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When your plot feels too thin.

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  #1  
Old 03-17-2010, 06:49 PM
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Default When your plot feels too thin.


This has been a primary problem in my stories, I love working out story elements, details and intricate backstories, but what I would call the 'current' plot always seems to be tiding pool thin and draped in later-explained story points. This of course leads me to feel that my plot isn't stable enough to support the world it's progressing into.

Does anyone else have any kind of problems with establishing a plot-line? I realise it's the backbone of a story but really, is there any kind of practiced method or exercise that can be done to strengthen it? What should I be concentrating on to make sure I have a jumping off point?

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Old 03-17-2010, 07:14 PM
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I have the same problem. One reason I like doing screenplays. I'm essentially the kind of guy who seeks a clean drive to the heart, dislike complications and setbacks.

Not a good impulse in story-writing. You look at a guy like Bernard Cornwell or John Nichols, every time their characters get something going, boom it blows up in their face and they're frustrated, if not actually in peril.

One way to do this is with a bunch of subplots, but I think the best impulse is to look for chances to twitch things away for the moment. He's finally got the bad guy locked up and ready for the chick to come over and finally deliver and suddenly he gets a call--the asshole has escaped, shot his best friend in the process, and is holding the girl up to the phone whimpering. Or something, you know.

Take a look at one that caught my attention, The Matrix. Okay it's got a plot cooking, there's baddies at their heels... but look what happens. One of their own gets seduced by neuro-Maya and is a traitor. Now you've got some real shit going on.
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Old 03-17-2010, 09:14 PM
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Feed it some chicken.

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Old 03-18-2010, 08:09 AM
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I have the exact opposite problem guys. I have what I feel are nice backbones to stories but I have problems growing them into full stories.

Mine are like this guy goes into a room and does this. I don't know what he or the room looks like but I know what he does and what he is going to do next.


Good luck on thickening up the plots.
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Old 03-18-2010, 08:30 AM
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Originally Posted by SW View Post
Feed it some chicken.

You called? :tongue:
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Old 03-18-2010, 08:31 AM
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one thing I do with stories I like but aren't big enough to take care of themselves is toss them in a file then one day maybe I'll take four or five of them and cram them into a story that's got enough legs.
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Old 04-06-2010, 07:15 PM
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I would start by figuring out what it is that your character wants most. What are they pursuing or working towards in the story? Is Hank trying to get the big promotion, make a drug bust, or maybe heal a broken marriage? What's he trying to accomplish?

Identify that, then rip it away from him. Some new guy gets the job he's been eying for 15 years. The drug dealer slips away through a window. He just got served divorce papers. Then you've got a story going.

Take it a step further and make it personal to have a solid story that can take off and drag you along for the ride. Lets say Hank's best friend, who got his current job at Hank's company because of Hank's recommendation, steps in and gets the promotion. The drug dealer only escapes with the help of a guy Hank let off the hook two years prior. Hank is served divorce papers by the local sheriff who also happens to be the small town gossip, and his soon-to-be ex's new boyfriend.

Now you've got a good story.
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Old 04-07-2010, 04:15 AM
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I don't know if this will help you, but I bought a software called new novelist 2. Kind of a bad title for experianced writers, but I bought it because I tend to have like 60 sheets of paper for plot ideas, objects, characters, places, notes and stuff.

Well NN2 has a page in the middle of the screen. On the right there's a side bar which opens up to reveal all my notes on characters, objects and places as well as research notes (such as links to pages about wolves social habbits). On the left theres a side bar with plot help. To get the right plot help you have to classify your story when you start the story and it runs through how to do that.

I forgot what mines classed as but what I have open now has:
Story Creation Step 1 should reveal the following:
HERO'S PERSONALITY AND BACKGROUND SETTING
The main character ("Hero") is in his/her world (the "Ordinary World") doing the things (s)he normally does. At this point the Hero is not involved in any of the activities that will characterise the rest of the story. By describing the everyday activity, you can start to reveal (rather than just state) the Hero's personal characteristics and inner world. It may be that the Hero has a particular strength or weakness of character that will determine how (s)he behaves later on, and that should be hinted at here. It may also be that the Hero has a particular strength or weakness of character that will determine how (s)he behaves later on, and that should be hinted at here. At this stage there is no sign of the physical transformation of the Hero.

Keep in mind that the Ordinary World of the Hero can be presented through some ordinary activity or the Hero's typical state of mind. Of course, what's "normal" or "ordinary" for the Hero is relative. In some cases - especially fantasies - the Hero's "Ordinary World" might, to us, be quite extraordinary. This is particularly likely to be the case in a Supernatural story, and this is a Story Type where you can really let your imagination go.

Examples of Personality Revelation
* In The Fly, Seth Brundle is a brilliant, eccentric scientist researching the possibility of teleporting live matter.
* In Don’t Look Now, Laura and John are part of a loving family, at home with their children.
* In Stepford Wives, Joanna is a spirited young woman moving from the city to the quiet suburbs.

INTERACTION
The Hero interacts with the Hero's Helpers who populate the Ordinary World. This is all part of building an overall picture of the Hero's personality and background.
FORESHADOWING
There needs to be just a hint of the "Extraordinary World" that the Hero will be entering in the future. This hint will in some way be connected to the Hero's Antagonist, though usually the Antagonist is not yet introduced directly.

Examples of Foreshadowing
* In the Fly
* In Don’t Look Now, John spills his red drink over photographs while working one afternoon, and knows something is wrong. He runs outside to find his daughter, in a red coat, has drowned in the pond. Later, in Venice, the red coat returns when it is worn by the dwarf killer.
* In an early scene in Stepford Wives, Joanna finds that her portrait is being drawn over drinks. She has no idea at this stage that this drawing is part of the sinister process of turning women into robots.

MOOD AND CONTEXT
Story-Creation Step 1 should be a crafted prelude, presenting all the motifs that will later, bit by bit, come together in the overall picture. This opening Step should suggest an imbalance in the Hero's World - an imbalance that, by the story's end, will be redressed. Think of it as a piece of music, where the final chords will bring together in harmony all the disparate fragments of tunes and variant keys that have threaded in and out of the piece from the opening chords onwards.

Examples of Mood and Context
* Fly...
* Venice's eerie, silent waterways and dark narrow streets form the backdrop of Don't Look Now, a story suffused in grief, despair and hints of the supernatural.
* Stepford, Connecticut, reveals an "ideal" suburban community, of neat lawns and wives in aprons and men driving wood-panelled Ford station wagons. Into this stifling atmosphere comes Joanna, who is immediately at odds with the feel of the community.

TIMELINE
The scenes in this Step should take up about two percent of your story. (NB: For a 256-page novel this amounts to around five pages.) However, this is a guideline only and you should let the needs of your particular story dictate.
There's like 14 steps and you can edit it to put in notes. For example in that blaock of text I'd put notes in saying that the main character moves house and finds a wolf in his back garden. Emphasis on the eyes. Welcoming and scary.

So then when I go back to that section of the story I still have my notes on what I'm trying to achieve specifically as well as what that section of the story is for.

If I disagree with any or want to change the order or whatever, I can do too.

Oh and if your the opposite. Brilliant at plot but lacking in description the right hand bar is helpful. For objects I imput the name and it asks two generic questions:
Appearance
Purpose
But then you click on appearance and it holds your hand and asks:
What does the object looks like? What colour is it?Can you touch it? If so, what does it feel like?
What does it smell like? What does it taste like?
Does it make a noise? If so, what sort of sound does it make?
There are three for purpose.
It does the same sort of thing for places and people. And you can add your own large questions and small sub questions as you like as well.

Last edited by Amo_Angelus; 04-07-2010 at 04:19 AM..
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  #9  
Old 04-07-2010, 07:34 AM
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God, just reading that feels like Satan is licking my brains after having his tongue in my butt.
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Old 04-16-2010, 10:55 AM
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Maybe you don't have enough sub plots, or maybe you haven't fully worked out how everything/one is interconnected. I had this problem before, where I had the idea for a story but there was nothing of it, just events and scenes. A timeline might come in handy for you now. Fill in the events/situations/scenes etc. that you've created, using a different colour, or some other easily identifiable marker for each character. You're going to want to keep the reader's attention for the entire book, so something should be happening to each main character, good or bad, for pretty much the whole book. If you find any gaps or places without all the colours you need to consider the possibilities - what's the best, or worst, thing that could happen to that particular character at that point? Write it in, even if you don't keep it as part of the plot, or move it to another part for later use, because it's giving you the freedom to build up your plot as you progress.

Don't worry about little details for each particular scene now, work them out as you go along or you'll end up with a plot outline that is basically the whole novel in note form. Always relate everything back to the main characters and/or plot, that way you won't end up throwing in random scenes just to bulk out the plot. The best thing you can do is just think about conflicts that will affect the characters, and this will almost automatically fill in your plot.

Hope I helped
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Old 04-16-2010, 11:58 AM
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So there's something wrong with random scenes involving subplots and minor characters?

Why?
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Old 04-16-2010, 12:22 PM
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No, there's nothing wrong with it, but adding in a random scene that is completely unrelated is a bit pointless, don't you think?

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  #13  
Old 04-16-2010, 01:04 PM
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Writing a novel is pointless.
That idea that every word must serve the plot, and that the main characters are the only one's that matter is the sort of thing you hear in writing classes and books and such, but in the real world of successful books, they are pretty useless.

Since there have been mention of films here, check out some Guy Richie films. Or Tarantino. You watch Chicago and suddenly there's this song by a minor character about a side issue that has nothing to do with the plot. I've seen the same thing in a couple of stage plays: in one an usher suddenly steps up on stage and tells about his austic son. A very moving moment...nothing to do with the plot or characters of the play.

Here's a more concrete danger. Ever see a TV series called "Family Ties"? It was a family show, kind of like Cosby. But this nerd neighbor kid used to pop in and do a number now and then. Almost nothing to do with the episode or the characters.
Guess what happened? By the time the show went off the air, Urkel WAS the show. Several of the family members never even had lines anymore, some quietly dropped from the cast. Urkel was the star.

It's cool when stuff like that happens. You don't want to rule it out by arbitrarily deciding who are the characters who are allowed to count.
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Old 04-30-2010, 09:28 AM
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Normally when my plot gets super dull I do a what if.. and try to come up with a subplot. I writer short stories mostly.. so having my couple end up trapped in a building that's on fire creates a fun and excited story!
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Old 05-03-2010, 02:10 PM
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characters need to be... active players... they have to do things, and have things done to and for them... they interact with their enviroments, they need enemies, and conflicts, major and minor, they need... lovers, jobs, friends, careers, histories... Of course, you don't have to include everything, but, if they are real people, they do real things occasionally- they take taxis, jump on airplanes, buy groceries...

And yes- every word matters. Every single one. There's no point padding out stories- it's always obvious, and looks... lame. But... a story does sometimes need a lull- after a show-down, after a car chase, an escape, an arguement, a murder, whatever. Yes, these "lulls" need to be full of something, but it's not all action, and tension, and these "lulls" are a great place to reveal more about the characters and their stories...

I don't bother with fancy software, etc, to help me work on a novel- I do what Lin does- if I have a story that doesn't seem to be going anywhere, I put them into a file, and when I begin writing something else I look over the scenes, etc, the characters, in this "junk" file, and if I can use any of it at a later date I do/have done/shall.

I think it's a mistake to try and pad the novel out with overblown descriptions. A "large, mohair, red-and-blue cushion cover" will have to become a "large, mohair cushion cover" eventually.

If the story you're working on doesn't seem to be going anywhere; stop... work on something else for a day or two. If, in that day or two, no great story fragments for the current MS come your way, well, maybe its time to write something else...

If you just can't face the idea of working on something else, then you have to start making lists.

List One: work out what happens in the
"beginning-middle-end": Think of the book as three thirds: "introduction and set up" (first third) "development and conflict" (second third) "increased conflict and resolution".

Once you've done that... work out what happens chapter by chapter.

you have to....

"Increase tension": work in subplots, reveal secrets, add a sprinkle of foreshadowing...

"improve character development", who does what? what's their motivation? what kind of person are they, psychologically? How will that type of person react in this situation?

Then... you should have a workable novel in your hands.
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Old 05-03-2010, 02:23 PM
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And yes- every word matters. Every single one.
Hyperbole.
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Old 05-03-2010, 02:35 PM
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lol, Lin
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Old 05-05-2010, 01:27 AM
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I write what I call Religious Sci-Fi. So when I get to a snag in the story or need filler material I just go to the Ten Commandments and see how many of them I can break in that story.
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Old 05-17-2010, 01:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Lin View Post
one thing I do with stories I like but aren't big enough to take care of themselves is toss them in a file then one day maybe I'll take four or five of them and cram them into a story that's got enough legs.
I've done that. I sometimes feel my plots are too thin as well, and long for thicker. I take old, undeveloped ideas and sometimes combine them and it's enough to make for a thicker, deeper story. Can relate entirely.
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Old 06-07-2010, 05:55 PM
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Here is an exerpt from my book on creative writing.

In short, plot is the story. If your plot is weak it's because the story is weak.

Plot, is the series of events moving a story from beginning to end.
Plot is most evident in middle story, but includes the events in the
beginning, and the end. Everything that happens, which has important
consequences for the characters, is plot.

Important consequences are those that change story direction, move
the story forward, or affect characters. Descriptions, exposition, and
narratives are not part of the plot. What characters do, think, feel, and
say, which affects the rest of the story, are part of the plot. No
character action is part of the plot if the story would be the same if the
action never happened. Even very small events can be part of the plot,
if the consequences are significant.

The plot of a story consists of a series of connected, sequential
events, in separate scenes. Each event is a specific point in the story,
where the hero’s goals are subjected to opposition, and the hero’s
motivation tested. The conflict between the hero’s attempts, and the
villain’s opposition to the attainment of the hero’s goals, are the
foundation of plot. Ambition, injustice, desire, and choice, are some of
the elements of the conflict affecting the hero’s goals. Each plot event
must have at least one element of conflict exposed or established as
part of the story.

Scenes can, and should, serve more than one plot purpose. They
can introduce, or expand characters and their motivation. They can
provide facts needed for later scenes. They can move the story location
or direction, and they certainly should show conflict or opposition. For
a plot to be effective, and have the reader care about the story, the
reader must believe there is something at stake. Readers must be
convinced that what happens is important to the characters.

The only fix for a weak plot is better preparation and planning. Plotting is
a writing activity which must be done before story writing starts.

Sub-plots consist of scenes and events outside the main story line
that provide contrast or relief to the main story. They can be used to
shift story scenes to locations where the presence of main story
characters would be impractical or impossible. Sub-plot characters can
reveal facts to the reader without the knowledge of the main story
characters.

Sub-plots can be used to suspend the action of the main story to
build suspense, or to relieve tension. A jump to a sub-plot just before
important main story activity can create suspense, or it can cause the
reader to skip pages to get back to the main story. A shift to a sub-plot
after a main story crisis, can relieve tension.

Sub-plots can provide story action while the main plot is
temporarily quiet due to necessary time passage in the main story. This
can provide an interval for a major character to travel to a new location,
or account for the time passage required for a protagonist to recover
from, or prepare for, a confrontation with the antagonist.

Sub-plots can mirror main story conflicts using minor characters to
show the reader alternative approaches or outcomes, to story issues.
Sub-plot characters should be introduced well in advance of the
first separation of the sub-plot from the main story line, to allow
readers time to get to know the characters, and their backgrounds.

Writers should ensure the main plot line is well established before
starting a sub-plot with an alternate line of action. Do not have a subplot
without first establishing how the sub-plot will assist the main plot.
There must be a story reason for the sub-plot. A sub-plot can start and
end at any time, but it must be substantial enough to interest a reader,
and necessary to move the story forward. Sub-plots that are short in
nature will clutter the story and confuse the reader. Too many subplots,
will do the same.

Care must be taken to ensure any sub-plots are, and remain, well
connected to the main story, or there is a danger that the story will
become two stories. Sub-plots need action, scenes, opposition and final
resolution the same as the main story line. Minor characters in subplots
can be killed off if the main story action demands, but the simple
elimination of characters is not a valid way to resolve sub-plot
conflicts, the reason for the conflict must be ended too.

More than one subplot only confuses the story and the reader.

Tony
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Old 06-07-2010, 05:57 PM
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The only fix for a weak plot is better preparation and planning. Plotting is
a writing activity which must be done before story writing starts.
Whoa. don't mind bold statements, do you, Tony?


More than one subplot only confuses the story and the reader.
??????!!!!!!!!!?????????!!!!!!!!!
Holy cats!

Last edited by Lin; 06-07-2010 at 06:00 PM..
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Old 06-07-2010, 07:52 PM
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Hello Lin,
I calls it as I sees it. No offence intended. The biggest mistake new writers commit is thinking they can just sit down and start writing. I'm a firm believer in planning and preparation. Here's another excerpt:

Creating an effective plot that moves characters through engaging
activities from the establishment of the story premise, to the story
resolution, is not an impromptu affair. It requires careful and precise
planning, appropriate action, and continuous polishing. A good plot
cannot be built upon an unstable premise, or unbelievable characters.
Plot relies upon the reader's acceptance of possible, probable events
and actions. Unrealistic, and improbable activities, can never support a
reader's necessary suspension of disbelief.
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Old 06-07-2010, 07:58 PM
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You realize that many extremely popular books don't really have plots at all?

And that some other best-sellers and super-classics are not structured on plot arc, but merely by moving around and things happening?

The temptation to make sweeping "rules" about fiction almost always leads one to error.

And I just don't know what to think about the "no more than one subplot" thing pother than advise checking out some successful novels and taking a look.

(By the way, some highly successful novels don't have one plot with subplots, but are composed of several plots of equal weight woven together.




Unrealistic, and improbable activities, can never support a reader's necessary suspension of disbelief.
Fpr crissaks don't tell JK Rowling that. Or the SF writers. or the fatasy folks or....
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Old 06-08-2010, 02:08 AM
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Hmmm, never thought I'd write this, but I'm with Lin on this one.
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Old 06-08-2010, 06:39 AM
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Of course authors always follow their own path and write what they like, me too!
Nevertheless, knowing what has proven to work best over the years helps writers avoid major problems and generally produces a better story for readers, who are after all, the people authors should want to please. In all design efforts, simplicity leads to elegance, and haphazard writing never improved a story.

You are quite right that many stories achieve popularity despite their organization, and many great stories have several plot, subplots and complication threads: War and Peace comes to mind. Popularity wanes with time and fashion, but enduring stories always have great organization regardless how many intertwining story themes there are. For new writers, and experienced ones too, the KISS principle should prevail. The plot should never confuse and perhaps lose the reader.

In fantasies such as Ms Rowling's, boundaries to belief still exist, and she takes care not to let her imaginary world stray too far from an acceptable reality. Harry Potter is a real-world boy with exceptional, but with youthful imagination, believable capabilities. Her characters have unusual characteristics, but in our real world they could pass as merely excentric. Given the characters and the setting, plot activities are acceptable and within a reader's suspension of disbelief. Alice in Wonderland is much less believable.

Driving a vehicle for ten hours on a straight super-highway is boring. Bumping along on every dusty back road on a long trip is uncomfortable. Driving a well planned route through interesting countryside, with timely rest stops and pauses for refreshment, is a pleasure. Writers should make the trip through their story a pleasure - and that takes planning.

Tony

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Old 06-08-2010, 08:54 AM
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Alice in Wonderland is much less believable.
Oh, you didn't think the talking rabbits were real? So you've got a book with unrealistic premises and zero plot. Obviously nobody will ever read anything like that.

My suggestion would be that everybody (very much including yourself) draw their lessons from published work and not from the "how to" books that it seems like get written every week by people who gave up on writing anything that would get published.

Sorry, but I think it's kind of hard to argue with the concept that it's hard to take all these sweeping generalities and "laws" (and oddball driving metaphors) seriously from somebody who hasn't mastered writing things that will sell.
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Old 06-08-2010, 02:43 PM
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Academics verses The Real World

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The Way It Should Be vs The Way It Is
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Old 06-08-2010, 03:00 PM
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