Genre tips

6 Tips for Western Fiction Writers

western writingIf you love books by Louis L’Amour, A.B. Guthrie (The Big Sky and The Way West) or Elmore Leonard (3:10 to Yuma), you may be a western fiction writer. In a nutshell, Western fiction deals with life and times of the American Wild West, mostly mid- to late- 1800’s. It used to be wildly popular, but is now less so, though those who follow it are eager for new, authentic publications.

If you are interested in testing out this genre, join Western Writers of America--the pre-eminant online organization for Western writers–and read these tips on thriving in that writing style:

  1. based in the American Old West with the attitudes, changes, manners, and lawlessness of that era
  2. as with historic fiction, be very sure of your facts. This includes clothing, language, structures, events, and more. Here’s a list of resources to get those details right.
  3. it’s OK to have stereotypical characters–the gunslinger, the saloon girls, the steel-eyed sheriff. In fact, readers want them, but add your own twist to make them unique
  4. whoever your hero, s/he must have a noble goal. As in thrillers, readers like a gutsy stand against all odds for a worthy reason.
  5. the hero must have a problem. Not someone else’s problem–his, that he alone can solve
  6. tell a captivating story. An analysis of emotions and motivations doesn’t interest readers as much in this genre as some of the others, though a compelling plot might make that work

Anyone write this style? I’d love to hear your feedback.

More Genre tips:

8 Tips for Historic Fiction Writers

11 Tips on Writing Thrillers

9 Tips for Mystery Writers

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is  editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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23 thoughts on “6 Tips for Western Fiction Writers

  1. I remember when I first began devouring Historical Romance Novels back in the early ’80’s (oh dear) lol, there were quite a lot of Western and deep South settings to chose from. As I come from a country that doesn’t really have a Wild West history – more Bush-rangers and Outback – I really enjoyed learning more about the early struggles & how untamed and rugged the American West was – a vast and vivid place. Ideal for a Romance setting. Gorgeous heroic characters, vast land properties and ranches, & the small towns were fascinating. Pubs everywhere. Mines, land titles, the railways Gold-rushes, and always a woman involved Haha. Also interesting was that many of the stories were still closely linked by family or situation, to the *motherland* (England) I really liked that aspect for some reason🙂


  2. I think this is a genre that could easily trip people up with incorrect facts being presented. It could really throw a reader out of a book, but as you say, get the facts right and it’s a big part.


  3. The second novel I’m publishing spends a lot of time in the west. I don’t have a real gunslinger (only an Eastern boy who thinks he’s tough) but I have The Buckskin Saloon, drunk young men, a whore and Buck Crenshaw the West Point cadet running from his problems. I LOVE the old west, but when people get shot in my book it’s out of stupidity or depression. Thanks for the resources though–I’m going to check them out after walking my goats.


  4. Excellent advice which I follow in writing my Buffalo Soldier series, which, although it is meant to be historical fiction, is set in the era making it also a western series as well, and most of the comments I’ve gotten have been from western fans.


  5. Good advice Jacqui. I am a sucker for fiction related to the American Wild West. My favourite character is “Sudden”, created by Oliver Strange. I can relate to all the 6 points you make through these books.


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