How to Write a Western Romance

 

Westerns, a fully-formed genre, offer riveting ways to integrate old ideas, and basically a good Western portrays how the deep-rooted traditions still have value and should not be completely forgotten. If you have a compelling plot and characters with strong emotions and motivations, you’re on the right track. Settings and descriptions play an integral part in devising the Western story.

In order to sound like an authority, it’s important to remain loyal to what has already been accepted as Western literature. To paraphrase the author Frederick W. Boling, as a writer you should be reading everything in whatever genre you’re writing—good and bad alike.

This means for background study purposes, don’t read just the classics in order to craft your story or novel. I believe that Boling is right. I read this genre—whether good or bad—if I really can’t handle a poorly written book, I usually try to get it in the audio version and listen to it as I tool around town in my car.

I also watched and continue to view Western movies—old and new—classics and pardon the expression—crappola!  Every decade of Western films! You never know when you’ll see something and become inspired—some little incident, an action, the language used, the type of gun or knife, how scenes were built and envisioned, something that you can transmute to make your own and use in your writing.

Research is a must.  Read the history and the geography concerning the regions and the places you’re going to write about.  Become familiar with the setting.  It always helps to visit the places you’re writing about because it lends an air of validity to the writing. Be sure of the terminology, dress, language, customs, structures, incidents of the times.  You can use conventional characters–the formulaic gunslinger, the hackneyed saloon girls, the clichéd sheriff. In fact, readers want them, but add your own take to manipulate these to make them your own and unique.

Write scenes that encompass action and dialogue and rely on the five senses.  Dialogue: reveals character and advances the plot. Beware of too much phonetic spelling and dialects—it can be off-putting to the reader as it is difficult to follow for long passages. I remember reading Roots by Alex Haley and suffering to get through it, just for that reason—jargon.

There are so many visuals a writer can utilize and these offer riveting ways to integrate long-standing notions.  Also these can paint us a vivid picture of how things used to be before the encroaching of modern times in towns and the urbanization of sprawling cities, metropolitan living, etc. What I love about Westerns is finding out how much of the past informs our modern lives and also the future.  Western drama embraces masculinity and symbolism. The real achievement, I think, when portraying the old West is to make the scenes as realistic as possible, as if you were actually living in this lawless era.

I consider myself lucky because I fell in love with Cayo Bradley, my cowboy a three-dimensional character in The Girl Who Loves Cayo Bradley. Yes, I was so taken by him that I even wrote an entire book of Western poems, Westward: Guided by Starfalls and Moonbows, including a poem dedicated to him, entitled: “Cayo Bradley.” I allowed him to invade my psyche, which was beneficial to knowing him inside and out.  I submersed myself in the period in which he lived, and in my mind, still lives.  Make the characters in your novel have noble goals, important ambitions and objectives that they will risk seeking, despite the fact that they are flawed individuals.

Western fiction portrays life in the epoch of the American Wild West, a period gone by and typically comprises the mid to late 1800’s. My novel is set in 1874 with some scenes or descriptions of earlier occurrences, such as the Battle of Cineguilla. For this novel, I purchased several books on the Jicarilla Apache Nation including their dictionary.

I love driving out west.  Currently, I’m based in Utah, and it’s a great jumping off place to see Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and New Mexico, which I’ve travelled to many times.  I visited the Santa Fe library, the Indian Arts and Cultural Museum, the Wheelwright Museum, where I was fortunate enough to meet a lovely docent, who was most accessible and gave me many handouts about the Indian tribe that I was writing about.  I love to talk to people, and in New Mexico that’s just what I did—especially in Santa Fe.

My friend and mentor, John Dufresne, told me when I first met him in 1991 that the Universe conspires to bring you all you need to write a novel.  I believe this idea of finding everything you need to complete a book is true.  So far I’ve been blessed since the Universe has never let me down.