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Of Alien Worlds…and Adjectives and Nouns January 12, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, history, iPhone, movies & TV, sci-fi, science fiction, steampunk, Wild West, writing.
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I have mentioned before that writing westerns is now equivalent to writing sf. Science fiction envisions new and different worlds filled with characters unknown or unimagined by the reader. The traditional western set in the post Civil War era through 1890 and the closing of the frontier is now the same. Growing up, my oldest relatives lived at the edge of that time. Now that the WWII generation is shuffling off its mortal coil, firsthand stories are lost. With iPhones, 3D printers and wifi our everyday reality, the 1880s is completely unknown to modern readers through personal experience of family story. That means the same techniques we use to bring sf alien worlds alive are now necessary for westerns. We need to take the reader to a time and place completely beyond their ken with vivid description–and explanation of why the world is as we write it with “alien” elements like horses and cattle drives.

The style of writing has changed immensely in the last 25 years, where idea driven stories have fallen out of favor to ones with character driven plots. Westerns need to gear up, too, but a lot of writers already understand this and are working to give depth and motive (other than “revenge”) to their characters.

Along with this change is the broadening (I hesitate to say diluting, but that is part of it) with so many cross-genre stories. The noun is always the dictating form. For instance, ranch romance is a romance with all those conventions set in the west. If you happen to come across a romance western, you will have found a rare entry. Most all “…” romance is above all a romance. Paranormal romance. That’s romance with creepy happenings. Historical romance. A romance set in some other time period. And so on.

One interesting backwater is the western steampunk story. It can as easily be steampunk western. Adjective defining the type of western. Or the weird western. There aren’t many other sub genres that let us do a western with different overtones (there might be western mysteries like Longmire but check the adjective and the noun) but to maintain the structure, the very world of western lore requires us to understand what we are writing.

I love traditional westerns, but they were/too-often-are action driven with little regard to the characters. The best in the field like Elmer Kelton either consciously or unconsciously realized a western becomes more vital with living, breathing characters doing things the reader can identify with. With this additional writing technique, we now have to describe a world so far removed in time and space that it has become science fictional.

For your perusal, check out this Western Fictioneers series centered on individuals in the Old West. My Jackson Lowry title The Artist is an example of what I have been rattling on about. It is set in the Old West with a real character with a history, motivation and depth to bring him alive to today’s readers. It’s on sale right now, so you won’t be out that much to see what I mean. You won’t go wrong with the other novels in the West of the Big River series, either.

Happy trails, buckaroos.

A story of Charles Russell

A story of Charles Russell

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Comments»

1. Fred A. Shaw - January 12, 2014

This is good advice for writing scripts for historical reenacting in a museum setting as well. Visitors have little or no experience of the time they are visiting. First-person interpretation must be vivid and touch the motivations, prejudices, and real lifestyles of the particular time. Bridges of understanding, or at least empathy, must be constructed via our words and actions between the world of the visitor and the world in which the interpreter is living.
Fred A. Shaw, SUMAC HISTORICAL ENTERPRISES
http://www.sumac-enterprises.net

2. schillingklaus - March 16, 2015

I detest character-driven writing rigoirously at any cost; therefore, none of your propaganda will deter me from writing and reading exclusively idea-driven novels, no matter what genre.

Even first-person stories need to distance the narrator from the character, as already correctly practised by Laurence Sterne in Tristram Shandy.

bobv451 - March 16, 2015

“your propaganda”? Mine, you mean? Characters have to be real but I prefer idea-driven stories, which is what I have written for 40 years. An idea-driven story can have living, breathing characters without having puppets being moved about for the sake of being moved about deus ex machina.


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