I wanted to write a Western, an old-fashioned cowboy story so I did some research. I watched a load of old movies (they’re always on telly) and I borrowed some novels from the library to help with the vernacular. In particular, I enjoyed Bradford Scott’s Haunted Valley and I found this website extremely useful.
I learned a few things along the way:
– The story should start with action. You just jump right in. You’ll see from the extract below that I do just that.
– There should be no hint of sex. Obviously, characters breed but strictly speaking, a Western doesn’t mention the act. There is also no bad language, apart from things like ‘dad-blasted’ and ‘cotton-pickin’ and other such phrases.
– The protagonist is a strong, silent type, skilled with guns and horses, and knowledgable about all sorts of things but especially the ways of the world. He will prefer his solitary existence to romantic involvement. He is a crusader for justice and master of his emotions. He will stand up against evil and is revered wherever he goes. He is intelligent and has the highest personal integrity. He must appear in every chapter. The trouble solved, he will ride off into the sunset at the end. (My protagonist, Jed, is very much in the mould – think Lucky Luke played by Clint Eastwood!)
– Life is tough, a constant battle for survival.
– People are poorly educated and this is reflected in the dialogue.
– There is one main plot and few subplots – if any!
This checklist guided me through the first draft but it became clear right from the outset, my story was not going to be a typical Western. Right from the off, as soon as I typed the first sentence, I knew it was going to be different. You will see from the extract how elements of science fiction creep in. These become more prevalent as the plot develops and yet I believe I’ve managed to keep to the formula. And so, I’ve failed but also succeeded. I’m very pleased with the way the book has turned out.
The second draft is out with readers at the moment. I’m eagerly awaiting their responses.
Meanwhile, here’s the opening of my sci-fi Western, VULTURES’ MOON.
Jed patted his Horse’s neck. They hovered over the canyon at the bottom of which a battle was raging. Closer inspection revealed it was more of an ambush than a fair fight. Jed clicked his tongue. Horse brought him down to land, crooking its legs so Jed could dismount. In a fluid movement, Jed dropped to the dirt, rolled over and rose up onto one knee, firing off rounds in steady blasts as he did. The bad guys fell, great holes yawning in their heads and chests and bellies. The stench of sizzling flesh filled the air. At the centre of the carnage, the victims cowered in shock. Jed stood up and walked towards them with his hands spread wide. The spurs on his boot heels whirred and clinked with every step- they were decorative only; Jed had other methods of directing his Horse.
The victims were two females and an elderly gent, who was bent double with age. The ladies, the geezer’s granddaughters maybe, moved in front of the old man protectively.
“Is anyone hurt, ladies?” Jed glanced at the wreckage of their cart. The wheels were smashed and their horse – one of the original kind – was dead. Clearly, these folks were in need of an alternative mode of transport.
“We’re fine,” said one of them – the blonde one. She looked Jed up and down, her expression unreadable.
“But thanks,” added the other one, shorter and redheaded. She too gave Jed the onceover and apparently was pleased with what she saw.
“You folks took a risk being out here,” Jed kicked at a dead man’s boot. Yup; definitely dead.
“We – we had no choice!” the redhead blurted.
“Quiet, Lilimae!” the blonde jumped in. She turned to Jed. “Like my sister says, thanks, Mister, for your timely assistance. These, ah, gentlemen, looked likely to be the ruination of us.”
“Where you folks headed?” Jed rubbed his chin. Need a shave, he reckoned. Perhaps a trip into town was warranted.
“Oh, we -” Lilimae was silenced by a swipe from her sister’s hand.
“That’s none of your concern,” the blonde said coldly. “And I’ll thank you to leave us to fadge for ourselves.”
Fadge? Jed’s eyebrows flew up. He tried to place the word. Which sector were these folks from?
“Here.” The old coot was shuffling forwards. He held out a bar of platinum. It flashed as it caught the sun.
“That’s not necessary, sir.” Jed tipped his hat. “If you folks are sure?”
The three exchanged glances.
“We are,” said the blonde girl. The others nodded.
Jed went back to his Horse.
“Something not right…” he muttered as he got back in the saddle.
“My thoughts exactly,” said his Horse.