Saturday, June 29, 2013

Six Plot Kickers for Authentic Western Fiction

Authentic western fiction article by Stephen Bly
Stephen Bly

Authentic Western Fiction Plot Kickers by Stephen Bly

It's knowing the little facts that can produce the most authentic western short stories and novels, the truth in fiction. Some of the details of the Old West like those below can provide an extra shot of realism and emotion for the western genre and kickstart a sagging plot. All the examples are excerpts from Creede of Old Montana . . . .

1.) Count on fire hazards.

Most authentic western towns burned to the ground several times in their short existence. Stick frame houses with cedar shingles and careless wood stoves and chimneys created a cocktail for disaster. Firefighters did all they could with their primitive technology. But burning buildings seldom got saved, though they might manage to protect the rest of the town.
When the half-keg of gun powder exploded, the ground shook beneath Avery. Windows rattled at the hardware store, over a block away. By the time he and Carla got within two hundred feet of the Sheriff's office, the building was consumed in flames.
Hundreds of bystanders watched from a distance safe enough not to singe their eyebrows. Two crews of men operated hand-pumps to wet down adjacent buildings.  
Avery hung back in the shadows to study the faces.

2.) Rouse up the "High Noon" mentality.
Authentic western movie: High Noon
High Noon

Heroes often call on the citizens of a town or region to step up and help contain a threat or enemy. But what if they receive no more help than Will Cane (Gary Cooper) in his famed movie? Avery John Creede tries to get the mayor and town leaders involved and has initial success.

  'Avery, what do you intend to do?' Carla asked.
'Find him before he finds me.' Someone tapped his shoulder. Avery spun around, gun drawn.
'A short man in a suit waved his hands. "Wait. It's me, Mayor Leitner. Young Emerson said you wanted to see me.'
'Get together anyone that isn't fighting the fire. Block off both ends of Main Street, so no one can get in or out, unless they're on foot.'
'What if they dismantle the barricade?'
'Throw lead their way. They'll scatter. I'll find Rinkmann.'

3.) Rattle the sabers.

It's crucial to know authentic western basics like horse behavior, time period clothing styles and the rhythm of the language, but especially the correct description and use of weapons. Know your guns and their quirks. For instance, most authentic western gunmen carried only five cartridges in their revolvers. They left the hammer on an empty chamber, for safety reasons. But when going into a fight, they loaded the sixth cartridge. Knowing trivia like this can provide practical hassles and challenges for an otherwise competent hero. Or add authentic western detail in a poignant or humorous moment.
'What can I do to help?' Carla asked.
'Stand in front of the church so he can see you. Wear your mildly distraught look.' 
'How will that help?'
'It will keep him looking out front. Maybe I can sneak up from behind.'
'I see. A diversion. Why not have me flash an ankle instead?'
Avery shoved a cartridge into the last empty chamber of his revolver. 'This is not a time for humor.'
'Are you calling my ankles humorous?'
'I've never seen your ankles.'
'That can be arranged,' she cooed.

4.) Tackle hero family hassles.

Chaos reigns as several hundred residents in Fort Benton, Montana, crowd the streets to watch a huge fire rage. It seems every citizen is on the streets. Most of them shout to be heard above the roar and confusion of the fire. Meanwhile, Avery John Creede faces a family dilemma, a parenting issue in the middle of a tense scene. As the guardian of his nephew, he's forced to apply some discipline while pursuing some criminals whom he believes started the fire to hide a burglary and murder.
Avery leaned against the cupola railing and caught his breath. He pulled the hammer back on his revolver. Heat surged through his leg muscles as he pushed up. 'Throw down,' he commanded.
A young male jumped in front of him waving his arms. 'Don't shoot, Uncle Avery.'
Avery's gun hand dropped. 'Ace?'
'Hi, Mr. Creede,' said a cheery female voice.  
'Miss Leitner? What are you doing here?'
'Ace is protecting me. Isn't he brave?' 
'Where's your shirt?' Avery demanded.
Ace rubbed his bare chest. 'Miss Tabby was cold, so I let her wear it.'
Avery shoved his gun into his holster. 'Get your shirt on right now.'
'But you said it could be dangerous at her house. I wanted to take her someplace safe.'
'No one ever comes up here to the bell tower,' the girl said. 'Did you come looking for us?'
'I'm looking for Rinkmann and now I've lost him.' He glared at the two teens.
Tabby Leitner slipped her hand into Ace's. 'Maybe he's over on the bank roof. We saw two men prowling. When the jail exploded, we spotted them.'
'Give Ace back his shirt. And, young man, take Miss Leitner back to her mother.'

5.) Opposites share a past.

Have protagonist and antagonist connect. Avery John Creede knew this guy Rinkmann all along. They both hail from A.T.P. (Arizona Territorial Prison) at Yuma, Arizona, one of the most severe jails in the Old West. A few were hung there. But most died of the extreme climate conditions. Not many escaped. They had to cross on foot hundreds of miles of desolate desert. Add to that a bounty the authorities gave to the local Indian tribes for returning escapees. Rinkmann and Tap Andrews (from The Code of the West Series) are the only ones I know of that made a successful exit.
'Creede?' His mouth twisted in a scowl. 'I thought you were in Mexico.' 
'Owens? I thought you were in Hades. When did you take the name Rinkmann?'
'When I busted out of Yuma. It's my real name. What are you doing here?'
'I'm going to arrest you.'

6.) Test heroine for authentic western tough.

They can start as city girls, like Carla Loganaire in Creede of Old Montana, but through a process of trials and time they've got to prove to be standers. Or be booted from the story. Many wealthy people from the eastern states and from Europe came West for adventure. They realized history was being made in the vast expanses beyond the Mississippi. They wanted to soak it all up, but not get their fashionable clothes dirty. Carla was such a gal. And the jury's still out on her at this point of the events. But I'm sure she'd prefer to be on a carriage ride along Lake Michigan rather than in this rough scene. (Caution: some violence references, which is part of any authentic western.)
Rinkmann yanked Carla's arm behind her back, his knife at her throat. 'So, you do know Miss Loganaire of Chicago. When she told me she was going to meet the bravest man in the west, I should have known it was you who lied to her. Throw your gun down, Creede, or Miss Loganaire makes it to heaven before you.'
'Avery, he's hurting me.'
'That's stupid, Rinkmann. You can't make it out of this town. These people won't let you.'
'You're a dreamer. Which one is going to stop me?'
Carla tried to pull away. 'I want to go home. I don't want to be here.'
'Turn her loose!'
'I think I'll slice her throat a little at a time,' Rinkmann rasped.
'I'm going to be sick.' Carla doubled at the waist, started to cough, then vomited all over Rinkmann's arm.
Stephen Bly
"On A Western Trail" blog:
Where to find Creede of Old Montana:

What do you expect most in a good authentic western?
What makes a memorable authentic western heroine for you?

Authentic western fiction plot kicker - test heroine for western tough:
Opposites share a past. Rattle the sabers. Western fiction plot kickers for you:
Six Plot Kickers for Authentic Western Fiction:


Authentic western novel: Creede of Old Montana by Stephen Bly
Creede of Old Montana

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