Mile 22: Research

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!

2 Comments on “Mile 22: Research

Andrew McBride
October 30, 2018 at 2:25 pm

I agree with you, Scott, that research isn’t essential – it all depends on the type of book or movie. People who obsess about historical inaccuracies in fiction generally need to remember that’s what it is – fiction. Not many watch ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ for example for anything but shoot-em-up entertainment. However, a book or film that claims to depict real events or people should try and get its facts right IMHO, as far as is possible. The Internet is a tremendous resource for research. 20 years ago if you wanted to write about Apache Mountain Spirit Dancers for example – as I have done – you might have to order a book from your library and wait for a month for it to arrive. And hope it contained the information you needed. Now, you can Google about them and watch a Youtube video of them in 5 minutes.

October 30, 2018 at 7:52 pm

I am a beginning author, and have a nove! that turned into a series. But its my first work. I started with real tribal names, Apache, Chiracaua, Mescaleros and Comanche, Sioux, Cherokee (my great grandfather was full blooded), etc… But became concerned that my portrayals might be mistaken, or that real decendants of those tribes would be offended.
I just wanted to spin a story. Make it interesting. Paint a little fault and virtue in the characters, both the good guys and the bad.
So, I sort of did what we called in marbles fifty some odd years ago, fudging it. Instead of Apache, I made them Ko’hat’en’Nay. With ceremonies for bravery, but also for death. Their struggles against tne white world, and the reasons that the whites who fight against them, are not clear cut. I could paint some greed, but also compassion.
But then I wondered if the readers would hate me for it. It’s not historically accurate. They are make believe. Even if I tried to make them more than just paper pin ups to throw rocks at. My series has been luke-warmly recieved, (though there are a million possible reasons why, including too detailed writing, or too slow.
But when I started it, it was just for me, and the pace and voice were what I liked. It was only later, that I figured out, that there are readers who think differently than me.
Why would they do that? ☺
Anyway, beginners issues. I suppose my choices may change, or maybe they shouldn’t. I’ll have to finish the new novel, just a novel this time instead of a series, and see what people think. Maybe I’ll learn something, or stumble again, make a different mistake tnis time. ☺ We will see.
But I wanted to thank you very much, for the books, and for the blog and for the writing tips and thoughts and interviews and book reviews. Its all an interesting and informative help as I try to figure out what exactly it is that I am doing. It’s a blast, even with all the mistakes I think I may be committing. Well, hopefully less, than I think.
With luck and a little skill acquired along the way, the second will be better than the first, and the third, better than the second… etc…
At least that’s the plan. ☺
Take care and thanks again for listening,
Christopher Clagg


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