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I like to think of it as how many "open" spaces the atoms have. For example, when choosing what the central atom in CO2 is, C has 4 open spaces while O has 2 to fill the shells. So, it would make sense to choose C since it has more open spaces. Hope this helps!
Since it has the lowest ionization energy, you can think of it in terms of is it more willing to gain or lose an electron (become an ion) or to ultimately share or gain the electron in a bond. C is generally a "backbone" for structures because it is direct in the middle with 4 valence electrons, making it a perfect acceptor of bonds. Elements such as H or Cl would not particularly enjoy that benefit as it is near completion already. Additionally, when creating the structures it doesn't matter which side you put the valence dots as long as they are accurate in number and placement on the respective atoms.
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