Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by Veltman, Nov 9, 2018.
If so, what would be the overall themes in it?
Absolutely. In fact I do have a couple of ideas that I have not completely fleshed out yet. Survival, being isolated, family.... Like I say I have the ideas of where I want to go with the story but have not fleshed it out. One does include the "mail order bride". In fact that is how my great great grandfather met his wife.
I have. Not a pure western, and no novels, but a fair chunk of my stories are Weird Westerns. That includes my first ever published short story. "Hooves and Tobacco on a Sunday Morning" was centered on the importance of stories, the grain of truth in legends. "Acheri" was about loss and finding peace. "Truth" was about the difficulty in discerning the truth from two wildly different stories. "Water, Gunpowder, Sorcery" was about how damaging hatred can be. All of those other than "Acheri" are set in the real world with some subdued tinges of magic.
I've got an idea for a Western/Fantasy genre mashup with a plot based on the Texas-Comanche Wars, but I have no idea when I'll get around to worldbuilding and actually writing it.
There should be more of those! Especially now that King's "Dark Tower" is getting popular, movie out and all, I think its a genre that needs to be explored more. There's so much one can do with it. The classic western is soooo tired out, but add some magic or robots or cannibals and ghosts to it, and we can bring it back to it's glorious days.
I tried it in a short story. Posted it in the western section on this forum, it was just another story.
Yes, I had a 2 1000 worder published here:
It's not perfect, I really like the genre; I just need a half dozen of those greasy little paperbacks in my collection. Struggled with 'Lonesome Dove' but will return to it...
No. Not a standard Western. Never. Even though I have a lifelong interest in the Old West, and my own novel is set there. But reducing the experience of displacement/settlement of the west into a formulaic white hat black hat bandit bad Indian thing drives me cuckoo.
There are SO many events and developments to take into account—including changing attitudes and eye-opening histories that have been long suppressed. The real stories of people who actually lived through these times are SO much more interesting than the formulaic western, which is largely a product of the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s ...including attitudes we no longer subscribe to. (Or most of us don't, anyway.)
No, I will not write a formulaic Western or read them either (although I have read some of Elmer Kelton's westerns recently, which do have a sense of place and a degree of realism that's appealing.)
However, give me a straightforward novel set in the Old West and I'll follow you anywhere. The nineteenth century is crucial to the development of the USA as a nation, and I think it needs to be understood better than it is. Reducing it to Western formulaic mythology just isn't what we need right now, is it?
Well said. Why build a story around things that didn't happen?
Oh, I thought this was what was implied by the question...
a) I agree with @jannert that the "classic western" is a highly formulaic venue that clearly answers to a deep-seated need in the cultural psyche to revise an unflattering era of time into a more heroic, myth-worthy faux-era for historical reference, and
b) I lack the history buff gene necessary to get all the little facts correct, which would be under understandable, yet whithering scrutiny by those who do know the era. I lack that gene in general; hence, period pieces are not my thing to write, regardless of the period, though I enjoy reading them muchly.
I've read some really interesting versions of the traditional western lately--I think judging the genre by the worst examples it has produced is just as unfair to westerns as it is to other genres.
I didn't really enjoy the hyper-violence of The Sisters Brothers, but I appreciated what it was trying to do. I really liked that one with all the Aztec mythology mixed in... @Wreybies, I think you recommended it to me, or at least read it yourself? What the hell was it called? And I liked Doc quite a bit, although I didn't enjoy the sequel as much.
Anyway... I don't think westerns have to be formulaic. I don't think that's a requirement of the genre.
That was the Hexslinger series by Gemma Files. Loosely molded on the characters presented in the film 3:10 to Yuma (2007), but given a hairpin turn into darkly delicious Aztec fantasy realms with a crunchy LGBTQ meringue topping. One of the more enjoyable and satisfying encounters I've had with a gay couple, and they weren't remotely nice people, but certainly very intriguing.
The American west is the setting for formulaic (with mythological settings and characters) Westerns, but not all stories set in the 19th century west would fall into that category.
Old Jules (Mari Sandoz)
The Big Sky, The Way West, These Thousand Hills (AB Guthrie)
Dancing At the Rascal Fair (Andrew Doig)
The Ranch on the Beaver (Andy Adams)
Sun Up: The Last of the Cow Camps, Smoky the Cow Horse (Will James)
Old Yeller (Fred Gipson)
The Home Ranch, Little Britches (Ralph Moody)
Fool's Crow (James Welch)
Snowblind Moon (John Byrne Cooke)
These novels are not referred to as genre Westerns.
The Wikipedia article on the Western genre covers what people expect when they sit down to read or watch 'a Western.' They expect a different sort of story altogether—and yes, they expect the formula to be there. Check out the article below, which give information on major themes and characters contained in genre Westerns.
That Wikipedia article seems to be really focused on movies, but even within that limitation I'm seeing mention of movies like Unforgiven, Brokeback Mountain, No Country for Old Men, and books like The Stand. Do these seem like formulaic westerns to you?
This probably belongs in the Confessions thread, but Louis L'amour books are kind of a guilty pleasure of mine. Sure, they're not really fiction of the highest calibre, they're not really historically accurate, they're formulaic, and some indigenous peoples are seriously misrepresented, but they're fun to read escapism that I really don't think was meant to be taken too seriously and I like that about them. I've always wanted to write a Western, but I've never really been able to pull it off. That and there really hasn't been a huge market for Westerns for the past while means that it's always been at the bottom of my to-do pile. Maybe I should dust off the spurs stetson and give it another go now that I don't really have anything lined up over the next couple of months. But I should base it off of some old Samurai film and set it in space... in the past... Don't think anyone's done that before. I could make millions.
I would and I hope to. Most of my fantasy and sci-fi action adventure stories were inspired by westerns, and I imagine they'll continue to be. In terms of themes, I think the big one is deciding to leave the safety and comfort of civilization for a chance at a better, freer life. That takes courage and self-reliance, and those are virtues I greatly admire.
I doubt it needs to be said, but I've never had an issue with formulaic storytelling or tropes.
Brokeback Mountain is certainly not a mythological-based Western, is it? It's a story set in the west, but not a genre Western. When I say genre Western, I'm not thinking Brokeback Mountain. (I've never seen the movie, but I did read E Annie Proulx's story many years ago.) I'm not familiar with the others on your list, so I can't comment.
Here are a few explanations of the different genres within the scope of a "Western." Several of these are quite formulaic, others less so. These come from a book on my writing shelf, entitled: How To Write Western Novels, by Matt Braun. (It's a Writer's Digest publication.) Matt Braun has written 31 Western novels, and won the Golden Spur Award in 1976, for The Kincaids.
If people now prefer to define a Western as any book set in the American West, then I do read Westerns and I have also written one. However, defining a book category simply by where the setting takes place seems a bit weird. Do we call novels set in New York "New Yorkers?" Or novels set in Scotland "Scotlanders?"
I do think a Western used to define a type of story, rather than just its location. In fact, one of my favourite sci-fi series (Firefly) has been described as a 'Western in Space.' That would imply a Western is a type of story, rather than a location, wouldn't it?
Yes, I think a western is a type of story, but I don't think being a "type of story" means you have to be formulaic. For example, I think Firefly took some elements of a western and ignored other elements and made something pretty original and enjoyable.
So, no, just being set in the historical west doesn't mean your story is a western, but just being a western doesn't mean your story is formulaic.
You might want to try reading Elmer Kelton's books. He's a better writer than Louis L'Amour, but he is a genre Western writer as well. He only recently died a few years ago, so he's fairly modern. He sticks with the part of the country he knows best ...Texas. His books are actually quite enjoyable to read, and he does a good job of recreating the conditions and countryside that frame his books. His characters are good as well.
I'm probably out of date. But the Westerns I grew up with were certainly formulaic. Ever read Zane Grey? Louis L'Amour? Even Elmer Kelton? Like any other kind of formula fiction, people like to read them because there won't be too many surprises. Just an enjoyable journey through familiar territory with a predictible end. (After a struggle, the good guys win, and usually get the girl, if there is a girl to be got.) Nothing wrong with that, by the way.
Yeah, I've read Louis L'Amour and Zane Grey. And I think a lot of other people read them, too, and used them as a jumping-off point for some pretty cool stuff!
There’s a wrong way to write Westerns. And there are wrong ways to write fantasy, science fiction, horror, etc. Stories that simply rehash The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, are probably a waste of time. They won’t have Clint Eastwood in them, so they have no chance of being anywhere near as good.
This applies to every genre though. No one wants to read an unoriginal LoTR ripoff either. But we know that Fantasy is more than just the genre of elves and dwarves. And westerns can be more than just the genre of “cowboys and indians.”
I’m writing a space western right now. I don’t call it a space western because it has rocket-ship riding spaceboys with ray guns and beam lasos, though that would make intriguing pulp fiction. Instead, it deals with life on the frontier of an interplanetary civilization. Life where law is scarce and harsh, and people can not afford luxuries that we would take for granted, while still having drops of advanced technology that would fascinate us.
The Western genre done right is about the frontier, and life on it. Just like Fantasy is about imaginary worlds, and science fiction is about science (not super heroes punching people into buildings). There is a right way and a wrong way to write every genre.
IDK, I tend to agree that they are kinda formulaic.
Potentially one day there will be 10 gal. hats, ass-less
chaps, and maniacs riding giraffes with saddles across
the wide open plains of Antarctica.
As someone who wrote a western (and did it badly) I'd probably say it's a good idea if you're going to do it properly. I love the genre and love the feel of the setting and the character placement. The problem for me was I was so determined to write a western that I barely did any research and made some stupid mistakes (the most glaring of which being something that was purely there for literary effect - I made it rain a lot!)
What I will say is that A Town Called Hope was incredibly fun to write and I loved doing it. It was a good step towards figuring out where I stand as a writer and what I'm good (and not so good) at. But then, this is probably true whatever genre your first published book is in.
Themes that I covered were family, tragedy, some seriously dark murders and a huge amount of racism - weirdly enough though, I wouldn't say any of those have to be specific to the genre.
Another great 'real' book about the cowboy West that I'm reading again (from my own library) is Storm and Stampede on the Chisholm, by Hubert E Collins.
As a boy of around 11-12 years old, he lived for a while on the Red Fork Ranch (0wned at the time by his much older brother Ralph), near to where the Chisholm Trail and the Reno Trail crossed the Cimmaron River. He experienced life on this kind of a ranch and way stop for Texas herds heading north, muleskinner freight caravans and regular stagecoach line in the early 1880s. Later on he became a cowboy himself, before going back east to college and becoming an engineer.
He became concerned, in his later years, that the picture people had of the old west was being badly warped by the entertainment industry (books and films) and was anxious to set things straight.
One of the best things about his book and his life was his attitude towards the Indians. He got to know them well, especially the Cheyennes, and has nothing but praise for the kind of people they were and the kind of life they led...before AND after their lands were taken from them.
The more I read of eyewitness accounts of this period, the more disgruntled I get at formulaic Westerns. "Westerns" are so shallow, compared to what really happened. There is a rich lode of folk history out there, if people could be bothered to mine it.
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