Western novels can be broken down into two categories (seems like everything in life can be broken down into two categories), those that are well-researched and those that are not. For those who love research, the following statement might be considered sacrilegious, but read on before hanging me in effigy. A great book does not require great research. Allow me to explain by example.
I have two Western series, Brock Clemons and Caz. The Brock Clemons series is (I believe) well-researched. I make it a point to have the towns set accurately geographically, ensure the Indian names are authentic and keep the weapons period correct. I visit my locations, review terrain and weather patterns for the time of year I’m writing about, and make an effort to weave in actual — and accurate — historical characters and events. It’s fun and I believe it adds to the reading experience. It certainly adds to the writing experience. It makes it more complex and harder work, but more rewarding as well.
The second series, Caz: Vigilante Hunter, has almost none of that, except for making sure the weapons are time-period correct. Always make sure your weapons are correct. This series is just an old-fashioned shoot ’em up. I create situations where Caz gets to kill bad guys. Fun to write and fun to read. But, if you read a Caz book, you’ll notice there are almost no details regarding locations or even a year. The book is just about Caz and his adversaries. It takes a fraction of the time to write and allows me to focus on setting the scenes and how Caz deals with outlaws.
You need to decide for yourself where on the research spectrum you want your novel to be. If you love research (and I do) you can find information by visiting locations, libraries or museums. Make it a point to go to Western festivals and conferences. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Old West experts who would love nothing more than to talk your ear off (in person, by phone or online) about their area of expertise and how it can be woven into your book. There are thousands of books, magazine articles and blog posts that address anything and everything you want to know.
If you’ve been doing as previous entries have suggested, you’ve already begun doing research. “Mile 13: Surround Yourself,” “Mile 15: 10 Louie L’Amours,” “Mile 17: Character Names,” “Mile 20: Visit Locations” (an extremely important one) and our last entry, “Mile 25: Used Book Stores,” all address the issue of research.
Research is a very broad subject, and there’s no way to cover it with a single entry, so we will be coming back to this in future entries. However, we’ve at least covered the basics, and I hope this helps get you started.
I wish you good writing, and if you have a question or something you’d like to share, send me an email at [email protected].
Thank you, enjoy and keep writing!