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BustedPrinter

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There has not been a lot of activity here, and I might understand why. It took me two tries before I was able to finish my western novel. The first time I got to 29,000 words and stalled. I am not even sure how many novels I wrote in between stopping, and picking it up again. It was two years in between so probably around 5 other novels started and completed.

At first, the Western was intimidating. It is so darn limiting. I mean a very specific time period in a very specific setting. While there are some choices there, how can anyone write a unique story that has not already been done?

I was able to do that however, so with enough creativity it is possible. It also is a fun genre to write. What makes it constricting in terms of creativity, is also freeing. You do not have a lengthy word count requirement, nor do you need to overdescribe things; readers have an idea what riding into a western town is like already so you can focus on the plot and characterization.

I have only done one western novel so far, but it will be one I do again for sure. If you are struggling with something to write, try your hand at a western I was pleasantly surprised how fun and exciting one was to write!
 
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I've written a handful of Westerns over the years and I've always had a great time doing so. I guess I've been a fan of the genre ever since I was old enough to read the wonderful $2 pulp paperbacks of the 1970s, but my points of inspiration have always come from the thousands of Westerns Hollywood cranked out between the early 1930s and into the mid-1960s.

To be perfectly honest, I have verrry little interest in the recent (well, the year 2000 -->) trend of intellectual and/or philosophical Westerns, and, perhaps oddly enough, equally little interest in the overly bloody Italo Westerns of the 1960s and 1970s.

I'll take the awesome 1-2-3-combo of Buster Crabbe, Al St.John and Charles King (from the PRC's Billy the Kid and Billy Carson-series' that ran from 1940-1946 or thereabouts) over any of the more recent movie forays into the genre, ack-chew-ly :)


BustedPrinter said:
It is so darn limiting. I mean a very specific time period in a very specific setting.

:unsure: Hmmm, I see your point, but IMO, there are so many stock tropes and storylines that we can play with that it isn't a problem. The same for your following point:


(...) how can anyone write a unique story that has not already been done?

IMO, by creating awesome main characters like the white-hatted Matinée idol, the comic relief sidekick and the black-hatted dastardly, hissable villain - once the readers have become re-acquainted with their beloved 'old friends' once more, a well-used plot is secondary to the, uh, plot...


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Norsebard
 
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Elenitsa

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At first, the Western was intimidating. It is so darn limiting. I mean a very specific time period in a very specific setting. While there are some choices there, how can anyone write a unique story that has not already been done?
Maybe changing a little the time and place can help with diversifying and seeing the adventures through new lens.
If the majority of westerns are written during and after the Gold Rush (or after the Secession War), and having as setting Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Oregon or California, I chose a different time and place. My western story (two volumes and a half, seen in the signature below) happens in the period 1803-1849 and focuses on Venetian immigrants. In the first of the two volumes and a half (actually the second volume of the tetralogy), The New World, the Venetian convoy leaves Boston and crosses the US, settling on the shore of Mississippi river, on the Illinois side right across St Louis. The next volume, Venice on Mississippi, shows how they adapt and how the settlement grows, of course in smaller proportions, but in parallel with its neighbour St Louis. The characters witness Louisiana purchase, make enemies among the Chouteaux, go on adventures, but at the same time the village starts taking shape, some characters get married. The last volume, Other turmoils of life, starts with the 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquake and its heavy impact on the area, and ends in 1849, but there are chapters focusing on the Western side and, since 1830, also alternating chapters on the Italian side, as the sons of the immigrant Venetians, now young men, return to their fathers homeland to fight on the side of the Carbonari, for the same ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity, democratic republic that their fathers failed to achieve. (And of course they will fail too, the survivors returning in early 1849, after the 1848 Revolution gets drowned in blood).
 

BustedPrinter

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Without question, the greatest creativity comes from restriction.

By that I mean, if I say, "write a novel", it is so vague of a demand that there is no creativity, it can be on anything, any time or anywhere, but if I say, "I wonder what kind of novel could be written about a gold mining town in South Dakota in 1861, it becomes a lot more constrained. To be a unique story an author really has to be creative. That can take many forms within those constraints. The more constraints, the more creative a writer has to be to fit a story within those parameters.

My one and only western so far was on an electrician and the start of the US Foster and Adoption system set in Nevada in 1861. Yep, you read that right, but it was a true western just the same. I even had my main character petrified of horses!!
 
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There has not been a lot of activity here, and I might understand why. It took me two tries before I was able to finish my western novel. The first time I got to 29,000 words and stalled. I am not even sure how many novels I wrote in between stopping, and picking it up again. It was two years in between so probably around 5 other novels started and completed.

At first, the Western was intimidating. It is so darn limiting. I mean a very specific time period in a very specific setting. While there are some choices there, how can anyone write a unique story that has not already been done?

I was able to do that however, so with enough creativity it is possible. It also is a fun genre to write. What makes it constricting in terms of creativity, is also freeing. You do not have a lengthy word count requirement, nor do you need to overdescribe things; readers have an idea what riding into a western town is like already so you can focus on the plot and characterization.

I have only done one western novel so far, but it will be one I do again for sure. If you are struggling with something to write, try your hand at a western I was pleasantly surprised how fun and exciting one was to write!
I am beyond jealous. I have finished exactly one novel but have started dozens. I have double that amount in my head shouting to see the light of a keyboard but my one finished novel is telling all the others to shut up until it gets some sort of feedback from the world. Perhaps once I jump through the query hoop I can release at least on of the others waiting in line.
 
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BustedPrinter

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It’s just a number.

I also can write while at work which few people can do, with winter being our slow time. Between work and home, I might get 12-14 hours a day to write so who couldn’t get a few novels written? On some days it’s not uncommon to slog out 12,000 to 15,000 words per day.

Taken on an average it’s only one novel every 75 days, or put another way, a novel every 2-1/2 months. So it’s no where near as impressive as it might seem. (Math check for transparency: 12 novels from Sept 18th 2021 to March 1st 2024, 895 days)

Just for the record, this western was 73,000 words, but I typically write thrillers which is 90,000 words which is my general target.

I also don’t watch tv, listen to the radio, and am an empty-nester without little kids most of the time. It all adds up to a lot of writing time. Few people get that much opportunity to write, and it’s completely understandable.
 
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RBEmerson

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The notion of "Westerns are limiting" escapes me. It's no more or less the case than any other genre. There are certain hallmarks to any genre; ignore them at the writer's peril. Past that, the stories are there, waiting to be found, and they're not all the same.

Perhaps the limitations come from a limited knowledge of the history and locales involved? The more research and background reading one does, the more varied the stories become. If the writer's background is what's on the silver screen or square-eyed box, maybe it's time to do a little digging around in the lesser visited parts?
 
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BustedPrinter

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The notion of "Westerns are limiting" escapes me. It's no more or less the case than any other genre.
Not really though. I mean, I understand what you are saying, but I am not sure you understand what I am.

Yes, there are limitations to every genre, but a romance novelist has the entire world in which to set the story. It could be scientists at the south pole spending a full year there, and that could be in 1930 or 2024.

Not so with a western. It has to be in western usa, or Boliva, Brazil or Alaska the genre is stretched a little. And of course from 1830-1910. That is limiting because you cannot have the heroine in a 2024 story drive a Bently in a western novel.

Obviously that does not mean a writer cannot be creative.... heck I was in my one and only western, it was about an electrician in 1861. But he did not ride into town on a Bentley, nor did he use dynamite... it was not invented until 1866, he had to use black powder to blow stuff up. And that is okay, it was a lot of fun to write, but still limiting. The novel I just finished yesterday had some stuff blow up and I used AmFo, (ammonia fertilizer and diesel fuel) although I could have chosen any high explosive. I just was not limited.

There is no question westerns are limiting, as they have to be; it is a unique genre about unique places in a unique time period. My whole point was, once creativity takes over, westerns are a blast to write and conjure up, and I hoped to encourage others to write them and not be intimidated.
 

Elenitsa

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Not really though. I mean, I understand what you are saying, but I am not sure you understand what I am.

Yes, there are limitations to every genre, but a romance novelist has the entire world in which to set the story. It could be scientists at the south pole spending a full year there, and that could be in 1930 or 2024.

Not so with a western. It has to be in western usa, or Boliva, Brazil or Alaska the genre is stretched a little. And of course from 1830-1910. That is limiting because you cannot have the heroine in a 2024 story drive a Bently in a western novel.

Obviously that does not mean a writer cannot be creative.... heck I was in my one and only western, it was about an electrician in 1861. But he did not ride into town on a Bentley, nor did he use dynamite... it was not invented until 1866, he had to use black powder to blow stuff up. And that is okay, it was a lot of fun to write, but still limiting. The novel I just finished yesterday had some stuff blow up and I used AmFo, (ammonia fertilizer and diesel fuel) although I could have chosen any high explosive. I just was not limited.

There is no question westerns are limiting, as they have to be; it is a unique genre about unique places in a unique time period. My whole point was, once creativity takes over, westerns are a blast to write and conjure up, and I hoped to encourage others to write them and not be intimidated.
Why necessarily since 1830? Mine was since 1803, including the purchase of Louisiana. The Wild West was West since the first states were East... And yes, I was not intimidated.
 
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RBEmerson

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Limitations are where you find them. [Writing] hands you lemons, make lemonade.

"The West" isn't monolithic. What I have to say in a story from the Southwest is different from Texas, or California, or up into the Dakotas, Montana, etc. Knowing about the history opens vast possibilities. If anything, there are times when I think I see too many possibilities.

There is, of course, the whole issue of "what is a Western". Consider the film "Quigley Down Under". It certainly has some common tropes: "This isn't Dodge City and you aren't Bill Hickok" before the climax. Parts of the story are removed from what many would say makes a Western.

It takes a bit of looking to find them but the Josey Wales novels sometimes feel not quite as Western as a story tied to the American Civil War. Maybe yes, maybe no.

That said, the topic of what makes a Western can be debated until the cows come home. :)
 
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Yes, there are limitations to every genre, but a romance novelist has the entire world in which to set the story. It could be scientists at the south pole spending a full year there, and that could be in 1930 or 2024.

Not so with a western. It has to be in western usa, or Boliva, Brazil or Alaska the genre is stretched a little. And of course from 1830-1910. That is limiting because you cannot have the heroine in a 2024 story drive a Bently in a western novel.

If you decide you want to write a historical novel about the Tudors you are limited to 16th century England. If you decide you want to write a near-future science fiction you are limited to a plausible near-future setting. Any story you write has parameters, and once you select those parameters you necessarily create some limitations. If you find the set of constraints that comes with the Western setting and genre conventions interesting, then use them — but doing so doesn’t make you or your writing more specialer than any other set of constraints. Every story has constraints, and every set of constraints still has limitless possibilities.

:e2coffee:
 

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You read my mind! (And I haven't even published it yet LOL )
 

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Limitations are where you find them. [Writing] hands you lemons, make lemonade.

"The West" isn't monolithic. What I have to say in a story from the Southwest is different from Texas, or California, or up into the Dakotas, Montana, etc. Knowing about the history opens vast possibilities. If anything, there are times when I think I see too many possibilities.

There is, of course, the whole issue of "what is a Western". Consider the film "Quigley Down Under". It certainly has some common tropes: "This isn't Dodge City and you aren't Bill Hickok" before the climax. Parts of the story are removed from what many would say makes a Western.

It takes a bit of looking to find them but the Josey Wales novels sometimes feel not quite as Western as a story tied to the American Civil War. Maybe yes, maybe no.

That said, the topic of what makes a Western can be debated until the cows come home. :)
Oh for sure.

I look at genre as having main genres and then subsets. While I consider "Quigley Down Under" as a Western, I also put it in the Australian Western subset thereof just as I would put a Steampunk story in a subcategory of the Victorian Era. In every genre there are subcategories, like the Romance genre having the Billionaire subset, or the Western genre having the Yukon subset.

But there are also edge cases.

I would consider your 1803 novel as an edge case. There is nothing wrong with considering it a western, it is just earlier than what most people would consider the western era to be. As a writer that is your call to make and certainly you can make some compelling points towards that validity. Unfortunately with edge cases, it does not matter how much an author wants to debate whether it is or is not in some genre category, readers will make the ultimate decision. But that is not defining of a genre, that is marketing.

"Quigley Down Under" is a perfect reference point on this because it absolutely tanked at the box office. I liked the movie myself, but whether others rejected it because they did not feel Australia made it a proper western or if the concept of hunting humans was too much, I am not sure. But the viewership spoke via their wallet nonetheless.
 
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BustedPrinter

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If you decide you want to write a historical novel about the Tudors you are limited to 16th century England. If you decide you want to write a near-future science fiction you are limited to a plausible near-future setting. Any story you write has parameters, and once you select those parameters you necessarily create some limitations. If you find the set of constraints that comes with the Western setting and genre conventions interesting, then use them — but doing so doesn’t make you or your writing more specialer than any other set of constraints. Every story has constraints, and every set of constraints still has limitless possibilities.

:e2coffee:
Oh I agree that all genres have parameters, but the Western genre is a main genre and not a subset category of one. Having a very specific era and setting, as a main genre it is very constrained like no other.

While a novel about the Tudors is very constrained, no bookstore anywhere has a section in its store listed as Tudor. You would find them in the Historical genre section. Westerns are a little different, they have a special place in a bookstore just for them... albeit now, a very small section.

Greater constraint however produces greater creativity.

As an example. If I say write a novel about an epic voyage, that is a rather easy assignment. But if I instead say, "write about an epic voyage in the arctic in 1914 about a cat", that intensely constricting parameters forces a writer to be far more creative. Creative wise, that is a good thing, but may not be good marketing wise, because a Polynesia woman who loves dogs might not be so interested in reading that book.

The problem with edge cases is, a writer is not constrained to being creative within the traditional genre, they are trying to move the defining goal posts instead. That does not mean an edge case novel is any more or less special than one in the traditional genre. A good story, is a good story, is a good story. On it's own it must stand or fall.

But genres are not defined by a single book or a single author. Genre is defined by readership. There will always be those in the fringes, but what really matters is percentages. As an example, I wrote a story of a US Doughboy meeting a Siberian woman in the Russian Civil War of 1920. I would not call that a war story, but rather a Historical Romance, but if 50 out of 100 people do, it is a war story. But equally, if 5 out of 100 do not call it one, then its not. It is not even marketing at this point, its a collective decision. But it does not matter how strongly I make my point, that could be to my detriment because if a reader picks it up wanting a romance novel, and they determine it to be a war story, they will put it down. Or they might read it and determine in their mind that it was billed as something it was not. My opinion has no bearing on the matter, its what the majority of readers think it is that matters. Incidentally, that is what publishers are thinking about as well. Readers, not what an author thinks because that is what matters because they are the ones shelling out money to make the book successful fiscally or not.
 
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RBEmerson

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"Quigley Down Under" is a perfect reference point on this because it absolutely tanked at the box office. I liked the movie myself, but whether others rejected it because they did not feel Australia made it a proper western or if the concept of hunting humans was too much, I am not sure. But the viewership spoke via their wallet nonetheless.
Er, topic drift at work in my reply, but...

I think the notion of "Cowboy goes to Oz" may well have confused folks. As a story, there was very little which warranted saying "oh, really?" Quigley's using his rifle as a bar for exiting a skylight is the example that come to mind quickest. The "magical" appearance of of a skyline full of aborigines as the British major returns at the end of the film could be counted as an example, too. Ah, well, suffice it that Quigley is on my short list of films worth seeing now and again. For that matter, with the exception of Monte Walsh, which just sets wrong with me, Tom Selleck's westerns are all worth revisiting.
 
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Er, topic drift at work in my reply, but...

I think the notion of "Cowboy goes to Oz" may well have confused folks. As a story, there was very little which warranted saying "oh, really?" Quigley's using his rifle as a bar for exiting a skylight is the example that come to mind quickest. The "magical" appearance of of a skyline full of aborigines as the British major returns at the end of the film could be counted as an example, too. Ah, well, suffice it that Quigley is on my short list of films worth seeing now and again. For that matter, with the exception of Monte Walsh, which just sets wrong with me, Tom Selleck's westerns are all worth revisiting.
I liked it the movie myself, but I tend to be very open-minded because I see novels and screenplays as having no real rules to them, just that is the writer does swerve out of the expected trajectory, they do so at their own risk, and needing much more explanation to make it plausible. I think it would have done better money wise if it had been converted to the American Southwest. It did not bother me that it was in the Australian Outback, but I think for many it did.

But I also like the movie because I love long-range shooting. I admit that I got four AR-15's that can mag-dump 30 rounds in 3 seconds, but spewing out rounds is not what I like doing. For me I like taking my Bergara and calculating for distance, windage, elevation, rotation of the earth, and then hearing that ping of lead against steel 12 seconds later because the target is a mile away. I just like that sort of slow, accurate shooting. One round every five minutes, not ten rounds per second. Obviously, Quigley Down Under" was all about the former.

That love did make it into one of my novels, a US Doughboy who was very accurate long range. Maybe it was modern day political correctness, or knowing the mental hardships my brother has endured since coming back from Afghanistan as a sniper, but my character only used his skill to save life. When presented with the opportunity to hold back, with that decision being pivotal to the defining moment of the novel.
 
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I only write a western from time to time, and I've only had one published, but I absolutely love writing them. There's a rich literary and cinematic tradition in the genre. You can pick and choose from hundreds of archetypes (the honorable outlaw, the just lawman, the gambler, on and on). Shootouts are fun as hell to write. The limited technology of the time, I find, actually makes plotting easier because you don't have to worry about phone calls, doing online research, or being able to drive a car anywhere you want to go. You can take your time and really develop the characters and setting: characters have to have genuine conversations, they take several hours or even days to go from one town to the next, and it makes perfect sense for somebody to not know everything about current trends and notable events. It's a great genre to work in and it breaks my heart that it's something of a niche interest.
 
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You can also do quite a bit of stretching if you want to. When I was in grade school I discovered a series of books called The Young Trailers, by Joseph Altsheler. Looking back on them now, they were really terrible (heck, he wrote them before WWI, different standards for children's lit), but hey, I was a little kid and thought they were thrilling. The content made a big impression on me, but luckily the writing didn't rub off! Really, they're so awful...

Anyway, the point is that they're set in pre-Revolutionary Kentucky. Which, technically, at that time in history, was the Western frontier. There's pioneers, settlers, guns, Indians, mysterious loner--pretty classic Western stuff.

Grab the tropes you like, toss them in a bag, shake it up, dump it out, see what comes out. Might be fun!
 

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Um, I'd beg to differ on the suggestion that backwoods Kentucky in the 1700's qualifies for the broad heading "Western". I will say that the people who populated "The West" came from "Kanetuck'", etc., and brought their mores with them. And that formed a part of the Western mores. But there's more to it than that, notably the Spanish and Mexican influence, as well as emigrants and immigrants from, literally, all over the world.

Gingham dresses, horses, Indians, and guns alone doth not a Western make. :)
 
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Um, I'd beg to differ on the suggestion that backwoods Kentucky in the 1700's qualifies for the broad heading "Western". I will say that the people who populated "The West" came from "Kanetuck'", etc., and brought their mores with them. And that formed a part of the Western mores. But there's more to it than that, notably the Spanish and Mexican influence, as well as emigrants and immigrants from, literally, all over the world.

Gingham dresses, horses, Indians, and guns alone doth not a Western make. :)
I agree. I would call that Historical Fiction, but not a true western. While I appreciate that as writers we can break any rules we want, the problem with watering down genre definitions is, it soon makes the genre lack significance. But that does not mean a writer cannot use that kind of information in their western.

For instance, in my western set in the Nevada Territory of 1861, the back story was one of the villains fathers had been part of the Georgia Gold Rush and he was hoping for that again. In fact, that literal rush of finding gold where no one expected it to be by his father, consumed the man. He wanted to make that his legacy, his family's legacy. I wanted readers to know that the California Gold Rush was NOT the first gold rush, and in fact neither was Georgia. That was actually in North Carolina in 1799,

So while outside the genre's era, with a little creative working, tidbits of history that you might love, can be included.