision says to Wanda in Episode 8: “What is grief, if not love persevering?”
This thematic exploration of a tiny corner of the Avengers universe is so interesting, because it reflects a change in how the stories of these giant franchises are actually developed.
This is something that not only Marvel, but all of the big franchises have started to do this, including Star Wars. Yes, we can write big new Avengers movies and we can write big new big Star Wars movies, but we can also drill down into these little tiny elements of these stories, and flush out whole new worlds and characters.
If you think of The Mandalorian, that whole two-season limited series as well as the upcoming Boba Fet series is found just by drilling down into a simple question, “Hey, remember that bounty hunter character from Star Wars? What was his life like in the days after the Empire fell?”
You can listen to my The Mandalorian Podcast here.
If you think about WandaVision, Wanda and Vision are not exactly the most beloved Avengers, but you look at these two characters and ask, “What did Wanda feel like in the wake of Vision’s death?” And you just drill really, really deep into that, that’s where Wandavision comes from.
What’s the craziest choice she could have made in the wake of her grief? What does she want more than anything in the world? When you drill down deeply enough into those questions, you realize there’s a whole little corner of the universe there that can become a nine-episode series.
And if that doesn’t show you that literally anything can be a screenplay, literally anything can be a TV show, I don’t know what will.
Writers and producers are always afraid. What if my series doesn’t have legs? What if it’s not strong enough? What if it’s not a good enough idea? The truth is, as we can see in WandaVision, you can make anything a series if you’re willing to look at it deeply enough, if you’re willing to look at it closely enough.
On the surface, how do you do that? You do that by figuring out an engine. You do that by figuring out the genre elements and making sure those things are going to work.
But that’s just the surface. You could do all that stuff and at the end of the day, WandaVision would have just been basically a very derivative version of sitcoms that we’ve seen in the past. And, honestly, how good were they then?
Similarly, without the theme underneath, if you stripped out it’s experimental elements, Wandavision would also just be another traditional action movie with Avengers blowing stuff up, which we’ve seen a million different times. A good witch versus a bad witch, with all the typical clunky exposition we’re used to in these kinds of movies. In Episode 7, for example, Agnes is going to, for some reason, spend a whole hour just getting exposition instead of just immediately trying to get Wanda’s powers.
Without the theme underneath, we might still be willing to overlook some of those clunky elements because they’re cloaked in visual spectacle, and because we’re dying to understand why and how Wanda made all this happen. But we would have been left with just another Avengers show, not one that moved us to tears and changed the way we looked at grief and storytelling.
Without the theme underneath, we might have still enjoyed the inventive play with genre, and the unusual mashup of action writing, experimental filmmaking, and historical TV nostalgia. All those surface things might have led us to leave WandaVision saying, “Oh, what a nice thesis for film school! What an interesting idea!” But it wouldn’t have given WandaVision its power.
As important as engine, genre and structure may be, the real power of WandaVision doesn’t come from those surface elements. It comes from the deep ones underneath. It comes from theme.
It comes from this character who had this vision for her life, and that vision for her life grew in the way that our vision for our lives grow: being a kid, watching TV shows and falling in love with a very specific kind of television—those kinds of shows where nothing bad ever happened because it’s just not that kind of show—and having an expectation that that’s what life is going to be like.
We don’t realize sometimes as screenwriters that we are actually the myth builders for a whole generation. We show people what life is supposed to look like, and although we might just be thinking we’re writing a crappy sitcom, what we’re actually writing is a blueprint. We’re writing a fairy tale that people are going to believe and ascribe to.
For Wanda, those fairy tales have had a beautiful influence. They’ve cultivated a belief in love and marriage. They’ve cultivated a way of being that means so much to her. They’ve created a vision for her future that she’s deeply in love with and doesn’t want to let go of.
But they’ve also messed her up a little bit. They’ve shown her a kind of chauvinistic worldview about what a woman is supposed to be. They’ve shown her a very narrow, focused version of what marriage is supposed to look like. And they’ve shown her all different ways that she feels like she’s supposed to conform to society’s demands.
Even within her own show, that she’s scripted for herself, Wanda is still trying to conform and fit in! Even in a world where she’s given the words to all the characters around her, she still feels the need to hide who she really is and be “just right” for all the neighbors.
At the center of WandaVision, we have a character who, like so many of us, is very strong and brilliant and powerful, but who also has a habit of giving away her own power.
For all Wanda’s powers, as Agnes points out, her magic is chaos magic, she doesn’t yet have the craft and confidence to actually understand who she is and what her gift is.
Everything she’s building grows from trying to hold onto this past where she used to watch these shows with her parents and her brother, and feel loved and comforted and happy. Everything she’s building grows from trying to force the universe to give her the life she projected for herself based on her experience from those shows, and her persevering love for Vision.
I don’t know anything about Jac Schaeffer, but I’m going to guess that love for all TV shows is actually probably something very personal to her or to some writer or producer on this project. You don’t come up with an idea like this by thinking purely intellectually, “Hmmm, what if we move through TV history?”
You come to an idea like this because you love these shows. You live these shows. These shows mattered to you and they meant something to you, and they have this nostalgic factor for you. You built your life around them to some degree.
Now, life hasn’t turned out exactly the way you planned and you have pain. You’re trying to figure out, “Is that okay? Is there a reason my life doesn’t look the way it’s supposed to look? Did I do something wrong?”
You feel like Wanda’s character: trying to balance a million pots and pans, and hold things together the way they’re supposed to be, rather than the way they are.
We all know that feeling, and my guess is that’s a feeling that Jac Schaeffer knows as well. So, she’s reaching deep inside of herself, and she’s finding the stuff that matters to her and she’s giving it to her character.
As good screenwriters, we do what Jac Schaeffer did in WandaVision, and we take those real memories and those real desires, and those real emotions, and we give them to our characters, and translate them in a way that fits the world and genre and given circumstances of our character’s world.
In Wandavision, Wanda’s loss is no doubt blown up beyond whatever Jac Schaeffer’s loss was. It’s safe to guess that Jac Schaeffer never had her family blown up by a Stark missile, and was never stuck under the rubble watching that TV with her brother as her own source of comfort. It’s safe to guess she’s never accidentally killed a bunch of people in Lagos while trying to save the world. It’s safe to guess she’s never had to kill the love of her life, only to have him come back to life and be taken from her again.
But it’s fair to guess she’s felt that way, just like we all have.
Wanda’s loss is the Avengers version of a real feeling of loss that every single person in the world has felt. Everybody has felt that kind of loss, where you just feel like you lost what mattered most to you and you don’t know if you’re ever going to get over it. We’ve all gone through that. We’ve all felt like we would give anything to hold onto this person that matters to us. We’ve all felt that feeling.
The very simple concept here is that everything starts with theme, and we build from theme to the rest of our script, just as Jac Schaeffer does in WandaVision.
Where does theme come from? Theme doesn’t come from an idea in your head. Theme comes from that personal pain, that personal beauty, that thing that you’re wrestling within yourself.
We take that theme, and we give it to our character and we blow it up into their terms.
In Wanda’s terms, she used to watch these movies when she was a kid and it made her feel like everything was going to be okay. It reminded her of that wonderful relationship she had with her father and her mother and her brother, and of that time in her life when she felt like she was destined to have a life like I Love Lucy.
Instead, her parents get killed. She gets inducted into a terrorist organization called Hydra. Her brother gets killed. She finds the love of her life, she reinvents herself as a superhero, she finds her power, and then the love of her life, Vision, gets taken from her not once, but twice. She gets played by the not-so-virtuous S.W.O.R.D. director who knows that he can manipulate her.
She sees that house that Vision meant to build for her, and what does she do? She tries to build it for herself.
That is something that all of us have done. Just like Wanda, all of us have built a false world for ourselves, trying to hold onto a vision that cannot be, trying to avoid loss. In this way, the story of WandaVision is also our story. That’s what makes it matter!
What’s beautiful about WandaVision is that it’s looking at the problem and the process of love and grief that all of us face from all angles of the Hexagon. Even though there are ugly things happening, it’s not just the ugly part of Wanda that’s causing it, it’s also the most beautiful part.
Yes, her grief is affecting everyone around her, and her inability to allow reality in and the pressure with which she’s forcing reality out of her life, trying to hold onto a vision that she cannot hold onto that wants to collapse. That is causing a tremendous amount of pain.
But underneath all of that pain is the most beautiful thing of all, love, persevering, even in the face of death.
There’s a tremendous amount of pain in this character, but what is really happening is something that we can all connect to. There’s this feeling that we all share, this question: “What would you not give to hold onto the person you love most in the world?”
You can see that this theme is present throughout the entire story of WandaVision.
There’s a great line in Episode 2 of WandaVision, when Vision and Wanda are rehearsing their magic act, “In a real magic act, everything is fake.”
As the audience, we have no idea what that line means. We just think it’s a laugh line at the time. But actually, that’s that theme again. This is actually exactly what Wanda has done. Wanda has built a real magic act where everything is fake, and she’s trying to hide that fakeness from everybody, including herself.
Vision has another great line in the same episode. “Tonight, we will lie to you, and yet you will believe our little deceptions.” Is the line he says during the magic act when he is “drunk,” having chewed the piece of gum. It’s an incredible line because that’s also what Jac Schaeffer is doing. Jac Schaeffer is lying to you, and telling you that this is going to be a Bewitched episode. That maybe this is one of those shows where everything actually is going to be alright. Maybe this is just something silly. And though you may be suspicious at the start, as that feeling continues episode after episode, you start to believe her little deceptions.
Then finally, my favorite line—which also happens when they’re rehearsing—is when Vision says, “Fear not, Glamour. For I, Illusion, vow to bring you back exactly as you are.”
Notice what’s happened here. She’s named herself Glamour, which is obviously a reflection of the witchy version of glamour, but it’s also that part of her who feels like she needs to be the glamorous housewife. She’s named him Illusion because she’s aware that he’s an illusion and she is projecting her words onto him.
“I, Illusion, vow to bring you back exactly as you are.” She’s projecting exactly what she did to him into the words he says back to her.
This leads us to the idea that I want to end with, which is the concept of archetypes and the way they work both in Wandavision and in your own writing.
There’s a beautiful line at the very end of WandaVision, Episode 9. Wanda’s about to let go of Vision once and for all and Vision asks her, “What am I?” Wanda replies, “You, Vision, are the piece of the Mind Stone that lives in me. You are a body of wires and blood and bone that I created. You are my sadness and my hope, but mostly, you’re my love.”
That line is so beautiful, but it’s also so instructive.
Archetypes go all the way back to Jung and his idea of the collective unconscious, this collective fabric that we could tap into through our dreams, through our subconscious, through our writing. Jung influenced a guy named Campbell, who reasoned that if there were collective archetypes in the collective unconscious that Jung could name as a psychologist, then there must also be a collective or universal story that one could tell and maybe he could name those archetypes as well. Campbell’s belief was that if one could understand those archetypes, one could tell a story that matters to everybody, that means something to everybody, that’s universal.
So, he came up with all these fancy names, and all of his disciples came up with their fancy names for the same thing.
Unfortunately, when people use those fancy names—when you set out to write a Threshold Guardian or a Spiritual Father or an Emotional Mother or a Terrible Father, (or if you want to do more of a “Save the Cat” version, the Nosy Neighbor or the Funny Best Friend)—when you start to write those archetypes, you usually end up not writing archetypes, but instead writing stereotypes.
Where does a real archetype come from? Well, the concept of an archetype comes from Jung, comes from the collective unconscious, comes from this idea that there’s a shared fabric that you can tap into, that all of these characters actually already exist in you, just like all of the characters of Wanda’s world already exist in her.
All of the characters that inhabit those worlds are both a true projection of some beautiful part of you, and also living, breathing entities that have their own purpose and their own journey, just like Vision does when he decides he wants to leave Wanda’s imaginary world and do the right thing.
In this way, the characters that live inside us and inside our screenplays are both under our control, and not under our control.
We can focus them, by knowing who they are and what they are and what part of us they represent. But we also need to let them be themselves so that we don’t smother them as she smothers them with her control and with her grief, so that our characters at the edges don’t just become automatons hanging the clothesline again and again. We want our characters to be fully breathing.
The way that we do that is not by trying to write an archetype. The way that we do that is by trusting that the archetype exists, by reaching into the collective unconscious, the Mind Stone in us, and asking ourselves, “What is the part of us that that character represents?”
You find Vision—who you thought was your grief, but is actually your love—and you go and you blow life into that part of yourself. And sure, he’s a body of wires and bone and blood that you created. Sure, he’s sadness. Sure, he’s hope, but you know, at his core, he’s mostly the part of you that’s your love.
Similarly, you might connect to the part of yourself that is your surrender or you might reach into the part of you that is your feeling of unworthiness and realize, “Oh my God. That’s Agnes.” Agnes is the embodiment of my feeling of unworthiness. Agnes’ superpower is that she sucks power from those who give it to her. She sucks power away from those who consider themselves unworthy. Agnes’ power is that she uses her education to make others feel inferior and to take their power.
Agnes doesn’t just do this at the end when she reveals herself to be a witch. She’s doing this throughout. She is always the one who is forcing Wanda to conform, to try to keep up with the Joneses, to try to behave appropriately. She’s the one who’s—even as she acts the part of helpful mentor—constantly undermining Wanda’s belief in herself.
You don’t write characters by trying to write a type of person, or trying to conform to the qualities of some archetype you found in a book, because you’re going to write a cliche.
You don’t write a character by trying to write someone outside of you, “Oh, I’m going to write that person over there, that person from history, I’m going to write my father, I’m going to write my mother…”
No, that’s not who you’re writing.
What you’re writing is the part of that person that resides in you.
What is the part of me that’s Thomas Edison? What is the part of me that is my mother? What is the part of me that is Vision? What is the part of me that is Wanda?”
In the same way that theme of love and grief focuses the structure of WandaVision, that theme that drives that character and that part of you that represents that character is the true archetype. That’s what reminds you what this character is.
As you watch WandaVision, I would encourage you to ask yourself this very simple but very profound question: What is the vision for your life and your art that for all its beauty is holding you back?
What is the belief about how your life is supposed to be or how your script is supposed to be that you need to let go of in order to step into your power as an artist?
What is that part of you that you need to process?
What is the craft that you need to learn so that your work cannot just be chaos magic, but can be the true embodiment of your voice?
And how can you honor the beautiful influences of your writing that mean so much to you, even as you step into the kind of writing that only you can do?
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*Edited for length and clarity