Firstly, what is genre?
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The western is usually, though not always, set in the time period following the Civil War and up to the early 1890's - however many great westerns are set both before and after this timeline, but as a general rule the western should be set between 1865 and 1900.
The hero or indeed heroine of the story should be someone the reader can identify with and the trials faced by he or she should propel the story forward in a logical and exciting way. Of course the hero doesn't have to be of the clean cut, square jawed variety - think of the anti-hero but even the most despicable of characters must have some redeeming features and an understandable reason to do what he/she does.
Anyone wanting to write in the genre must first and foremost read within the genre. Pick up a western and read it firstly for the enjoyment of the story but then flip it back over and read it again, this time paying attention to how it is plotted. Pay particular attention to how the main character is developed throughout the story, Does the writer present big chunks of characterisation? Or is the character developed through actions and events? There is no right or wrong way but the main character must be credible and remain of consistent character throughout.
Farmers, cowboys, cavalrymen, miners, Indian fighters, gamblers, outlaws, railroad builders, frontier women - all have a part to play in the western experience and the very best fiction can tell us a little about ourselves and indeed about our society today.
Some notable westerns that anyone wanting to write western fiction must read:
Lonesome Dove by Larry Mcmurtry - this is truly epic storytelling on a grand scale. Though it is the superbly drawn characters that make this novel live and breathe. It is also worth watching the excellent television mini-series made from the book.
Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey - this is in the public domain and can be obtained free from Project Guttenberg. Lassiter, the hero, is a chief strand of the DNA of every western character that has come since.
The Virginian by Owen Wister - Written in 1902 this book, more than any other, defined the western genre. Public Domain copies are also available of this title but the Oxford Library edition contains an essential essay by Robert Shulman that should be read by any would be western writers.
The Searchers by Alan LeMay - I'm including this because I read for the first time recently and as well as being a great story the author provides a master-class in creating the anti-hero with Amos Edwards.
Six Bits a Day by Elmer Kelton - pretty much anything by Kelton is essential but this sequel to The Good Old Boys provides a thrilling look at the cowboy lifestyle.
Hondo by Louis Lamour - as with Kelton, it is worth studying any of Lamour's westerns but this one offers a good example of the mysterious loner. The movie's pretty damn good too.
Edge: The Loner by George G. Gilman - to my mind the best of the adult westerns. Any of the Edge novels are worth studying as examples of the more extreme westerns but The Loner is where it all started and it's currently available as a spanking new eBook from Solstice Publishing.
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So if you still think you've got what it takes to take on the genre that truly is too tough to die then get writing and email us your work as a WORD or RTF file to:firstname.lastname@example.org Ideal wordage is between 40,000 - 90,000 words but we will consider work that is longer if the story merits such length. Double spacing will make your work easier to read and is most desirable.