Tips for Writing an Epic Western 1
Howdy Pardners! We grew up on them. We love them, the tales of heroes and criminals; tales of loss and redemption, set upon a well-worn- saddle and slinging lead at bad guys in black hats. In honor of this ubiquitous and uniquely American genre, I will be writing a series devoted to helping writers create their own piece of Americana. I will help you establish the groundwork for developing your own Zane Grey-esque masterpiece. In this first part of the series, I will discuss the elements which every Western author should carefully consider when undertaking this genre.
Of course, as with any germinating seed, we will need to give your story the perfect growing conditions- and I cannot think of a better resource to use than to pick up a Zane Grey or Louis L’amour novel and read it. There are very specific terms and settings they masterfully utilized in their books- and would otherwise seem out of place in other genres. Certainly, we could see terms like stirrups, lariats and leg irons in other fictional works, but context is key here, and those terms might not necessarily be appropriate for general usage- unless you’re thinking about writing another “50 Shades”, and definitely not the same “Grey” we need to analyze here. Their use of dialogue and setting were masterful in their subtle execution, and still remain wonderful models for any good Western writer, even today.
The first thing you budding Louis L’amours will need to decide is what the story will transmit to your readers. Are you looking to tell a historical fiction tale, or a purely fictional thrill ride? Please keep in mind that historical details will either add to your story, or make you seem inept if not properly recounted. In this case, the devil certainly is in the details, and you’ll need to keep them straight and well-ordered. For example, after the U.S. Civil War, many former soldiers tried their hand at bounty hunting for criminals- or found work as “hired guns”, but you’ll need to know dates, so you’ll need to do some research- and makes lists of pertinent information. Since there isn’t anyone still alive who remembers that time in American history, and therefore cannot share memories to help guide your adventure, internet searches and trips to the library are important in making your piece a viable and entertaining product. However, the basic and most important tenet of writing Westerns is this: these are primarily adventure stories, full of action and often unrefined, desperate people who helped to forge an untamed and dangerous wilderness.
I know some of you are going to groan as you read this next part, but here is the real scoop. You’re going to need an outline. There’s just no getting around this, kind of like a herd of cattle need cowboys to prevent them from wandering off and finding themselves a coyote’s dinner. Your outline is going to help you keep your thoughts, details and plot running smoothly and help you to keep continuity as you progress through your plot. Take your time with this, as many important elements we take for granted today were novel- or non-existent during the days when the western U.S. consisted of towns little more than stop- offs for people who were on their way somewhere else.
[bctt tweet=”here is the real scoop: You’re going to need an outline. #writingtips #western #author #amwriting” username=”OurWriteSide”]
In next month’s episode, we’ll take a look at locations and characters. Until then, may the sun be at your back, and your saddle stay comfortable. May your whiskey be smooth, and your grub taste good. Happy trails!