By: Daphne M. Matthews of the Crazee Chixz
The western genre is generally set from 1850 to the mid-1920s in the western part of the United States of America. This area has been called the “Old West” in America for more than a Century in America and is a beloved time for those who lived it, heard about it, read about it, and watched it either on the big screen or on TV.
Westerns took on a life of their own and as such a personality of their own. The stories could be as “simple” as farmhand meets owner’s daughter stories or could be as complex as outlaws taking over towns in a fury of bullets and booze stories. They could be stories about, what they then were called, stories verses “cowboys and injuns” meaning Indians, meaning American Natives.
Westerns, however, primarily focus on gunslingers. So, what is a gunslinger – well, exactly what is sounds like – people, usually men, that sling guns. And they were so good at it that even back in the ‘70s we kids were buying toy guns so we could practice jerking them out of our holsters and twirling them on our fingers before we pulled the trigger and made it go “Pop.” I loved that sound and that smell. Mom would run me outside but she kept buying me the rolls so I could fire my toy pistol. I would ride my Huffy, off-road, bike (or horse), my cowboy hat, my holster, and my toy pop gun and I’d chase the Sheriff (my sister, on her dainty, blonde, on-road only bike, um-I mean, horse) out of town.
Yes, I was the Tom-boy. No, my sister absolutely was not.
So, lets talk about how to write a western that a reader not only recommend to others but will also begin to follow you as an author.
Shawn Coyne, creator of Storygrid.com with over 25 years of experience in the editorial and publishing business, once said, “The western story concerns the role of the individual in a mass society. Is the self-reliant individual dangerous to order or necessary to defend the powerless?”
In westerns, the hero of the story is often the outlaw and yet, the townspeople support their plight. It’s usually a Robin Hood type of story. This person has been wronged sometime in their life and now they are fighting back, or they are “robbing from the rich to give to the poor.” However, in the western, justice looks different than it does in today’s crime shows. In westerns, for a positive ending, justice comes when the hero sacrifices themselves for the good of the community. A negative ending is when justice does not prevail, and the person is trying to save the community is betrayed by those very people.
When you are writing a western, there are scenes that must take place. You must have an attack by the villain or the environment. Let me explain that. In a western, the environment, weather, landscape, and more is actually a character. It can be harsh. There can be tornados or droughts, mudslides, rockslides, cave-ins, and so much more. All of these things can happen and can cause a major catastrophe that the community must fight against to prevail in the end as a winner, or loser, whichever the case may be.
The hero will lose their temper and may lose themselves in the story. They may step outside of themselves and leave the world they know to conquer the offender. His or her strategy may first fail but they will eventually rise to the occasion.
There must be a showdown, you know a “Meet Me at High Noon in the Middle of Town” type of deal, between the story’s hero and villain and the hero must be rewarded for all their sacrifices.
Like all genres, the western genre too has sub-genres. They are:
I. Vengeance: In these stories, a stranger will come to town to correct a wrong done to someone or something
II. Transition: In these stories, the hero is already part of the community when the story begins but is quickly exiled.
III. Professional: In these stories, the heroes are outlaws and are committing so-called “victimless” crimes against the government, banks, big corporations, or law enforcement. The hero is usually helping the community even though they are criminals.
Growing up in the ‘70s, I saw every western on TV – movies and TV series. My dad can watch sports but he’s not a sports fan so while other families sat around watching football, baseball, and basketball on Saturdays, we watched Westerns – that is, when we weren’t working on the farm, in the garden, in the yard, in the house, at one of our grandparent’s houses, or taking my grandmother to visit her many siblings or to visit the dead at the many cemeteries to place nice, new, fresh flowers on the gravestones. Winter was the best time, though, as it snowed all the time in the ‘70s so no where to go and no outside work. I’ve probably seen every western ever filmed before 1985 and most filmed since. John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, James Garner, Tom Laughlin, Gary Cooper, Sam Elliott, Burt Lancaster, Audie Murphy, Jack Palance, Charlton Heston, Robert Duvall, and Henry Fonda – these names are synonymous with the term “westerns” and as Americans, when we read westerns, we picture men like these in the roles of the lead, male characters because they set the bar so high.
Westerns are great no matter where you go to find them so as you write westerns, whether it be for a book or for the big screen, remember that it must be authentic because we all know what it is supposed to look and feel like as we experience the story.