Creative Writing: Openings in a Western Novel

Creative Writing:  Opening is Critical

[ReviewAZON asin=”B000SEI13Q” display=”inlinepost”]There are  an endless variety of ways to open your western fictiion story.  Some writers love to open their book with an action scene, while others prefer setting the scene, decorating the stage as it were, with the landscape, and perhaps populating it with characters. Louis L’Amour, the Dean of Western Fiction and a master of creative writing,  did that a lot. Whatever you do, it must be an opening that makes the reader want to know what’s going to happen next.

In James Michener ‘s book, Centennial, he opened with cataclysmic geological events. The problem was that those events went on and on and on, page after page, until finally the reader decided he had enough geology and enough geological history. So, many readers simply skipped ahead to where the human story started. Michener, because he had demonstrated to the world that he was one of the best at creative writing, could get away with that. He was a good enough writer that the readers would forgive him for boring them in the beginning, because they knew it would get better. Most of us don’t have that luxury. We have to hook the reader on the first page.

CREATIVE WRITING: Opening with Landscape

If you build your story with landscape, don’t go overboard in painting that landscape. In your endeavor to leave a superb example of creative writing to the world, don’t make the mistake Michner made in your zeal. He could afford the luxury. You cannot. Leave some of the work to the reader’s imagination. Trust the reader’s imagination to fill in some of the details. Some writers want to paint their word picture in exquisite detail, but most of them aren’t skilled enough to do it and at the same time, to keep the reader’s attention. Some are. Most are not.

[ReviewAZON asin=”0205616887″ display=”inlinepost”]Some who are good at creative writing, follow this technique: They will “paint” a landscape and then populate it with something interesting, such as a man or a woman, or perhaps a crowd, or an animal, or some event. The key is to put something in the picture that lends itself to the notion that something is going to happen involving whatever it is you’ve populated into the scene. You paint into the reader’s mind, the promise of action to come. You begin the building of tension.

Creative Writing: Sample Opening using the landscape

Here’s a sample opening to illustrate:

The sun was a white-hot orb, and the desert floor was a hard, desolate sweep of sand, dimpled by the wind, and broken here and there by hearty plants mingling their parched green with the dirty brown hue of the desert. Scatterings of huge boulders broke the landscape up, diminishing what would otherwise be an ocean of sameness,  and gave a vague promise of a kinder land somewhere nearby. In the shade of one of those monster boulders, sat a man. His Stetson was pulled down over his eyes as he rested, and yet, it was obvious that the man was very aware of his surroundings. From time to time, his head would turn slightly to one side, then the other, as he listened to the silence of the desert. John Ross was a careful man, and he was a survivor.

Vigilance was a virtue in this land. He’d stayed alive in harsh conditions before, and he’d been hunted more than once. He knew the dangers that faced him and understood that vigilance is the price he had to pay in order to live. Those who hunted him would show no mercy, not even to a sleeping man.

Creative Writing: Dual Elements in the Opening: Human and Location

Here, a very vivid picture is painted for the reader. You know that it’s hot and dry, and that the location is a desert area. A western scene has been painted for the reader, but not every little detail has been put into that picture. Some exceptionally good at creative writing could pepper that same scene with exquisite detail and make it far more interesting than it is, but what is given here is sufficient to interest the reader, and to give to the reader a pretty fair picture of the setting.

The reader learns that there are boulders scattered around. From the first two sentences, the reader is able to paint his or her own picture of that scene. There could be many other details superimposed onto the scene, such as a scorpion racing across the sand, or the bleached bones of an animal, but those are not completely necessary. Certainly, those kinds of details would not distract, as long as you didn’t overdo it, but in reality, the reader has enough information to paint his or her own picture.

The next element in that picture is the individual. Now, interest is built in the reader to know who this individual is, why he is in the desert, and who is that is looking for him to kill him. This is the hook. Creative writing demands that the writer make the reader interested in knowing what this man is,  where he is located,  why he’s being hunted, and who is hunting him. This is what makes the reader turn the page. Obviously, the reader knows that this man is a westerner from the mention of the Stetson hat. They also know from the description that this is a tough man, a man used to the dangers in the Old West. He’s not a tenderfoot. Finally, they know he is being hunted, but they realize that this is a man who knows what he must do in order to survive. The reader understands there is going to be conflict. This is part of the hook. This is part of making that page turn.

Using these creative writing techniques in your openings for your western fiction story, or any fiction story,  will make your reader want to turn the page. Creative writers want their readers to turn the pages of the stories they have written.

That’s what creative writing is  all about.
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Further Reading...

western novel Western Fiction Impacted America as early as 1813 Westerns have been with us Americans since at least 1813 with the release of Daniel Bryan s The Mountain Muse and in James Paulding s The Backwoodsman in 1818 But the man who would impact American culture more than any man for generations was James Fenimore Cooper who began life in the new America in 1789 in New Jersey Back then one didn t have to wander very far to be in...

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