Westerns as a Literary Genre

Definition – Examples – How to Write

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Hello Lovelies, and welcome back to the blog. Last week, we started learning about the fifth Pillar of Genre, Fiction. We went over a definition for Inspirational Fiction, and we talked about some examples and how to write it. This week, I want to dive deeper into the next of those subgenres, that of Western Fiction. Let’s get started.

Western Fiction Definition

Books in the western genre are made up of stories that take place in the American Old West, typically during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The westerns explore various moral ambiguities and topical problems by means of dramatic allegories set in the Old West.

ArtOfManliness.com also makes this further distinction on the Western Fiction genre:

“Simply being set in the West does not a Western make; if so, novels like East of Eden or Angle of Repose would be found here. While not every novel will satisfy every marker, each book listed here includes most of the following elements:

Geographically set west of the Mississippi River. While some very early Westerns are set in the likes of Kentucky and Ohio, the geography that really captured readers’ attention and defined the legend of the cowboy lies west of the Mississippi: Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, etc. Also, Westerns don’t generally reach the West Coast.”


I am not very well versed in Western literature myself, but our very best friend Google is, and they can give us a load of great examples of western fiction that even someone such as myself can recognize.

  1. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy Originally written as a screenplay, the story occurs in the vicinity of the Mexico–United States border in 1980 and concerns an illegal drug deal gone awry in the Texas desert back country. 
  2. True Grit by Charles Portis First published as a serial in The Saturday Evening Post, the novel is told from the perspective of a woman named Mattie Ross, who recounts the time when she was 14 and sought retribution for the murder of her father by a scoundrel, Tom Chaney. 
  3. The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson The first in his “Walt Longmire” series starring crime-solving Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire. When Cody Pritchard is found dead two years after he and his friends assaulted a Northern Cheyenne girl, Walt considers this may be an act of vengeance, a theory solidified after a second boy from the assault is murdered.
  4. Little Big Man by Thomas Berger Narrated by the 111-year-old Jack Crabb, this satirical western is about a white man who was raised by the Cheyenne Native Americans and describes his life in the west. As Crabb encounters a cast of famous characters from Buffalo Bill to General Custer, he continually leaves and returns to the Cheyenne community as he considers the entirety of his identity. 

How to Write Western Fiction as a Literary Genre

If you are interested in writing westerns, I’m excited to share these notes I took away from the 2022 Wyoming Writers Conference, where we had the pleasure of having Craig Johnson himself as our plenary speaker. He talked about writing in general and how it was accomplished, and gave many of his best tips for accomplishing the work. These few tips, I feel, best explain the process of writing, and might help you with writing westerns specifically.

  1. You need to tell a good story.
  2. Think broadly about characters, stories, and settings.
  3. Cast your characters before you write a single word.
  4. Every character needs to have a distinct voice.
  5. Really think about your setting.
  6. Where’s the dramatic conflict coming from in the book? Don’t run from conflict.
  7. Don’t let your research interfere with your writing time.
  8. Don’t treat the reader or the characters like idiots.
  9. Allow the reader to know the character’s faults.
  10. Don’t beat yourself up. You have the right to be here.

Next Week

Next week, we are taking a break from moving through the Fiction Pillar of Genre, and talking about how well I did this quarter on my quarterly goals. If you’ve been following me on Tiktok, you got a sneak peek this week on my Nows page, so you may already know how it’s going and how I feel about it. If you aren’t on my Tiktok, you can find me @authorrachelcooper where I post regular work-in-progress updates, bookish content and reviews, and other fun things. What other fun things? Most of my content is writing and book related, but other content could include, gaming or D&D vids, household tips and tricks, neurodivergent content, and playing around with all the filters and posting them to my Story. I honestly have a blast over on Tiktok where I never dreamed I would, and if you’re wanting a sign to check out the app for yourself, I’d highly recommend it. Short form content is easy to create, even if you’re burned out, and I rarely do a dancing video. 

Discussion Questions

  1. What is your favorite work of western fiction?
  2. Do you have a favorite type of fiction subgenre?
  3. What genre is your favorite to read in, and do you write in the same genre or a different one?
  4. What is the most important reason writers should be aware of genre and its conventions?
  5. What questions would you like to see me answer in a blog post or podcast episode?

Leave your answers in the comments section for this post!

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