Writing an Old West Tale: Initial Ramblings
I’ve got a hankering to try my hand at writing a Western story.
The last year I’ve been experimenting with trying to write in different genres and in different methods. Nothing has really worked 100%.
So over the last couple weeks I’ve been watching some old movies. Science-fiction, spy, noir, and Western. Time of production ranged from late 1930s to late 1950s.
After watching a particular Western (that I’ll not identify for now), I was struck by how even though the protagonist never achieved his initial stated goal, he found a new goal that promised him happiness.
I’m not by any means an expert on Westerns. Childhood memories of them being on TV, with only dim recollections of what was going on. So when I decided to start writing a couple years back, I bought some Western movies to add to my DVD collection to watch for inspiration about making strong, action-oriented characters.
It seems to me there are really two basic types of Western movies: 1) shoot-em-ups full of chases and gunfights; and 2) morality plays that focus intently on one or two characters and often the difference between what is legal and what is “right.” The best Western movies of course have some of each type in them.
Even the most basic shoot-em-up revolves around some kind of disruption of the moral order of society, be it about bandits or Indian raids or whatever.
And even the deepest Western morality tale will have moments of high action with fists and guns.
One thing that I think appeals to me about many Westerns is that the protagonist is basically Joe Everyman.
He might have some special skill with guns or cards or horses, or some special authority such as being a US Marshall, but his desires and motives are generally understandable by the average person.
He wants respect, or a patch of ground to call his own, or to protect someone, or to avenge a wrong. Often some combination.
Like any good story, a Western has conflict at its heart. There’s going to be a story question that flows from the protagonist’s motivations.
Will the lawman get his man? Will the miner defend his claim? Will the gambler charm the saloon gal and win her heart? Will the drifter get revenge on the man who killed his brother?
Such questions are the key to keeping the viewer or reader engaged in the story. Drag out any definitive answer until the ending.