*ALL the Viewpoints* – Differences in Style Series #3

Annnd I’m back *finally* with another of my “differences in style” pieces. The point of this series is largely to talk about different techniques/styles, while acknowledging a lot of these choices come down to different tastes. Since this is such a common topic, I’m going to be specifically talking about my personal views on viewpoints, some of the ways it can work well and some of the pitfalls of each POV. Let’s get into it!

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First Person Point of View

Kinda what it says on the tin. The benefit of First Person is you get to see the inner workings of one character (usually the mc). There is also “first person peripheral”, which means it’s not the narrator is not the protagonist, instead forcing the reader to view the story through a prism of someone else’s experience. As with The Great Gatsby, it can be used to great effect.

gatsby

Second Person Point of View

stolenThis can be interesting. Okay, I can’t lie, I don’t much like the use of second person for an entire book. Still, I will admit it can be intriguing for certain concepts, like Stolen, where it’s used to address a kidnapper. And I know a lot of people love how unique that is- so again, yay for personal taste!

However, there are lots of pitfalls. It can feel quite gimmicky, especially if there’s no clear reason for it. Also, one mistake I’ve seen is making it unclear who is being addressed. Also, unless it is a “choose your own adventure” book, it doesn’t really make sense to address the protagonist, who is a particular character, as “you” (I saw this in Half Bad and wasn’t a fan).

night circusOn the other hand, I love occasional uses, like the effect it has in Night Circus to make readers feel like the audience. Even better is when it’s used by a narrator to break the forth wall (gotta love Deadpool!)

 

 

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Third Person Limited

This is basically narration limited to one character (and largely encompasses the “deep pov” perspective as well). It’s great for writing more intense close ups of a single character.

Third Person Multiple

Basically as above, just with more than one character. Usually this switch is between chapters. The part where this can get tricky is when it comes to *DANGER UP AHEAD* head hopping territory. I’m going to say something controversial now: I don’t think it’s guaranteed to be bad. I think even this can be done well, in a way that’s not noticeable or makes sense. The biggest issue that can arise is that it can be confusing. Throne_of_Glass_UKHowever, I’ve seen people critique authors like Maas for this, and personally I think she sometimes uses it to great effect or for a reason (like a very intense romantic scene). Obviously I can’t argue with individuals who didn’t like it or found it disorientating, but I have to point out, since this is the whole point of this series, that this is a personal taste thing and I don’t always see it as a problem. Unless it’s unclear to me who is thinking what, or someone has knowledge of thoughts they can’t possibly know, then chances are I won’t bat an eye. I mean, there are exceptions to every rule (even when it comes to “not being able to read minds”, you can have a telepathic character in fantasy, so…)

On this POV, the only question that remains to be asked is: can a book have too many POVs? The answer is, well, yeah. Apart from the issue of character soup, if there’s no real differentiation between characters, all of them can blur together and become feast for crowsdisorientating. Not to mention how unnecessary it can be. Even with books I like, there can be additions that feel superfluous to the plot (*coughs* the later GOT books #sorrynotsorry). That said, the question of “how many is too many?” is entirely personal- what may not work for me, may work for someone else and so on. The only thing I’d advise is to make sure all the characters are relevant/add something to the story and it’s easy to tell them apart.

Third Person Omniscient

tess of the d'urbervillesThe *I SEE EVERYTHING* narrator. I’ve seen people argue that this cannot be mixed with Third Person Limited- I personally view this as poppycock, given a blend of the two types of point of view make up the likes of many a-great novel (I’m thinking of Hardy as a fantastic example, though there would be far too many for me to list). Yes, sometimes an omniscient narrator can see inside a character’s head- they’re all-knowing, it’s not implausible!

Accounting for Personal Taste

When it comes to my own choices, I’ve used most of these at different times- so I really don’t have a strong preference. I think the most important choice is what kind of story do you want to tell? When the focus is on “coming of age” for instance, I prefer first person. And when it’s an epic, I feel like it’s got to be omniscient to have that extra *oomph this shit’s important*. But that’s just me, everyone makes different choices, and they all work in their own way.

Other posts in this series:

Pared down vs Purple prose – Differences in Style #1

The art of Intertextuality vs Innovation – Differences in Style #2

And that’s all for now! Do you have a personal preference? Disagree or agree with anything I’ve said here? Let me know in the comments!

107 thoughts on “*ALL the Viewpoints* – Differences in Style Series #3

  1. I don’t think I could handle an entire book written in second person. Would drive me nuts. I really liked its limited use in Night Circus though. Those little adventures into the tents made me feel like I was really part of the story.

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  2. I will go along with any POV as long as it suits the narrative well. Though I do admit that I have gotten a little tired of the 1st person POV in present tense when reading YA novels. I’ve specifically started asking my friends if the book is in third person now, when they give me recommendations.

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  3. I enjoy reading a variety of POVs (I totally agree with you that it depends on the style of the story and the author as to whether they manage to pull it off). And while I prefer to write in 3rd person – so that the reader gets all that “insider” information – I’m not opposed to 1st, and have done so. Again, it depends on what the work is, though – trying to write The Order of the Twelve Tribes purely in 1st person could be very tricky (even with multiple characters narrating), whereas for my short stories, it felt simpler to try more 1st person POV.

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  4. First Person Point of View is employed in ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ and it makes a mundane story layered and interesting. Great post, makes me want to dig into this topic.

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  5. I really don’t like second person point of view. I just find it weird but that being said, I don’t really read books with second person POV so I haven’t read a good book with it! Also I like third person multiple. Not when it’s used constantly but I do like it because I can picture it like a film and it just flows easier in my mind. My favourite, however, is first person.

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  6. Will I ever get over my dislike for first person POV? Perhaps, but still, I will always prefer multiple and omniscient. Done well, I dont think First person can even come close in terms of depth and character development.

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  7. Haha, I’m so glad someone FINALLY said it! GOT has too many unnecessary POVs! So do the later Throne of Glass books in my opinion, although definitely not as many as GOT. The Heroes of Olympus series I think is a great example of how many is too many. Early on in the series, with only 3 POVs, it’s AWESOME! The third book has I think 5, which starts to be too much, and by book four it gets confusing and disorienting, and by the last book it’s downright bad.

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    1. Strange that with all the switching POV in the Game of Thrones books, the HBO series does not seem to bother to duplicate it. The scene or geographical region switches but i found it hard to tell who in that scene in the book was telling the tale. But i will confess i never got past the first chapter of the first book. Maybe someday! Great post!

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  8. I’ve never really been bothered by POV honestly, but I totally agree with what you said about second POV. It worked in Stolen and the Night Circus, but I think any other book would be iffy.

    Little Fires Everywhere had a Third Person Omniscient, and it was kind of stream-of-consciousness, and I thought it really worked for the story! But again, that’s personal preference

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  9. I don’t think I’ve read a book from 2nd point of view (besides choose your own adventure like you pointed out). It sounds… weird though haha. I’ll have to give it a try though. Just one more reason for me to finally read the Night Circus 😉

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  10. The only POV that usually bothers me is second person. As you said, it tends to be gimmicky. Of course, occasionally a gimmicky book can be interesting (e.g. “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” by Italo Calvino where you, the reader, are the protagonist).

    While I have no problem with third person multiple, I think that some authors use it as an annoying trick for keeping the reader in the dark. When the author constantly cuts away to a new POV (or even just a new scene) just as a character is about to reveal crucial information, it feels cheap and amateurish to me (I’m looking at you, Dan Brown and Steven Erikson).

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    1. Yeah I completely agree. And that’s true, it can work on occasion.

      And yeah I do see that. I definitely notice when it seems shoehorned in (and definitely feel that way about Dan Brown, still need to read Erikson!)

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  11. I like each in certain situations. I feel like first person works well for YA and middle grade because, at those ages, the characters are going to be thinking for themselves, doing things themselves and the reader is also very independent. I think it was especially good for Katniss Everdeen and a few other characters in dystopian fiction. I definitely agree with third person limited for Harry Potter and I liked the way Ann Brashares did the alternating points of view for Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. That takes a lot of skill though, to do it right. 🙂

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  12. This is the first I’m hearing about the second person POV passages in Night Circus! It certainly bumps it up on my TBR 😁.
    Overall, I tend to favor books written in third person, specifically third person limited. Third person multiple can get confusing when the characters aren’t as developed and are quite similar.
    I also like “coming of age” stories written in first person, but sometimes the narration borders on… cringey(?) for me.

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    1. Brilliant!! I’m so glad! It’s beautifully written and well worth reading 😁
      I totally get that. And that makes a lot of sense.
      And yeah that makes sense- I have read ones where I really didn’t like the voice, so that spoiled the book for me. So yeah, definitely can end up being cringey- excellent point!

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  13. I really enjoyed your post and learned a lot! I am not too bothered by POV usually, but I’m going to think about it more as I read going forward. I’m sure there are things that have worked better or worse for me, but I haven’t focused enough on it! 😊

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  14. I honestly didn’t realize there was a second person narrative. I wonder if I’ve read and liked a book like that. I didn’t even realize there were so many different things person narratives. I personally like first person, single character POVs the best. But, as I realized with my most recent read, I can go for first person multiple views as long as there aren’t more than like 4 or something crazy and the chapters are labelled so I don’t get confused. But then I think about some of my favorite fantasy books like Hidden Legacy by Ilona Andrews and I’m pretty sure it sort of blended between the protagonist and the secondary but it was done well so I dunno. Like you said, it all come down to personal preference and I don’t think you really realize that you like a certain POV style til you read the book. Aaaah! Such a great post! Can’t wait for the next one!

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    1. Yeah I don’t think it’s that common and have only read a couple of books that were written that way/had large sections written that way. That makes a lot of sense- I love those as well. And yeah I really agree with you- I find that if there’s loads I find it hard to keep track and get lost. hehe yeah exactly! Aww thank you!! I’m so glad you liked it 😁😁 ❤

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  15. I can see the merits in all the different types of POV. I think a lot of times it really depends on the genre or the story that the author is trying to tell. A deeply person and emotional read definitely is going to come across better as a first person POV than it would as a third person limited, for example. I’m with you though that sometimes too many POVs can be too many. If a book has multiple POVs, I prefer authors limit themselves to 3 or at max 4.

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    1. Yeah I really agree. And absolutely. I do personally think that there is a limit for number of povs though- sometimes it depends on the length of the book how many is too many (cos a longer book can get away with more) But it’s best to stick to 3-4 imo.

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  16. It really depends on what kind of book I’m reading, but I’m okay with any type of narrative. But sometimes I prefer the third person narrative because it wouldn’t bother me so much if I don’t like the protagonist. First thing that comes to mind is the Red Queen series. Mare drove me crazy in Glass Sword, more so because the whole book was from her POV. I might have liked it more if it wasn’t in the first person.
    Great discussion! 🙂

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  17. I like a mixture of POVs myself. Keeps things interesting, and each book calls for a different use. Some stories work better with others, that’s just the way it is 🙂

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  18. Our preferences are so similar! I generally don’t like second person and I am sceptical when it comes to first person. Not because I believe there is anything inherently wrong with those styles but it’s so difficult getting them right. What is really important for me is clarity. I absolutely hate it when I can’t understand about whom the scene is or who is talking.

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  19. The most interesting use of POV hopping I’ve read recently is definitely ‘The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ in which it’s all the protagonist’s POV, but their mind is inside different people.
    I love when people experiment with little basic thing’s like ‘Who’s telling this story anyway?’
    Although that inevitably comes with the caveat that some experiments don’t work!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It was the best thing an old English teacher taught me – Try things out but be prepared for them to suck! And be prepared to be *told* they suck too!
        It’s too easy to say ‘I’m doing something no one else has done’, and entirely fail to grasp that the reason may be because it’s not a great thing to do in the first place!

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  20. Nice overview. I don’t have a preference either. For the most part I write as a narrator. I feel it gives me freedom to move into the mind of the different character, but I’m exploring options. Thanks for sharing

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  21. The older I get, the less I like the big fantasy multiple POV novel. The later books in the Wheel of Time first turned me off from it, and of course Game of Thrones. It’s as though authors just can’t stop themselves.
    I do prefer to read 1st person or 3rd person limited. Omniscient is fine for a classic novel, but it turns me off in modern fiction. I can’t stand head hopping. I prefer a more singular intimate reading experience. I guess I prefer my POV style on the simple side. Although, I do think it’s harder to for a writer to keep the POV consistent in 3rd person limited.

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  22. Any viewpoint done well is fine with me. However, I find that it is hard to do first-person-present, and *incredibly difficult* to do second person POV. So when I find a good books in one of those POVs (especially second person) I am that much more impressed with the writing style. Partly because the author first has to get over my massive disbelief at the beginning that they chose that format.

    And head-hopping only bugs me when it’s done poorly. Like in the middle of a sex scene with no indication whatever that we’d changed POV until the (new) POV character starts describing things s/he is doing that I thought were anatomically impossible because I didn’t realize we’d changed partners.

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    1. Yeah that makes a lot of sense. Oh yeah that’s very true. That’s fair enough- and I completely get what you mean (I often find myself having trouble with books written in present tense as well tbh)

      And yes for sure. That makes complete sense. If I get lost in a scene then I’ll notice it and critique it. But sometimes it can be artistically done and I’m not lost, so I consider it just to be something that can be done well or done badly. hahaha that makes sense lol!

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      1. I love artistically done dialogue, because let’s be honest, the “he said” “she said” dialogue tags can get boring. It’s a fine line between artistic and confusing sometimes, though.

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  23. I actually don’t remember the last time I read a book in second person, so the fact that The Night Circus is written in that POV makes me want to read it even more out of curiosity. Thank you for another informative “Differences in Style” post! I love this series! 😊

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  24. Lovely post! ❤ I don't think I've ever read a book told in second person, and to be completely honest, I'm a bit scared this would confuse me a whole lot? But I'll have to try someday haha 🙂

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  25. Oh wow! What a great series! I have to check out your other posts now. Soooo excited!

    My favorite perspective is always second person. I feel like it’s incredibly immersive! However, you’re right, it’s a real challenge to pull off. The potential gimmick factor is high. N.K. Jemisin uses this quite effectively in all her writing. ❤

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  26. Important to explain the styles of authors. Everything is a personal preference, but I have seen many folks write their reviews about which they’ve stopped reading after a certain amount due to the POV and style of the author. The minute I let go of this, the minute I started to enjoy a wider variety of authors. It is very rare that I come across a published book that doesn’t provide closure, and if it doesn’t, it’s alluding to a sequel of what’s yet to come. After I read some Socrates and Plato, I realized that POV isn’t the only point to the experience of the reader – it’s understanding that there are intricate meanings that are overlooked and require a deeper analysis (this is pertaining to more complicated reads, of course). Gandhi and MLK write in second person, which explores an empowering experience, for example. Great writeup on this topic of POV, btw.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes absolutely agree with you there. I do think that people are entitled to their taste tbh- so I’m trying to actually get better at putting down the books that aren’t for me. Of course POV isn’t the only thing about a book and it really shouldn’t be something that largely puts people off important literature. That’s very interesting- good point. Thanks for reading!

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  27. I don’t have a personal preference as far as it’s well executed. I know the one POV is the easiest and multiple POV can be tricky as we have to really differentiate the “voice” in each chapter. I have to knwo it’s “X” speaking because it feels like “X” not because the chapter is titled “X”.

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  28. I tend to lean more toward first-person and third-person limited narrators because they are great for deeper analysis of the character and can also be misleading if the narration is unreliable, which I like too.
    Second-person I like when used well, like in the Night Circus, as you pointed out, but even for an entire book, like Caroline Kepnes’s “You” which is an awesome read.

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  29. Another that all comes down to the book for me and not necessarily one particular method. I can fall in love with any of them if the story is done rather well and the style is used to the books advantages in getting the story across. 🙂

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  30. Uh, second person would be weird I assume! I don’t think I ever read a book written like that 😀

    I am a fan of first person narrators & multiple third person povs or even limited third person.

    Not a fan of the omniscient narrator.

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  31. Such a great post!

    I still haven’t warmed up towards 2nd person. Also 1st person present tense is something I sometimes struggle with. Especially if it’s multiple 1st person narratives.
    I guess I probably prefer 3rd person multiple POV as that gives multiple views and also can turn into a guessing game if characters are trying to work something out but don’t have all that information but the reader does.

    With that said, there have been books where 1st person narrative really did work for me.. so it all depends I guess… apart from that 2nd person narrative, I just can’t do it…🙈🙈🙈

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  32. Great post! I also don’t really have a preference, though like you I’m not generally a fan of second person unless it is used to good effect/with purpose (your example of Dead Pool is a great one – breaking of the fourth wall is tricky to do well but when it works it’s awesome). I haven’t read Night Circus but that sounds like a good use of it with the audience thing.

    I also agree with you that head hopping isn’t bad if it’s done well – I actually don’t even notice it’s happening as long as the author makes it clear enough whose head we’re in… e.g. I’ve read Throne of Glass and didn’t even realise it did that. Oops! I do find it impossible to head hop in my own writing though, I have to have a chapter break (it’s interesting you mention telepathy because I actually have a character like that in my current WIP so I can cheat a bit with him knowing what the other characters are feeling/thinking 🙂 )

    Oh, and I totally agree with you with too many POVs!! I know I’m a fantasy fan so I’m supposed to love lots them, but I really get irritated if there are too many. I tend to prefer 3 or less (though that said, I didn’t mind 6 in Six of Crows… but I think that’s a bit different because they’re all in the same space/part of the same story line, not spread across a continent).

    I know this is only tangentially related, but what do you think about past vs present tense? I’m not so fussy when it comes to viewpoints, but I’m so used to past tense I sometimes find it hard to adjust to things written in present tense (especially if there’s switching back and forth).

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  33. Great post to cover them all! With every book I just came to understand that I didn’t have a preference for any style as long as the author masters it and uses it skillfully. I feel like the first-person one is harder to nail for some since you, as a reader, have to find it all believable and authentic (as a voice).

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  34. Great discussion post on POV. I can read any POV. For me, it’s how well did the author use the POV he/she chose. Your review example of Night Circus is a case in point. The limited second person used enhanced the story. First person can become over used. Sometimes its like I’m directly wired into the character’s head. Personally, I love multiple POV done in limited third person. When done well, you feel as if your a member of the group. You have as much a stake as the other members. ♥️

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  35. I don’t think I’ve ever read an entire book in second person, but I do remember part of Half Bad being written that way and it was quite effective as well. It made you feel like you were the one being held captive, but I also remember a lot of people being confused about that part of the book haha so I guess that is really not a POV that will work all the time.
    Great post!!!!

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  36. Very interesting topic!

    The only book that I can think of off the top of my head that includes 2nd person POV is The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. I must admit, it did take a little while to get used to. Thankfully it was only used sparingly – only a few short chapters. I think this may be the best way to use this POV.

    There are so many times I finish a book where I wish the author would have chosen to tell a story in a different POV. It can definitely make or break a book.

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  37. Lol I want to echo all the 2nd person is just not for me. Recently I read some short stories (in Meet Cute, a YA anthology) and a couple did have 2nd person POV // one failed miserably at it, and the other, by Nina LaCour, used it as a framing device and it was GREAT.

    I pretty much always prefer 3rd person, in any way, over 1st. I think you can lose a lot of the sense of the world that way, either because the narrator /knows/ the world and doesn’t have to relay it to the reader, or the narrator is focused very inward and self-reflective and more on their social/emotional struggles than anything else. I didn’t really like it in The Hunger Games for that reason and that’s why I preferred the movies (mostly); they showed a lot of what the book glossed over, implied, or ignored. And, lol, I just wanted more. I really liked 1st person in Tanith Lee’s Claidi journals, I mean, it’s Tanith Lee, she can’t not be descriptive, lol, but Claidi’s voice was just so strong and interesting (because she was interested in what was going on around her).

    Thanks for these awesome posts!

    Like

  38. This is a great post- just makes one realize how much thought has to go into writing a book.. you know, if that’s important to the author… which I am sure it is in most cases. I wonder how often is the POV a thought out choice as opposed to ‘it’s comfortable to write in this pov’ ???
    Anyway, I don’t have a preference myself- I hardly ever even notice whether it’s first, second of third person POV variety… I can’t recall a book that this element of the story made me NOT like the story, either.. hmm… Interesting! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much! And yeah I definitely think it’s an important question every time (although I can only speak for myself and talk about what other writers have said- I think some people do what’s easier, although I think it should be a thought out choice)
      Fair enough! Thank you!

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