Turning Readers Into Writers

064 - How to use the three act structure with Chris Andrews

May 27, 2021 Emma Dhesi Season 1 Episode 64
Turning Readers Into Writers
064 - How to use the three act structure with Chris Andrews
Show Notes Transcript

Chris Andrews writing life began almost with a dear . He felt he could write storeys better than some of the ones he was reading and his friends dear him to do it! 

 So he did!

 Chris now writes across two series and many standalones in a universe called Vale of gods. The universe gives him lots of scoop for characters and plotlines .

 Initially though Chris found he had so many ideas that he would get stuck . He didn't know where to start and realised he had to make a decision to write one book, stick with it until the end and only then move on to the next book.

 The most recent release is a book from his mermaid series . He wrote it's as part of nanowrimo an it was entirely discovery written. As a result he had a lot of rewrites to do, and almost didn't publish it. But he's very pleased he continued because now it's I exciting fast paced Storey .

 One of the problems he had was when the book got boring and he didn't know how to fix it. So he asked himself the question, what's the worst that can happen? When he asked himself at, storeys opened up and the character started speaking for themselves and the result is in the published Storey.

 A discovery writer by nature, he does need to have some sort of plan so that he can blend the emotional and logical parts of his brain. he knows too that structure is important because readers are expecting certain elements in a Storey and if they thought they are the reader is unsatisfied even if they don't know why.

 Chris used to feedback on other peoples manuscripts and notice they were making a lot of the mistakes that he made in the beginning and that with a few tweaks the books could be ready for editing. With that in mind he was prompted to right his character and structure workbook series .

 The structure that he teaches within the workbooks is the three act structure . We delve into that in the interview, as well as taking a look at themes and why they can be an important part of your Storey.

 Chris Andrews is currently working on 2 new novels, one set in his hometown of Canberra, Australia. The other is set in Las Vegas. 

Connect with Chris:

The website of Chris Andrews - Author


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Emma Dhesi:

Hello, I'm Emma Dhesi and welcome to another episode of turning readers into writers. If you're brand new here, welcome. And here's what you need to know. This is a community that believes you are never too old to write your first novel, no matter what you've been up to until now, if you're ready to write your book, I'm ready to help you reach the end, I focus on helping you find the time and confidence to begin your writing journey, as well as the craft and skills you need to finish the book. Each week I interview debut authors, editors and industry experts to keep you motivated, inspired, and educated on all things writing, editing, and publishing. If you want to catch up, head on over to emmadhesi.com where you'll find a wealth of information and tools to help you get started. Before we dive in, this week's episode is brought to you by my free cheat sheet 30 Top Tips to find time to write. In this guide, I give you 30 ways that you can find time to write in the small gaps that appear between the various errands and tasks and responsibilities that you have in your day to day life. Now, you might be thinking that you don't have any time to spare, but I can guarantee these top tips will give you writing time you didn't think you had. If you thought writing always involved a pen and paper or a keyboard. Think again. If you thought you needed at least an hour at a time to write your manuscript. I help you reframe that, you won't be disappointed. Get your free copy of 30 Top Tips to find time to write by going to emmadhesi.com/30 Top Tips. Okay, let's dive in to today's episode. Chris Andrews is a writer, editor, teacher and mentor. Having listened to master storytellers all his life, Chris boldly and ignorantly believed that reading great stories transfer the skills to tell great stories. It turns out writing an awesome book is a lot harder than it looks and so a journey of discovery has begun, which won't end before the universe kicks him off the planet once more. Being a writer, it's traditional to have cats, but his dogs thought that was a stupid idea. Chris's mission is to write stories that matter and be remembered for all the right reasons. So let's find out a little bit more about Chris and his journey to writing and what he's writing now and the ways in which he helps other writers get their start. Well, Chris, thank you so much for being here with me today. I'm delighted to have you on the show.

Chris Andrews:

Thank you for having me. It's been or not being, It is great. Finally actually meeting you face to face.

Emma Dhesi:

Well, I wonder if you could start off telling us about your journey to writing and what brought you to where you are now.

Chris Andrews:

Yeah, I had a funny entry into writing, I suppose. I was mainly mostly, mostly just a reader. I loved stories. And one day I said to a few mates, I could write a better story than this and they kind of gave me this funny look and then it's like, Well, why don't you? Okay, I will and so I just started giving it a shot and found out that what I thought was easy wasn't. So I spent a lot of time then trying to figure out how to ride. I went to uni. And then that was fantastic in the sense that I learned a lot about writing in the sense of how to construct sentences, and things like that. It didn't really teach me how it took a long time after that to, first of all realize that what I was writing was quite clear and legible and understandable, but it wasn't entertaining. So I had to go and then figure out how to then entertain, which is an entirely different thing and that took me a couple of years of just researching and you know, listening to podcasts and reading books and all the things that we do and then eventually I put that into a book and publish that. But the reason I did that was because I was doing a lot of manuscript assessments, editing work and what I found was everyone was doing more or less the same things wrong. And it was really disheartening because people would be paying me quite a lot of money and I'm looking at again, with a little bit of knowledge or insight. You could have quite easily fixed all these problems, got the story to a point where it was really ready for an Edit and then sent it on and got much bit of a for money. Instead, I'm giving you really basic advice. So That's, that's why I write wrote character and structure, I suppose. But that came out of my need to figure out how to write better stories for myself. So that's, that's basically my journey from, you know, teenage kid going, Yeah, I can do that to being a full time writer pretty much.

Emma Dhesi:

I love the fact that it was on there essentially.

Chris Andrews:

Yeah, more or less, you know, it's like, well, I can't back down now can I?

Emma Dhesi:

Well, now you write across two different series, which are a part of a bigger universe. And you've got some standalones as well that you're writing. So I'm interested to know how you kind of juggle all these different projects and you know, how you decide what you're going to go into right? at a time or even if you write them all at the same time?

Chris Andrews:

Right, Well, I actually write them all at the same time, in a lot of ways. But the reason why I do that was because at one point, I landed a publisher. And that was fantastic. Because I'd landed publisher for this one book that I've been writing forever, and over the moon, but I also landed an agent at the same time. And I said to the agent, well, I've got four or four other stories that I want to write, and this, that and a bunch of other things and I said, What should I do? Should I finish this series? Or should I write some other books, she has no, don't finish the series, in case it takes, if it takes, then you're not going to be able to you've written three or four more books that aren't going to sell, you've just wasted your time. Right, the other stories, get them out there. And then whichever one sticks, and you can obviously pursue that. So that's where that's why I've started several series and not yet finished them as yet, I suppose. They're their works in progress and there's also several standalones novels, which I'm hoping to get published next. And then I'm going to get back to the series and finish those and there's also other series that I've written the first book for, for instance. And with with changes in the other parts of the, of the series, I, I can no longer really use them as they are. So they'll have to be entirely rewritten. Okay, it is a bit of a hassle. But yeah, it's worth it in the long run.

Emma Dhesi:

And so, so presumably, you're not writing all of these books. At the same time, though. You're you're writing in one series, then you're moving to another series? They may be a standalone? Or are you writing three or four books in conjunction with one another?

Chris Andrews:

Kind of yes to both those questions. I have started the the sequels to both the series. But I have, I have an issue with the fact that one of the series would contain spoilers for another one. So I'm a bit hesitant to finish that Yep, until I've done the other one. But I've also wrote four standalone novels which are just sitting there, or have been just sitting there and what I figured I might, what I would do is get those published, and then I can move back into the series properly. One thing I have found, though, that was a little bit of a revelation to me, actually, was the fact that when I had all these different projects that I wanted to do, I kind of got writer's block, because I was thinking, I want to do that. And I want to do this, and I want to do the other one and I want to do them all. And I kind of almost did that with you know, the shakes trying to work out which one I wanted to do, and, and I'd end up getting none of it done. So I found that if I made a decision, whether it's the right decision or the wrong decision, it didn't matter and made a decision and said, Okay, I'm going to finish this book, and I'm going to get published. And then once that's done, I'm going to write this one, and I'm going to finish it and get published, and so on and so forth. It removes an indecision, and it then creates a pathway forward. You don't have to, you know, worry about stressing over which one to do, or if you're going to do a little bit on this one today in a little bit on that one tomorrow. It's it's a clear and simple decision and then you just go with it. Okay, looks great.

Emma Dhesi:

Yeah, I think Yeah, cool. Okay, that's an interesting so you're, you work on one book, then on another, then on another, but skip and moving from series to series two, standalone.

Chris Andrews:

Potentially yeah, at the moment I've just, I'm about to publish a standalone and I'm almost finished writing the first draft and the seconds of a different standalone. And once they're done, I'll make a call on which of the other books I'm going to finish and Publish next.

Emma Dhesi:

Okay. Okay, so now you did mention before we came on, we started recording that the last book that you published was in your mermaid series. So I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about that.

Chris Andrews:

Yes. Yeah, that was that was a one of those stories, I suppose, where I had an idea it was it was a discovery book, a pure discovery book. It was NaNoWriMo time. And if anyone's not sure what NaNoWriMo is, it's National Novel Writing Month when you write a book in a whole month. And I think it's 50,000 words of a book or as much as you can do. And everyone else is doing this thing. I thought I'd give it a crack, I had nothing prepared or ready to go. Except I had this one idea and it was a mermaid standing on a beach. Looking for a victim to drown. That's all I knew. I didn't know anything else about this story. Except for this one fact, she wished she had to drown someone, or she was going to die. And so she had this big moral dilemma, because she didn't want to drown anyone. She's a nice person, I suppose. But if she didn't, you know, it was going to be a very bad outcome for her. So she was trying to find someone that she could actually live with drowning. So she was looking for someone she didn't like, or someone who was, you know, mean, or nasty. I had no idea what was going to happen next, had no idea. I didn't know where I was going to go, what was going to be the outcome. I didn't even know what the main problem with the story was. I just every day I sat down, wrote another chapter on the next section. And the only thing that got got me through it was the fact that I had a little bit of advice given to me when I've done a workshop at some point. And though the advice was, what's the worst thing that could happen next and I ran with that. So I would be, I'd write myself into a corner, I have no idea how we're going to get these characters out, or it start to slow down, I began, oh, gee, it's getting a bit a bit boring. I need to, you know, switch it up. And I think what's the worst thing that could happen and I do that, and then just run with it. And it's fantastic in the sense that it's a really fast paced, you know, action kind of orientated to some degree read, but also created a huge mess. Because I would be in the end I had a lot to clean up had a lot of fix it had no head and it ended up with a pretty good overall story arc. But there was more luck than anything else and still needed so much work and I changed things I it wasn't even going to be a like a heavy on the supernatural sort of magical creature side. But characters that were human at the start had become other creatures. Yeah, sort of halfway through and, and I thought, what if I were the what if I were vampires or something else? And so you can imagine that the mess it made doing the discovering writing the scaring the story as I wrote it that way. So that took a lot, a lot of work to clean up and fix and almost didn't I almost gave up on it. That's how much work was involved. But I got there. And it's, it's actually a really good right now and thoroughly enjoyed. I'm glad I did it taught me a lot about so it taught me a lot about writing with a bit of a plan, right?

Emma Dhesi:

Is it good lesson there on you know, not giving up on keeping going because you don't know what, what the outcome will be and even when you're kind of in the doldrums of being really hard if you just persist keep going a little bit every day, or a little bit every week, you'll get there and you don't know how it's going to end. So, you mentioned there that that was purely discovery writing and for the benefit of NaNoWriMo is that your usual writing process or do you generally prefer to have a bit more of a plan before you start?

Chris Andrews:

Definitely prefer to have a bit more of a plan I am a discovery writer. So that that is my favorite way to write. If I am going to write and you know, thoroughly enjoy it, I need to have some kind of creative process within what I what I've written. But the funny thing is, you probably know this, you got the left brain, right brain type type thing. And one side is creative, I suppose on one sides logical or, to put it another way, one side emotional. And one side is logical and they don't talk to each other. These two halves of your brain. So if you're a discovery writer, you tend to be an emotional writer, which is fantastic because the characters are real to you there. You can just you could sit down, have a chat to them and they would talk back that's how real they are. Amazing in that in that regard, but it tends to leave story structure as a mess, quite often you'll, you go off on tangents or it won't make sense or logic won't display at all, it'll be just trying to think of the right term that that won't offend people. But it's a, it's a big, it can be a big myth. So you need to understand how story structure works, because the structure is how people interpret your story. If they don't have that interpretation, they're not going to understand that the fact that you're talking about something here and doing something over there are connected necessarily. So you've got to have a really strong structure in order for people to appreciate your story. And so what I've found is that being a discovery writer, it helps a lot to start with the logical side of things, to at least plan out, if not every, every detail, or the big details, sorry keep down...,

Emma Dhesi:

So I just going to ask then is that what led you to develop your character and structure workbooks is because you realize that, as a discovery writer, yourself, you needed that little bit more structure. And so did you is that what kind of prompted you to start these workbook this workbook series?

Chris Andrews:

Absolutely, yeah. I, I had no idea how well I knew how structure worked in the sense that I'd seen a lot of movies or read a lot of books. And I just thought it just came naturally. Like, you know, if you wrote something, it would just turn out that way. That's, that's how structure work. Apparently not, you actually need to plan these things out. And what I discovered was, there is a, there's a whole heap of steps or not so much steps, but story points that people expect in a story. And if you don't give them to them, they're going to wonder about the so they're, they're going to think that something is missing, or not quite right. They may not know what it is, they may not understand that there's something wrong with the story. But they will know it, and you'll end up losing readers or it'll fall over in some other way. So that was where the book came from, I guess, from my research into how story and structure work together. And then I the other part was, I was doing a lot of manuscript assessments. And people were making same mistakes I was making, and I was simple to fix. But it was kind of a case of where is this information, I couldn't find it in a single place at all. And I know there are script writing books, which tend to do this a lot better than novel writing books. But I couldn't find anything that gave me a clear pathway from one end of the story to another. And I cobbled all of these little all these little bits of information together through podcasts and, and reading books and listening to other writers talk and all sorts of stuff. And I eventually got to the point where I was able to create my own map. And so I created this map, and I put it on my website. So if anyone wants to grab a copy of it, it's there. And from that grew character and structure, which I think it should be compulsory reading for everyone who wants to read a story, that's a writer story, it's, it's, you got to have structure, and you've got to know how characters work with that structure. Otherwise, your story is not going to work.

Emma Dhesi:

So and I know that in conjunction with the books, you also teach workshops on this, I wonder if you could give our listeners a little flavor of and your approach to structure and how you teach it.

Chris Andrews:

I'm a little bit out of the game at the moment, thanks to COVID there's been nothing happening for the last last year and a half year and a half. But that depends on on what people are looking for. I guess I've done workshops where the six week workshops at that the local, I don't know if you haven't tapes, technical and further education centers, like a college or not a uni but not a university, but a sort of somewhere between high school and university where people can go and do that. So they had to have night courses there. I've done them at you know, major conventions. I've done them for writers workshops down at like little country areas, and then everything in between and mentoring and things like that. So depending on what what people are, after all, if it's a structured course, like over a six week course, I'll Playing that out in a lot of detail. And every every night safe, it'd be a two hour night, and I would cover certain topics would be a first half and a second half. And then people would have potentially homework or some idea of what to go on with, after each session. If it's, if it's something else entirely, like, I might be engaged to just do a workshop for a group at a convention. So I might be sitting in a, in a stadium with 1000 people or 30 people or whatever. And there'll be a topic, and it'll be just on that topic and won't be necessarily everything I know, you just need this card. But it would be potentially they might say, okay, we need to know about theme. So can you do a workshop, so I'll do a workshop on theme. And theme is amazingly interesting. It is. When I when I first heard about theme I thought it was a case of it's about romance, or it's about hope, or something along those lines would be a single word that you would associate with your story, it turns out theme is not that at all, that's kind of like a motive of a theme. theme is actually a question or a statement. And it comes from the heart. So if we if, for instance, you have an issue with a topic, or you want to explore something like racism, or religion, or you know, the history of slavery, you could create a theme out of that, for instance, now God is great, and they have a theme there. So your your story would then argue that thing, or all men are bastards, is is another one that you might sort of look at and go, Well, how can I demonstrate that all men are bastards, or the opposite? And so your story would then answer that question or that statement by the end of it. But without being over overly, you know, you don't hit people over the head with it, you want to be subtle. You've got to demonstrate this working. That that's kind of our theme works. But that's just one aspect of of a story and there's so many options that I could talk about tonight, it's crazy.

Emma Dhesi:

That stories need a theme is that something that you think is an important aspect of storytelling.

Chris Andrews:

I think they can benefit a lot from having a theme. I don't know that you absolutely have to have one depends on the story. They do tend to resonate better, and will have a greater emotional engagement with with your audience if they have one. But if you look at something like like a particular genres will tend to be stronger in in theme than others. Like, if you watch an action movie, you'd be lucky if you could spot a theme, you know, 1000 miles away, that you go in yet you're there to have fun, you're not there to come, it will come away thinking about oh my gosh, that was so deep and meaningful. It was, you know, an action movie. They could be some themes in there. But it's not really a big component of that kind of genre. But on the whole, yes, I think you do need a theme to really resonate with, you know, your audience.

Emma Dhesi:

Now I wonder if I could just look back a little bit and just back to structure. And because I'd like to know, how you teach structure. So do you follow a three act structure? Do you use the the hero's journey? Or do you use something in between or a mixture of all what's your approach to structure that you've that you've put in your workbooks? So, alright, so he's pointing to short structure diagram. Okay, so can you tell us about that,

Chris Andrews:

That's what that's Um, there's a story structure diagram on my website. So you can you can look at that. But basically, what it is, is it's a 3X structure broken up into four parts. So every 3x structure should have four parts, the beginning and middle and an end, the middle is divided into two parts. So effectively, it's 25% H. So the beginning is a quarter of the story. The middle is two quarters, and the end is one quarter. So that's, that's kind of it as a kind of a, an overview of how structure works. But then, for instance, the first quarter that the beginning, the story hasn't even started at that point. That's that's the setup. So the story doesn't start until about the 25% marked When, like if Frank's incentive, you're writing a murder mystery. In the beginning, that's good. It'll be a murder and a mystery. And there'll be some kind of investigation starts and, and that sort of stuff, you know, cops will turn up and look at the body and go well, that doesn't look like it's natural causes and they'll then obviously, you know, start to investigate. And once I start to investigate, that's when the story starts. And the same with the romances you get the same thing with the romance or epic fantasy, doesn't matter what the genre is, you have the same kind of structure, there is this beginning part, which doesn't, it's not where the story starts. It's the setup, and then the adventure begins. So that sets the next quarter. So that's quite, that's kind of the fun part. If, for example, we're talking about the, you know, the cops investigating the murder, they're out there interviewing people, they're there, they're learning about the story well, they're learning about who these people are, that may have committed this murder. If it's a romance, that, you know, the two people are kind of starting to date, but they're not really dating and so they kind of figuring out how that relationship is going to go. Usually a lot of fun. And then the third quarter is where things get more serious and that kind of, it changes the tone. So the protagonist generally becomes more proactive in the second half. Now, that's part of that, that that tonal change. And there's also several major points in that part where the old is last moment and the darkest hour, the ones one, the physical sort of type thing, the other ones in emotional, the emotional side of that. So the all is lost would be Oh, my God, we've just broken up, or they've caught the killer, and they've got away on a technicality. And then the darkest hour would be the the emotional fallout from that. And the characters kind of trying to cope, I guess, or figure out some, you know, wait way to get through it. And then of course, it's a false victory defeat part of that. So it's a set, it's a lot more serious. Then finally, there's the resolution, which, you know, if it's an action movie, it's the two big muscle men or you know, Ninja warriors, or whoever going head to head, if it's a romance, it's your, they've usually broken up by this point, now they've got to figure out how they can get back together. If it's a any other genre, like a little talk about a crime, they will have probably lost the, the initial means of catching the killer, and now they've got to find something else. So they, they come up with some other idea, and they end up usually end up winning and that's kind of how all stories work. Doesn't matter what genre you're in. It's, it's very, very similar. They all kind of go through the same. I don't like using points or steps. But these things are what your audience will expect. They'll expect you to hit certain marks in a certain order and that's, that's kind of what structure does.

Emma Dhesi:

Yeah. Yeah. I like that one, it's, I find it to be the most flexible, so you can use almost any story to it. And you can, you can plot it as much as you want. If you're someone who likes reports, and then if you're like me, and you just more discovery writers, you can leave it as loose as you want it to be as well as reflects.

Chris Andrews:

Yeah, yeah. then I just, I just, I like to hit the big points and haven't have an idea of where they're gonna go. And then I like to fill in kind of the gaps. But that that's, that's my process. A lot of other writers, I know, writers that need to know that the kind of moss on the backside of the of the, you know, broken, you know, burned down house, in the middle of the woods where nobody's ever going to know about it. But they need to know, they need to know that kind of detail. And, to me, that's kind of just this crazy, get on with the story. But they need to know that stuff and other people, you know, kind of, I suppose more towards my side or that the approach, all they need is just the start of an idea. And off, they go on it. And they're happy with that too. It just does take more work in the back end, I suppose to the fixed size sort of things. So the more work you do up front, the easier it is to write and the easier it is to edit and fix up. But you tend to put a lot of that creativity into the front part of it. Whereas discovery writers tend to put that same creativity into the story as I go. So, yeah and all those stellar story points I've just talked about. I've got examples in my in my book, from everything from Pretty Woman to kids. movies to Twilight even. And they all and the funny thing is Ferris Bueller's Day Off, you would look at a movie like that. And you go, Well, that's, that doesn't really work structurally. But then you look at it and you break it down again, actually, this is amazing, well structured. It works perfectly, and that the funny thing is you'd look at it. It's Ferris Bueller's Day Off. It's his story. But when you look at it, it's not his story at all. He's like, he's like the Road Runner or bugs. But he's Bugs Bunny. Basically, he's a guy that causes all the trouble and it gets people into stuff. It's actually Cameron story. So yeah, he does this. Look at that. It's amazing what you see when you start to understand how structure works.

Emma Dhesi:

Well, thank you for that. That was a great kind of overview of the different points that we need to be thinking about and there's different beats almost that we need to hit if we're wanting to structure our story well, so thank you for that. What are you writing at the moment what's what's on your your hitless at the moment?

Chris Andrews:

I like to keep things a little bit different of I'm about to publish a story sitting in Canberra, we're up near where I live. It's kind of like a turf war between the North and South cameras, a camera, the funny, funny town in the sense that you tend to belong to the north of the south side of it. And there's this kind of invisible dividing line, which is, like, for instance, the people on North Side, refer to the south side, as you know, people who live on the dark side. I don't know why maybe it's for their further south, I guess. But so I thought that was a great setup. So I've created a story about that about a guy who's, and I write fantasy. So he is several 100 years old, he comes to camera to meet someone, and then realizes that his wife, who he thought he'd actually buried 300 years ago was all there abouts was alive and in Canberra. And on one of these, on part new part of this turf, which is on the on the north side of town. And, and so in the process, it's sort of a little bit of a healing story, because he's, he's never really got over this. And then he ends up meeting a saving a girl who, who then becomes his emotional support, I guess, or his big part of his story. And to be honest, she, she almost steals the show, she pretty much does steal the show, actually. So yeah. So there's that one. And then I've just started another one sitting in Las Vegas, which is it's a romance. So it's a cop there meets, or he's trying to catch a bad guy, and ends up having to work for him. And more or less falls in love with him. And it's a very different story very different time. And again, it's a better standalone, but they're all sitting in the same story universe that's called the veil of gods. So it's, it's part it's part of this overall umbrella stories, which is, funnily enough set, both here in in the in the on earth, and in another universe and there'll be crossovers, and like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I guess, is stuff going on everywhere all over the place and that all kind of ties in together nicely the end.

Emma Dhesi:

Sounds like lots of fun and lots of kind of scope for different types. Yeah,

Chris Andrews:

yeah. Yeah, that's fun coming up with different creatures as well. So sorry, keep going. Yeah.

Emma Dhesi:

So I was just going to ask a, you know, conscious of time and and I was wanting to know, where can our listeners find out more about you and your work?

Chris Andrews:

Probably the best place would be my website, which is chrisandrews.me Nice and easy.

Emma Dhesi:

Brilliant. That's lovely. Well, Chris, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

Chris Andrews:

Thank you so much for having me. I'm looking forward to listening to a few more of your podcasts and think this one comes out.

Emma Dhesi:

Well, thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you find that helpful and inspirational. Now, don't forget to come on over to facebook and join my group, turning readers into writers. It is especially for you if you are a beginner writer who is looking to write their first novel. If you join the group, you will also find a free cheat sheet there called three secret hacks to write with consistency. So go to emmadhesi.com/turning readers into writers. Hit join. I can't wait to see you in there. All right. Thank you. Bye bye.