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How To Write Westerns and Cowboy, Frontier and Kung Fu, Fiction
by Maria Z.
Western fiction features the American West as a fresh new frontier full of new discoveries, adventure and hope. Stories of this genre are written in the American Old West in the nineteenth century (or thereabouts).
Some related works of literature include tales from the Argentinian gauchos and stories from the Australian outback. A few notable names in the Western fiction world are Zane Grey, Owen Wister and Louis L’Amour.
The popularity of this genre was at its peak in the 1960’s, following the end of most pulp publishing. This was most probably due to the rise of Western television productions in this era. However, the demand for this genre has fallen to an all-time low since the beginning of the 21st century. Writing classic Western fiction is an uncommon thing to do in this age of pop culture, but it is definitely something you could try your hand at.
Kung fu has been adapted to the Western or Frontier novel many times but will still add interest and make the story more contemporary.
Subgenres and Additional Elements
• Science fiction Western
The same American West setting, but with the presence of modern technology. Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds depicts a version of this – an ultra-modern time setting found in an old American West setting. Often this is along the lines of an advanced culture choosing old-time fashions – a bit post-modern.
• Steampunk Western
Steampunk is mainly a branch of both fantasy and science fiction and has most probably earned its name from the usage of steam power in appliances as was popular in the 19th century. Most stories of this subgenre are written in an alternative-history manner. (Try reading Mervyn Peake’s Titus Alone, a title usually seen as straight fantasy)
• Weird West
This subgenre incorporates elements of horror and the occult with the traditional Western settings. Try reading Johnny Ray Barnes or Joe R. Lansdale’s works to see how this subgenre works.
• Naturally, your first choice would be the American plains, but if you’re planning to write a Peake-inspired story, plan out your alternate world in detail.
• Cross-era stories are interesting and fun to write, but make sure you match your content to the right time period.
• Most of the traditional Western literature is set in the latter half of the 19th century.
• Are there any figures in real history that you would want to write about? “Wild Bill” Hickok, the infamous frontier marshal and gunfighter? Billy the Kid, teenage outlaw? With some research on Western figures you can draw a lot of inspiration for characters.
• Alternatively, you could come up with your own version of existing fictional Western characters like Jim Lassiter and Bern Venters.
• Map out your storyline.
• Choose your critical moments. Bank robbery? Shoot-out? Stand-off? Jailbreak? Unexpected arrival of giant space ship in town?
• If you plan to work around a few themes, integrate them smoothly into the story’s events.
• Read history articles or classic Western novels to help you figure out how to develop your plot. Then twist the expectations to make it interesting.