Paula Writes

Paula Puddephatt – Author

Why Your Story’s Theme Matters — August 16, 2019

Why Your Story’s Theme Matters

theme-matters

Your story’s theme is not the same as its plot.

Theme is the deeper meaning, the underlying message, behind your story, and much more Universal.

In three of Jane Austen’s novels, the themes are right there in the titles: “Pride and Prejudice”, “Persuasion”, and “Sense and Sensibility”.

When attempting to define your own themes, think in terms of a phrase, or sentence. Maybe two sentences, but rarely more.

Theme isn’t reserved for Literary Fiction, or any particular genre.

Ideally, theme should be identifiable in any story we create.

Sometimes, our own themes will be obvious to us, but at other times, not at all. We tend to bury the deeper meaning, and may find it difficult to pinpoint.

Whilst it’s possible to tell a great story without specifically considering the theme, it does help to know the intentions, reason, and purpose, behind what we’re doing, as writers.

What compels us to complete a particular novel? What, ultimately, are we hoping to achieve through our works in progress?

Theme is essential, because it’s what makes your work special. Unique.

A plot is a series of connected events.

Characters are of central importance, because they are the people aspect, and the particular people experiencing the events in question.

But, to tie the whole together, there’s going to be a why.

Why should readers be following these specific people, as they go through these specific life events?

What can the reader expect to gain from reading your work?

What will they learn, on an emotional, or even spiritual, level, that can be applied beyond the limited scope of the story world?

 

These are some brief thoughts, on the subject of theme in stories. Hopefully, this will help you, as you begin to consider and explore your own themes.

 

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Characters and the Role of Pets — May 22, 2019

Characters and the Role of Pets

characters-pets

Does your MC have any pets?

How about your other characters, starting with major characters? If not, why not? And did they ever have pets?

And let’s be as specific as possible.

Two dogs, yes. But try two Labradors. Okay, one Black Labrador, and one Chocolate. Names?

Dog people. Cat people. Someone with a house full of parrots. The fact is that animals are important in many of our lives.

A pet can even become, effectively, another character.

At any rate, the relationships between our fictional people and their pets can speak volumes. It can help from a character development point of view.

If your MC has a pet rabbit and you yourself never have, research pet rabbits, as if you were planning to buy one yourself.

It might not seem necessary, if the rabbit doesn’t actually play a significant role in your story, but knowing such details about aspects of the character’s daily life does matter.

The more effort you put into these areas, the more you will ultimately connect, and come to understand, your protagonist, and other main (and even minor) characters.

In conclusion then, do take the time to consider pets.

This seemingly small tip is one that can actually make a significant different, if you’ve created characters, but they feel somewhat distant, or like cardboard cut-out archetypes.

Pets can give characters the edge, and transform them from names, ages, and traits, into actual people: people readers can believe in, and care about.

Inspirational Quotes for Writers — April 10, 2019

Inspirational Quotes for Writers

inspiration-writers

Searching for inspirational and motivational quotes for writers?

If you’re a writer, hoping to find positive quotes, then this post is for you. These are some of my personal favourites.

I have to start with the central message of the Paula Writes blog, and associated social media accounts: Believe in yourself and your dreams.

Believe in yourself and your dreams.

believe-self

View more Believe in Yourself and Your Dreams images on a specific post, dedicated to these.

“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” – Gloria Steinem

writing-is-the-only-thing

“What doesn’t kill us gives us something new to write about.” – Julie Wright

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“A writer is simply a photographer of thoughts.” – Brandon A. Trean

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“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” – Gustave Flaubert

art-writing

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your own stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” – Anne Lamott

you-own-your-story

“I write only because there is a voice within me that will not be still.” – Sylvia Plath

i-write-only

“Poetry is my deepest health.” – Sylvia Plath

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“Poems are moments’ monuments.” – Sylvia Plath

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“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

creative-self-doubt

“You must stay drunk on writing, so reality cannot destroy you.” – Ray Bradbury

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“Write hard and clear about what hurts.” – Ernest Hemingway

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“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway

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“When writing a novel, a writer should create living people: people, not characters. A character is a caricature.” – Ernest Hemingway

create-people

“Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself.” – Octavia E. Butler

every-story

 

Keep believing, always.

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What is Literary Fiction? — March 27, 2019

What is Literary Fiction?

define-literary-fiction

Let’s begin with what Literary Fiction is not: Genre fiction.

Genre fiction includes, for example: Romance, Crime, Thriller, Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. There will be many subgenres within any particular genre.

Some authors of genre fiction have a very specific niche, and stay within this, whilst others move around within different subgenres, or even genres.

Particular novels may blend two or more genres, with varying degrees of success.

Genre novels adhere, at least to some extent, to conventions and formulas. There will be strong reader expectations, such as the crime being solved, by the detective in a Murder Mystery, and a happy ending in a Romance.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that genre writing is not high quality, or lacking originality. The standard of genre fiction varies widely, and it’s a misconception that genre is automatically inferior to Literary Fiction.

Equally, it’s wrong to assume that Literary Fiction is merely pretentious, and not as genuinely enjoyable to read as genre fiction.

Identifying a Literary novel in a bookstore or library should be relatively straightforward, aside from the section in which you discover the book.

In precisely the same way that a genre and subgenre can usually be established, at a glance: The cover.

Book cover trends vary over time but, whatever the current design trends might be, the tendency is for covers to Do What It Says On The Tin.

It’s how marketing works, and the most immediate way to communicate instantly to potential readers, whether your story is likely to appeal to them.

One vital aspect of Literary Fiction is the tendency to address deeper themes.

It’s true that there is genre fiction out there that also does this, but with Literary Fiction, there’s more focus upon this.

Without the restriction of having to stay within genre rules and guidelines, there is greater opportunity to explore the themes thoroughly – and, often, although not always, at a slower, more reflective pace.

The boundaries are set by the writer, and not the market.

Literary fiction can be successful, and make money, but the tendency is for it to be less popular and commercial than genre fiction.

That’s a major down side. It’s more challenging to market a work of fiction that is less conventional, and doesn’t tick any of the standard boxes.

Character development can be emphasized – something that particularly appeals to me, personally.

I believe characters to be the heart of great fiction.

The quality of prose will be of a high standard.

This is probably one of the few definite requirements.

It often does mean a poetic style, although not necessarily. The style may be more precise than poetic. And we’re not talking purple prose, either – but genuinely fine writing.

For an example of what I would consider to be quality poetic prose, refer to “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath.

Literary fiction is often experimental.

It sometimes has a lack of plot, in the ordinary sense, although not always. Some genre novels have almost a literary feel to them, and are on the borderline.

Some would define Literary Fiction as effectively its own genre.

This makes sense, in some respects.

 

But, however Literary Fiction is or isn’t defined, it does have immense value.

Whilst not “better” than genre fiction, it can often unique perspectives, that simply wouldn’t be possible within the confines of a standard genre.

 

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Should Your Characters Use Swear Words? — March 12, 2019

Should Your Characters Use Swear Words?

characters-swear

Profanity. Cursing. Offensive language, of various kinds. Is it okay to include this in fiction?

Should your characters use swear words, or is it unnecessary and unacceptable for them to do so?

If you write for children, it’s advisable and ethical to avoid swear words.

YA, or Young Adult, is a somewhat different issue, and a grey area.

I write Adult Fiction, so my main focus is naturally upon books aimed at adults.

If you’re interested in the ongoing debate about swearing in YA literature, I encourage you to Google this specifically. The subject has been extensively covered, but I won’t be addressing it here, beyond this short acknowledgement of the issue.

Genre and target audience are considerations, even within Adult Fiction.

Certain genres, and types of story, are significantly more likely to include swear words.

As with so many other issues, it’s important to know your target audience, and their general preferences. This can then guide your writing and editing decisions.

In a recent post about addressing controversial subjects in fiction, I cautioned against being deliberately controversial, for mere shock value.

This advice is definitely applicable here.

Swearing is undeniably a part of real life.

But not everyone routinely swears. Some people hardly ever – or (apparently) never – swear at all.

The truth is that characters often make the decision for you – to a certain degree. Some people, and therefore also characters, are going to swear. But, even in such cases, the degree of editing that you exercise is your personal decision.

In my posts Writing Believable Dialogue and Creating Realistic Dialogue: Additional Thoughts, I discuss the fact that strong dialogue represents, as opposed to replicating, realistic conversation.

Censorship aside – you would, in general, edit dialogue to exclude anything superfluous, and therefore, many swear words will probably be shed naturally, during revisions.

Any device that is overused tends to lose its impact, and swearing is no exception.

Maybe some of your characters will swear, but others not swear at all, or very rarely.

And, if some particular characters are constantly swearing, ask yourself whether some instances can be cut. Readers get the general idea, without being bombarded by bad language.

And, if you do want to convey, at any stage, that a character is furious, via the use of strong language – well, this technique won’t be effective, if such expressions are part of the character’s regular, casual vocabulary.

If you’re personally very uncomfortable with swearing, it’s probably not advisable to include this in your stories.

There are other ways for your characters to express themselves.

But, if you do feel that swearing is something that you need or/and are content to include in your fiction, don’t feel that you can’t do so for fear of judgement.

Maybe your parents or grandparents, or the woman next-door, would be shocked – but are those people your target audience, anyway? Probably not – and, such being the case, your story is not, or should not be, being written to keep them happy.

 

Some readers will indeed slam down your book in disgust, if you include swear words.

But then again, others will slam down your book if your dialogue doesn’t ring true – and it may be that swear words are one of the many devices that would add authenticity to the dialogue. You’ve heard it before, but you honestly can’t please everyone, and shouldn’t try.

Write from the heart. With or without swear words.

 

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How To Write an Effective Plot Twist — February 21, 2019

How To Write an Effective Plot Twist

write-awesome-plot-twists

Plot twist is the term used to describe those completely unexpected turns of event, within your overall plot.

I refer to those story moments, those revelations, that literally turn reader expectations on their head.

Outside of actual spoilers, readers don’t, by definition, know exactly what’s going to happen next in your story. However, they can often guess, or at least have a general idea of what to expect.

The beauty of a plot twist is that readers don’t predict it – or, at least, shouldn’t be able to, if the twist is successfully executed.

Although I primarily discuss novel writing in my blog posts, it’s worth noting that plot twists can be extremely effective in short stories, and especially so in flash fiction.

So, does every story need to include a plot twist?

No, it’s not a requirement, and some stories function fine without a plot twist.

Genre can be a factor, as well as simply the needs of the particular story.

There are stories that do contain multiple plot twists. And some include that one killer plot twist.

Oh, and since I used the term “killer”, it seems like a good time to mention, that plot twists often do come in the form of an unexpected death.

For specific tips, relevant to killing off characters, I recommend reading my post on this subject.

Reversing character roles can often work as a plot twist. For example, the bad guy turning out to be the good guy, and vice versa.

I mentioned unreliable narrators in my POV post, and such narrators can definitely be useful, when it comes to plot twists.

Sometimes what appears to be a subplot can turn out to be more significant. This a good way to introduce a twist of some kind.

Red herrings are false clues, and it’s impossible to discuss plot twists without mentioning them.

Certainly, red herrings and dead ends do have their role, but don’t rely too heavily upon these devices, and be cautious.

If the reader feels that you haven’t “played fair”, it could leave them feeling disappointed and frustrated with your book, which is clearly not the desired effect.

When it comes to plot twists, foreshadowing is essential.

The ideal is to know your own plot twists in advance, and for this reason, it’s much more difficult to pull them off successfully as a “pantser”.

If you didn’t plan a plot twist from the start, you will need to rework earlier scenes, so that everything makes sense.

The most challenging aspect of writing a great plot twist lies in the fact that the reader shouldn’t be able to predict what is coming, and yet, it must also seem logical and believable, in retrospect.

Work on the assumption that a reader will re-read your story. In fact, if the plot twist truly leaves them reeling, this is highly likely to occur.

They should subsequently notice all the signs, the subtle foreshadowing, and be kicking themselves for not connecting the dots sooner.

“Of course! Why didn’t I see it? It’s all here.”

 

Hopefully these tips will help you to create effective plot twists in your fiction.

It’s an invaluable skill to master, when it comes to developing your writing craft. The best plot twists can leave us stunned, and are highly memorable, which is a major bonus, when it comes to gaining loyal fans, eager to devour more of our stories, in the future.

My post about how to build suspense and tension in your writing, is somewhat related, and might be of interest. 

 

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Writing About Controversial Subjects in Your Fiction — February 6, 2019

Writing About Controversial Subjects in Your Fiction

controversial-stories

Should you address, or avoid, controversial issues, in your fiction?

I address them – always have.

And yet, I do avoid particular issues, at particular times. I actually can and do hold back, on occasions.

What is controversial, anyway?

How do you define “controversy”? What is taboo in some circles, is spoken about openly in others. And almost everything you could possibly write about, is guaranteed to offend someone out there.

But there are definitely topics which would be generally agreed to be controversial.

This post isn’t about giving examples of specific areas that might cause controversy. We could all make our own lists.

Being controversial for the sake of it?

Honestly, don’t go there. It can be hard enough to deal with the backlash when you feel deeply about an issue.

And authenticity matters. Deal with controversial issues that are important to you, rather than simply “being controversial”, which is the point at which you’re being offensive. It’s a question of being honest with yourself, about your own motivations.

That said, don’t put up and shut up.

History is full of examples of people standing up for what they truly believed in. Where would we be, if everyone kept quiet, and was afraid to express unpopular opinions, or discuss the subjects that were strictly “off limits”?

 

So, yes – controversy. It’s a fine line sometimes, but we often do need to cross that line, in our fiction. As well as in our blog posts and poetry.

I’ll continue to address what I need to address, in my own writing, and hope that my honest intentions will shine through.

I’m not always right, and I don’t pretend to be, but I have my point of view, and will express that, through my words. I encourage you to do the same.

Read my views on how mental health is generally approached in fiction – including how I personally address the subject.

And should your characters be using swear words? I’ve written a post about this specific subject, which might be of interest.

 

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Common Writing Mistakes to Avoid in Your Fiction — February 2, 2019

Common Writing Mistakes to Avoid in Your Fiction

fiction-mistakes-problems

Many mistakes that writers tend to make in their fiction are very common. I’ve already written about some of these, but thought that it would be helpful to give an overview of a few of them, in a single post.

So, here are some common writing mistakes, frequently made by fiction writers.

The primary focus here is upon mistakes often made by novelists, although some will also apply to short stories, novellas, screenplays, and so on.

Underdeveloped characters are extremely common.

No matter how amazing your plot and setting might be, you can’t afford to neglect character development.

Creating believable characters is essential.

In fact, some degree of weakness in other areas can actually be forgiven by many readers, as long as you have strong characters.

White Room Syndrome is another common writing problem.

It occurs when writers provide insufficient descriptive details of the physical locations, in which their scenes take place.

I recently wrote a post about White Room Syndrome, so I would suggest reading that, if you need more information.

Telling, instead of showing – or showing, instead of telling.

This is another subject covered in one of my recent posts. It would be hard not to have heard the standard advice: “Show, don’t tell.” It’s quoted, online and offline, everywhere that writing tips are quoted.

And yet, over-telling still remains an issue, for so many writers.

But what is less often mentioned, is that over-showing can also be a problem.

Take a look at my post about showing and telling, for more details.

Backstory overload.

Yes, backstory is important. You need to know about your characters’ histories, and the more information, the better.

But your reader probably only needs to know a tiny percentage of this background information. And modern readers are not patient.

It’s your job to weave the backstory into the main story, and keep the plot progressing, at a decent pace.

In short, don’t info dump. I address this somewhat in my post about common first chapter mistakes, since the start of a novel is often the place where info dumps tend to occur.

Descriptions involving characters looking into mirrors.

This is often seen in first person narratives, but is regularly encountered in every POV.

Of course, it’s not easy to convey physical descriptions of viewpoint characters, so a mirror can seem like a tempting option. But it’s been done to death, and tends to be the hallmark of amateur writing.

And, before you start considering alternative reflective surfaces – no, not okay.

In my first completed (shelved) novel, I had multiple viewpoint characters, but focused more so on Richard, who was basically the main viewpoint character, in a third person story.

And I cringe to remember my description of Rich, checking out his own reflection. Something about the window of Boots the chemist “doubling as a mirror” – and I even remember liking that part.

The character definitely came across as vain, which wasn’t my intention, and wasn’t appropriate.

I do discuss the subject of “descriptions via reflections”, in the post about first chapter mistakes, that I mentioned, and linked to, earlier.

Trying too hard to avoid the word “said”.

Said is far from dead, as I pointed out in my posts Writing Believable Dialogue and Creating Realistic Dialogue: Additional Thoughts.

So, please: less exclaiming, and more simple “saying”. It sounds so much better.

Similar character names.

Similar sounds. The same initials.

In the space of an entire novel with a large cast, you don’t need to take this tip to extremes, and to do so would be difficult. There are only 26 letters in the alphabet, so of course some of your characters can have names that begin with the same letter, or sound similar.

But here’s the thing: Yes, it’s realistic to have friends called Julie, Julia, Emily, Emma, and Gemma. But this is fiction, and we can make fiction less confusing than real life – so we should, for the sanity of our readers.

For more tips on naming characters, read my post on that subject.

And, still on the subject of names – be aware of the natural tendency to overuse names in dialogue.

Many, if not most, writers do this, on occasions.

It’s an issue that can easily be resolved at the editing and revision stage, however, so don’t over-think this one.

Starting your novel – or particular scenes – in the wrong place.

The most common problem is starting too early. You need to cut to the chase, and lose any boring build up elements.

The first chapter mistake post, again, does cover this subject, because it’s an issue often associated with the beginning of a story.

Unnecessary prologues or epilogues.

And, no – not all prologues or epilogues are unnecessary.

But some are.

And some aren’t, but they do become unnecessarily long. My post about epilogues should provide further clarification, and much of the advice can equally be applied to prologues.

 

Hopefully, this post provided a useful overview of many common problems, experienced by fiction writers.

I encourage you to explore the other articles mentioned, if you need additional advice on any of these common issues, and how to fix them in your writing.

 

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Writing Highly Emotional Scenes, Without Melodrama — January 26, 2019

Writing Highly Emotional Scenes, Without Melodrama

emotional-scenes

How do you, as a fiction writer, convey extreme emotions, minus the melodrama?

I mean, the tears and tantrums.

They happen, right? A lot. We are discussing extreme emotions here.

Our highly emotional scenes are surely going to involve crying and screaming? Perhaps the destruction of physical objects, and even other human beings? We are talking extreme, after all.

Okay, fine – your characters can cry.

They can scream, in some circumstances. And violent outbursts might also occur. All of these things can happen in your story, and it doesn’t have to be melodramatic, as a direct result.

But let’s start with acknowledging that none of the tears and tantrums, in and of themselves, are going to make the reader care. If the reader doesn’t care, your scenes aren’t making an emotional impact, and no amount of crying and door slamming will alter that.

Oh, and incidentally, the same applies to happier emotions. So, your character is experiencing intense joy, or deep inner peace: Why should the reader care, one way or the other?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, to anyone familiar with my blog posts – strong, believable characters are truly the heart of great fiction.

If you’ve focused sufficiently on character development, your highly emotional scenes are much more likely to be effective, when they do occur.

That said, we can work on the assumption that you’ve created awesome, well-developed characters.

Conveying powerful emotions, whilst avoiding melodrama, should come relatively easily.

Here are a few specifics to look out for:

Tears.

The frequency with which tears cascade down faces.

Go easy on the “cascading”, incidentally. Overwriting in this way is exactly what we’re trying to avoid. It’s melodramatic. Any kind of cliché is likely to be an issue, or any phrase tends towards OTT and even ridiculous.

But, returning to my point about frequency, keep in mind that crying loses its impact, in general, when characters cry too often. In real life, some people do cry more than others, and some allowance can be made for this. But there are limits.

Terms such as “weeping” and “sobbing” should only ever be used when they actually describe the level of crying involved.

People seldom weep or sob, and yet, these words are too often used, by writers, apparently seeking a synonym for “crying”: quite possibly a red flag, suggesting too many instances of “crying” and “tears”. Alternative words and phrases are probably not the solution.

One more point, on the subject of crying characters: Tempted to “show” the tears – perhaps by mentioning moisture on cheeks?

I would rather read: “Lucy cried.” Show, don’t tell has its limitations, and moisture on cheeks is definitely a cliché.

If your characters tend to cry a lot, it’s often best to let them. In the first draft, that is. I personally edit out excessive tears, as part of the revision process.

Feeling Like.

That’s another thing. Admittedly, these are realistic and relatable: feeling like screaming, being on the verge of tears, or fantasizing about punching some particular person in the face. The general tendency is to Feel Like more than we actually do.

Unfortunately, if characters are described as “feeling like screaming” or “being close to tears”, we’ve heard those phrases too many times, and barely register the words any more, when we read them.

For this reason, unless you can express these in an interesting and original way, it’s probably best to go easy on the Feeling Likes.

I also look out for Character Smashing Stuff Up In Temper Syndrome.

Common in TV dramas, and many novels. And yes, I too often find my characters behaving the same way.

Honestly, do you purposely knock over and smash up your own possessions, every time you lose your temper or get upset? I don’t.

I guess it’s an obvious – too obvious – way to indicate that a character is angry or/and hurting. But really, don’t resort to this one too often. It’s not standard behaviour in real life.

Foreshadowing is particularly important, when it comes to emotional scenes.

If a character is going to die, for example, what would make that even more poignant? Even more devastating for the other characters?

Sow seeds. This is more difficult, admittedly, for “pantsers” – who write without the benefit of an outline or plot – but not impossible. Rework earlier scenes to include the necessary foreshadowing. It’s worth the effort.

 

My general conclusion here is that, even though we’re talking about how to convey overwhelming and intense emotions, we often need to be more subtle.

The most powerful, and deeply emotional, scenes are those that stay with us, forming a lasting impression. Those are the scenes that we must endeavour to create.

 

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Show, Don’t Tell: Is It Good Writing Advice? — January 25, 2019

Show, Don’t Tell: Is It Good Writing Advice?

showing-telling

Show, don’t tell: A useful writing tip, or not particularly?

I probably say this too often, but it’s too often true: There’s not a simple answer to this question.

Yes, in general, it probably is good writing advice. But the truth is that there are occasions when it’s actually better to tell than to show.

Excessive telling does tend to be a common problem, frequently encountered in the work of inexperienced writers.

That’s why many creative writing teachers have a tendency to drive home the message: “Show, don’t tell.”

Showing is being specific, not vague.

Showing is the pounding fist on the table, as opposed to the man “being angry”.

Showing is providing tangible details. It’s sensual, vivid. It’s involving the reader directly.

It isn’t info dumping pages at a time of tedious, indigestible backstory, but instead, weaving any relevant background information into your prose, in vibrant threads.

So, surely I’ve now confirmed that showing is, indeed, better than telling?

Absolutely not. There are many instances when telling is preferable.

The showing of everything, taken to extreme, can become ridiculous, and lead to a “rambling”, long-winded style of writing, which modern readers simply won’t tolerate.

Slipping information into the dialogue is often viewed as an alternative to telling.

Be very cautious when it comes to delivering backstory in this way, as it rarely comes across as natural.

For more on the subject of dialogue, refer to my posts Writing Believable Dialogue and Creating Realistic Dialogue: Additional Thoughts.

Showing and telling is a fine balance.

Different writers have different styles, and some naturally tend to show or tell more than others, which is fine.

But, whether you default to showing or telling, you need to be attentive to the pros and cons of each. Neither approach is all good or all bad, and you do need to show and tell, in your fiction.

 

I hope that this post helps to clarify some key points, in relation to showing and telling in fiction, as this subject is often misunderstood.

My recent post about how to identify and fix White Room Syndrome is relevant. This post does discuss the need for more sensory, descriptive location details, in the work of some writers.

 

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