Scott Amstadt's picture
Scott Amstadt from Chicago is reading City of God July 21, 2015 - 5:01pm

I am currently writing what I want to call a Western Noir, and would love to start a conversation on any and all of the following things:

  1. What was the last great Western you read?
  2. What was the last great Western you saw?
  3. Can you write a Western without a Cowboy?
  4. How much history is too much history?
  5. Beyond history books, where is the best resource for true reference to the late 1800s/early 1900s West? (i.e. clothing, buildings, guns, timeline...)

When I think about Westerns, I think of a small town at the end of a great journey.  I think of mystery, fear, and an ambiguous moral compass.  I see sand, dust, and gun smoke.  Looking at the goal I've set for my own story, I'm searching for inspiraton in Noir and Crime genres to help define the characters and story. 

Violence will be important.  However, I don't want to get hung up on the act itself, but the response to the act by other characters, and how it drives the story.  I prefer silence to long monologues.  I like letting the movements of the characters define the move, and not endless adjectives. 

Who loves westerns?  What have you discovered in your writing process?  What is essential, and what traps should we avoid when creating our Western worlds?

Thank you kindly,

-Scott

scottamstadt.com

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK July 23, 2015 - 3:52am

I just finished a Western short story. I tried to either avoid or embrace the clichés associated with the genre - miss the ones that are historically inaccurate and embrace the ones that aren't by inverting them or knowingly nod to them with self-depreciation. There's some good forums where people ask about town layouts and so on which is helpful - towns were usually bigger than depicted in films, but made of wood and packed close together so they tended to burn down a lot. And there must be a reason for the town being where it is, I think. You don't build a town in the middle of nowhere without something being there, either gold or a mine or a railroad, or something else if you want to be clever.

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions July 23, 2015 - 4:52am

Can't help much because I don't read many westerns, but...

1. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Was a very entertaining book that came out a few years back, would be classified as a western noir, and received a lot of critical praise--was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Definitely worth a read if you haven't already.

One thing that strikes me about good westerns (good historical fiction in general, I guess) is the slightly different syntax and diction. Sentences often meandered--often existentially in the case of the Sisters Brothers--and vocabulary often feels slightly elevated over modern usage. Which leads to...

2. True Grit (after reading the novel by Charles Portis)

Definitely check out the novel for a look at what is possible with first person voice in a western. Portis performs syntactic high art in the voice of Mattie Ross, the narrator.

Elmore Leonard has also written some western stories. "The Tonto Woman" was my favorite story in his collection When the Women Come Out To Dance.

big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk July 24, 2015 - 9:07am

Really need to see this soon but missed it in cinemas

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated July 25, 2015 - 12:48pm

What was the last great Western you read? Dark Tower.

What was the last great Western you saw? Way of the Gun.

Can you write a Western without a Cowboy?  Yes, there are tons that just have gun slingers.

How much history is too much history? Varies by story.

Beyond history books, where is the best resource for true reference to the late 1800s/early 1900s West? (i.e. clothing, buildings, guns, timeline...) Fiction writen in that time maybe?

Frank Chapel's picture
Frank Chapel from California is reading Thomas Ligotti's works August 17, 2015 - 11:33pm

What was the last great Western you read?
I actually have not really ever read a western, ashamed to say. Only ever read a few pages of The Rifle Rangers.

What was the last great Western you saw?

Slow West was interesting, but I think True Grit was probably the better one.
Can you write a Western without a Cowboy?
Sure. This question makes me think of the film Last Man Standing, which was a remake of a Western, and that Western was a remake of a Japanese film.

How much history is too much history?
When it becomes a textbook instead of a story.

Beyond history books, where is the best resource for true reference to the late 1800s/early 1900s West? (i.e. clothing, buildings, guns, timeline...)

Dime novels maybe?

 

What made you want to do a Noir-Western specifically? Have you seen the film Unforgiven with Clint Eastwood? It's one of my favorites, kinda strikes me as noirish.

Scott Amstadt's picture
Scott Amstadt from Chicago is reading City of God September 14, 2015 - 9:31pm

Thank you all for collaborating.

My inspiration came from a love of the early film noir mixed with some images saved in the back of my brain from a road trip through the American West I took a number of years ago.  That coupled with a purchase of one of those "40 Spaghetti Westerns" DVD collections I picked up at a Half Price Book Store for 10 bucks.  I'm just fascinated with the potential for character study.

 

I think Deadwood did the genre well, and with great focus on character.  I appreciate the advice on the history and locations.  It's a delicate balance, not wanting the scenery to take away from the story. 

Unforgiven is another great example of a Western I appreciate.  Slow West is still on my list of "To See".

After watching Justified (Inspired by Elmore Leonard, great recommendation), I think I'm more interested in just telling a good human tragedy full of ambition, hope, but inevitabley darkness. 

I'll keep my progress posted as I finish a bit of research. 

 

-Scott

big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk September 15, 2015 - 4:09am
jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like September 15, 2015 - 7:39am

Slow West was cool: stylized, but not particularly inventive, not great, not unworthy of a watch.

It's basically impossible to make a Western without appealing to convention. You could make a "Western" set on an alien world in the future, and it'd be as much a "Western" as the Eastwood/Leone films were really "Samurai" movies. It's a far more specific genre than Sci-Fi or Horror.

Yada Chava's picture
Yada Chava September 25, 2015 - 8:29am

That is the title of my film already. https://www.facebook.com/westerninnoir

Richard Marchand's picture
Richard Marchand from Brisbane, Australia September 28, 2015 - 11:21pm

Last great western I read was The Revenant by Michael Punke after seeing the stunning trailer for the upcoming movie:

Definitely worth a read, it's more of a survival tale set on the American frontier than your traditional western though. I've also really enjoyed Journal of the Gun Years by Richard Matheson

Cheers,
Rich