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Westerns Genre Guide: Western Genre: An Overview

This genre guide explores the ever-exciting Wild Wild West in books, media, pop culture, and more! Enjoy

Western Publishers to Know

Check out these popular Western Publishers!

Why do readers like Westerns?

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Despite common stereotypes, Westerns appeal to varied audiences of gender, age, and reading preference. Here are just some of the reasons so many of you choose to read Westerns. 

The setting!
Western writers use description to immerse their readers in the majesty and excitement of the West. Depending on your preference, different novels employ varying levels of description - from those novels that rely on the general concept of the West to those that wax poetic on the "new frontier" - to enrapt their readers. There's a level for every reader. 

Adventure and romance!
Westerns feature cycles of adrenaline-producing fear, exhilarating success, and periods of rest, making for an attention-grabbing read full of the romance of the unsettled West. 

Narrative and storytelling!
At its core the Western genre is about telling a good story. Whether your reading a fast-paced formula Western or a literary Novel of the West, the story and the connection with the hero is always front and center. 

Still curious, head to our Western Works/Authors To Know page and read one to experience the adventure and romance of the genre yourself!

What are Westerns?

Merriam-Webster: 

  • "often capitalized : a novel, story, motion picture, or broadcast dealing with life in the western U.S. especially during the latter half of the 19th century"

Genreflecting: 

  • "Simply put, a Western is a story that takes place in Western North America, often during the latter half of the nineteenth century. The defining element of the Western is it’s palpable sense of time and place" (Herald, 82).

 

Typical Plot Elements

The 15 Best Spaghetti Westerns Ever Made | Taste Of Cinema - Movie ...There are 3 general types of Westerns: 

  • Formula Westerns 
    • Follow established narrative patterns
    • Place more emphasis on dialogue than description 
    • Feature closed endings (non-ambiguous endings)
    • Their appeal is aimed at mass audiences and are often serials
  • Western Novels
    • Somewhere between formula and novels of the West
    • Their appeal is still aimed at the masses
    • There is more focus on good storytelling, and they use varying level of description, but resolution is still closed 
  • Novels of the west
    • These novels are more mainstream or literary 
    • Defined in terms of length 
    • 90,000 words according to the  Western Writers of America
    • They feature more complex characters and themes, as well as more originality, accuracy, and ambiguous resolution

Common Plot Elements

Western Fiction - Free Books at EBDSome common themes in the Western genre include:

  • Clash between civilization and wilderness
  • Idyllic and mythical landscapes
  • Justice, survival, and redemption
  • Unambiguous struggle between protagonist and conflict 
  • Good always prevails even if the “good” character dies 
  • Empowerment of the individual and moral clarity

 

Jane Kirkpatrick: Writer, Speaker, TeacherThe Western hero is a standard for the genre. Most often depicted as independent from or battling against society, the Western hero possesses a strong sense of morality (one sometimes at odds with civilization), which guides him throughout the narrative. As the genre has progressed, Western heroes have become darker and more morally ambiguous, but overall, the reader can relate to and root for the Western hero (who is almost always the dominant narrative voice.) Western heroes can follow tropes or even be modeled after "celebrity" figures. Some popular Western hero archetypes include: