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I watched a great live interview with my favourite HF writer Bernard Cornwell, last night.

He gave an interesting tip for writing HF. He has a big story and a little story, and he flips them. So in Sharpe the big story is the Napoleonic Wars and the small story is Sharpe's. In the Last Kingdom the big story is the making of England and the small story is Uhtred's. He flips the big story into the background to act as his setting, and brings the small stories to life.

I was also delighted that he's a complete panster. His technique is to put his hero in a tricky situation and then write to find out how they get out of it. From that a story then develops. 

It was run by Fane, and they have a lot of interviews coming up if anybody wants to check them out.

  • That's really interesting, and thanks for sharing. I think it's what many of us will instinctively be doing, but hearing it articulated like that is good, and might help the unnecessary diversions into too much of the Big Story- the ones we try and write because we think it's important and interesting, even though it doesn't help our central story.

    On the other matter, I'd assumed, from the rest of my approach to life, that I'd choose the flexible, let's-see-what-happens approach to writing. (For some reason I have an aversion to the term panster, but I liked the gardener or architect illustration from Neil Gaiman during the Summer Festival of Writing.) But apparently I'm not a writing gardener at all, but a fully -fledged architect. I don't feel ready to write until I've walked with my characters through pretty much the whole story, and can feel myself there with them. I'm almost there now, after three years of living with them at varying levels of intensity.

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    • Gardener is a much prettier word. I do wish I could do a bit of architecture, but I fail every time. It will be interesting to see when you start writing if your characters behave and follow your pre-plotted route or have a strop and go off in a completely different direction.

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    • Thanks for that, last Kate

      Funnily enough, I was discussing the same subject with a writer friend the other day, using the films of Guillermo del Toro as egs. In both The devil's backbone and Pan's labyrinthine, he uses the Spanish civil war as a back drop for his supernatural/fantasy 'small stories'. It works brilliantly. That's part of the reason I chose the three day week in 1973 as my big story for my own supernatural, small, story - that gloom of power cuts and shortages just fits with a scary story.

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      • It's such a simple differentiation between what your story is and what your backdrop is, but gave me an aha moment.

        Your choice of backdrop for your supernatural story is genius.

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