Write a Western in 30 Days

Write a Western in 30 Days

with plenty of bullet-points!

Breaking down how to write a western, including research and target publishers. Shoot that MS off in a month!


Nik Morton has been writing for over forty years, honing his craft. He writes genre fiction, whether that’s science fiction, horror, crime, thriller, romance or westerns. To date he has 15 books under several pseudonyms. His westerns are usually written under the name Ross Morton.
Within these pages you can discover how to write a western – from the initial ideas, through the preparation and research, to those all-important character studies and plots. And you can do it in 30 days!


Over the years I've read a great many books about writing, but this is without doubt one of the finest works that I've had the pleasure to read. While, as the title suggests, the book focuses primarily on westerns much of the knowledge and tips within can be transposed over to any genre. The research Morton does is staggering. There are many links that take you directly to sites of interest and also references to other books that readers will find useful. There are great tips on characterisation, plot plan, POV, dialogue, etiquette of the period in question and importantly timeline - writers of other genres can use this as a guideline to what research they themselves should be doing. In fact this book is so comprehensive that the Author even delves into the food being eaten during the period! I'm not saying anymore, my advice is to buy it and read it - you'll immediately see what I mean when I say this is great work. This book will prove invaluable to all writers, especially those undertaking courses and degrees in the subject. I really cannot recommend `Write a Western in 30 Days' enough, and having finished it I'm going to start reading it again! ~ Mr M Iles, Amazon

Something a little different to the books I usually comment on but one I thought would be of interest to some of you who read Western Fiction Review as I know many writers, both beginners and old-hands, view this blog regularly. Even though I don’t have any ambitions to write a western, or any other book for that matter, I still thought I’d find this an interesting read and this proved to be true. Nik Morton, who writes westerns under the pseudonym of Ross Morton and is the editor in chief for Solstice Publishing, includes examples to back up the many points he makes on such topics as preparation, point of view, plot-plans, dialogue, self-editing, formatting the manuscript, and marketing, to name but a few. Nik Morton’s writing is straight-forward and doesn’t come over as too technical, making me believe I would be confident in writing a western by following his plan if I so desired. Even if you are already an author with ideas of your own on how to write westerns, I still think you’d find plenty of tips within this book. The reference sections, that list books, websites, agents, and western publishers, should be worth the price of this book alone. Available as both a paperback and e-book. And finally a little note of thanks to Nik for mentioning Western Fiction Review three times within his book. ~ Steve Myall, http://westernfictionreview.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/write-western-in-30-days.html

I wish Nik Morton had published Write a Western in 30 Days with Plenty of Bullet-Points (Compass Books, 2013) 20 years ago. In the fall of 1993, I was barely 23, newly married and living with Trina in Evanston, IL. Three months out of college I had a job in special education for which I hadn’t been trained and I had an idea for a Western novel. One evening, while I sat in our dining room in Meemaw’s wingback chair, a liquid image—a half played scene—danced up out of the yellow glare of the recently polished wood floor: It’s night time in Kansas, and young Seamus runs downhill, terror streaking his face in tears. He’s backlit by the angry orange bonfire that his family’s barn has become, his bald scalp slick with sweat, his trouser cuffs flap-snap above his muddy brogans, one suspender droops off his shoulder, arms pumping, his loose shirt sooty and damp with fear-sweat… I knew Seamus' family had been killed. I knew his mother had been a freed slave and his father an Irish immigrant. I could hear his sisters screaming through the final moments of their lives in the family’s house just out of Seamus’ reach. I knew Seamus would seek out Sissy and Lila’s killers and take violent revenge and that his acts of retaliation would be brutal and splashed with gore and that he would suffer deeply as a result of those actions. But I didn’t know how to write a Western. I’d read hundreds, sure, but that’s not exactly the same. Besides, the part of me that stood at the foot of a hill clutching my degree in American lit and creative writing and staring up at a young man racing away from a burning barn, racing toward his dying sisters, careening toward violent retaliation—that part of me was, frankly, far too proud of, far too pleased with the pretty picture I’d just conjured up to really take the time to figure out how to write a Western. Proud, and also a bit overwhelmed. For all the things I did know about Seamus, there were so many things I didn’t know. I knew virtually nothing about Kansas. (I’ve since visited.) Nor did I know the year the story took place or the guns or horses or clothing or... As a result, I froze the moment I sat down at my IBM desktop to type up the story. There were far too many unknowns—far too many obstacles--and not the exciting kind, not the mysteries around the corner or over the horizon, not the character-building sort of challenges, but the details and facts that can be the bones of historical fiction and the bane of my brand of fuzzy headed thinking. Ah, yes, so I’ll say it once again, “If only Nik Morton had written 30 Days 20 years sooner.” Alright, enough about me and Seamus. Let’s take a look-see at Write a Western in 30 Days. The first thing Morton does is clear away the obstacles by presenting just enough to silence the editor and make room for the muse, while the researcher runs out to grab a double-shot Americano and hit the library. Morton’s introduction pistol-whips topics such as why write a western, the relevance of the western, the importance of avoiding clichés, the origin of the novel form, and whether a novel can be written in a 30 days and what exactly constitutes a “day”. Hint: a “day” is eight hours of work time, whether continuous or broken up. Feel cheated? Well, would you have bought a book entitled Write a Western in 240 Hours? Actually, I would’ve bought the book with that title. Moving on. Where was I? Oh, so here’s the beauty of Morton’s pistol-whip chapters. He has a brilliant way of condensing a great deal of information into manageable junks without sacrificing clarity or content. The resulting book works both as master course and as a refresher course. With chapters two through six, Morton slaps a nice sturdy broom in your hand and puts you to work—preparation, research, theme, point of view, and titles. You can sweep fast and kick up a lot of dust or go slowly and run the risk of just moving the dirt around. What I mean by that is that this is not a book rife with navel-gazing. Morton isn’t selling snake oil or tincture of opium for Mr. and Mrs. Maybe I. Will and Maybe I Won’t. This is work. Fun, but work—a nearly 200 page memo from the boss. Read it and get to work. You can always re-read it later. And in case you didn’t catch the title, we’ve got a schedule to keep. Chapter seven is, I suspect, the heart of the book for most readers. Morton, by this point, has referred to the “plot plan” enough that when you finally hit page 72 you feel as though you’ve finally arrived at, if not your destination, at least one heck of a fun way station. “Writing a novel is much easier if you have a plot to follow,” writes Morton. “It doesn’t mean you’re in a rut. The plot is a rough-and-ready road. As the story progresses, you’ll find that characters will want to take the occasional more interesting byway. Some writers let the characters wander off at a tangent and never rejoin the original plotted road; others are hard taskmasters and bring the character back in line after a fascinating diversion.” Uh-huh. “A story is often about a character’s growth or change through adversity, which is brought about by facing obstacles and overcoming them,” he adds on the next page. “Though sometimes unwelcome, change is inevitable in life; in fiction, change is vitally necessary. The plot provides the means for the character to evolve.” The plot plan, like life itself, is a “working document” and change is inevitable. The whole chapter is like that—one beautifully rich paragraph after another. I do think Morton is crazy not to package this chapter and appendix A: “30-day Countdown” as an e-book single. He’d make a fortune. After the plot plan, Morton becomes more craft focused—character, dialogue, and description. He looks at form—beginning and endings—and revision—self-editing and layering—and finally offers up some very practical advice on publishers, synopsis, blurbs, and marketing. Theses final chapters on the business were certainly good and definitely up to the high standards set by the first, but I found them—personally—less interesting. Professionally, they are spot on and invaluable. With the exception of Appendix A, which I mentioned above, the Appendices leaned toward the very practical and, frankly, I’d rather re-read his section on the Code of the West or browse his list of western fiction or western series fiction than read about manuscript formatting or agents. Part of the reason why I think my 23 year old version of myself would’ve loved this book even more than the 43 year old version does is that by about the third chapter, Morton makes it clear that he has thought of everything. I mean, he hammer-slaps the sub-headings and makes every shot count—from animals to weaponry—and illustrates his points with examples from his own novels. If Nik Morton taught a course based on this book I’d be the first to enroll and I’d sit up close. But he lives across the Atlantic and that’s a long way away from South Carolina. Fortunately, I have Write a western in 30 Days and there’s always Facebook. One more thing, drawn from Morton’s “Code of the West.” “If a person was in trouble, it was a man’s duty to help him—friend, stranger or enemy… And because of the great distance between neighbors and townships hospitality was generous…” I, for one, can’t see any reason why this Code needs to be limited just to the West. I wonder what would happen if more and more writers read 30 Days and more and more readers read Westerns? ~ Jeremy L.C. Jones, http://westernfictioneers.blogspot.com.es/2013/09/nik-mortons-write-western-in-30-days-by.html

Write a Western in Thirty Days is one of those books anyone who is thinking about writing a western should read before they get started. It contains a brief outline of the era that would be of great use to the beginner--and as a general reference for the seasoned writer. Besides tips on how to create plot, theme and chapters, there are dependable book references and online website suggestions for those who write in the western genre. Even for writers of other genres, this book has a lot of good advice about plotting, creating character biographies and setting up a book in general. Recommended. ~ Suspense fan, Amazon

"Ride 'Em, Cowboy!" ...Westerns are almost an endangered species in the entertainment world these days, a far cry from those thrilling days of yesteryear when our screens (large and small) were filled with images of Good Guys in white hats shooting down Bad Guys in black hats... But it's no wonder we can remember all these shows so readily, when you consider that in 1959 (the peak year for Westerns), there were 26 of these shows on prime-time telly! Their popularity waned on the moving-picture front, but has never really faltered when it comes to the written word, with Westerns still being widely read by their fans. The Western genre has been overtaken by thrillers and sci-fi in recent years, but there is still a great demand by these loyal readers. So, if you fancy yourself as a writer, why not try your hand at a Western? The Western is an excellent genre for a first novel because it offers such scope for the Battle between Good and Evil, which is the mainstay of every good adventure story. You can have your hero on a quest (to right a wrong, avenge a lost loved one, prove himself etc) and already you have a structure for your story. Every good yarn must have a beginning, a middle and an end, and once you've decided on the bare outline of your hero's quest, you can start having some fun in fleshing out his character and adventures. You may remember my 3-point plan for a short story (I've mentioned it before): 1. Put a man up a tree 2. Throw stones at him 3. Get him down again. And this applies equally to a full-length novel. Nik Morton (author of more than 15 books, including this one, Write a Western in 30 Days) offers plenty of great tips to help write a Western (and promises you can do it in just 30 days -- if you promise to work hard!) His chapter on plot, "The Plot Thickens," outlines the various stages in plotting your story, from deciding on the emotions you want to arouse in your readers (do you want them to admire, love or fear your hero?) to choosing the theme that will run through your book and tie it all together (some he suggests are Justice Wins, Taming the Land, Death Isn't Particular). You must also make sure your central character's "major emotional trait is essential to the theme and the desired emotional effect." No point in building a serious mood for your story and then painting your hero as a selfish buffoon. And equally important is to "Give the protagonist a specific purpose -- one clearly arising from his major emotional trait; it must be of the utmost importance to him and must fit the theme." Once you have your character up the tree, comes the fun part -- throwing stones at him! Every memorable tale involves conflict and clashes that test the resolve and courage of your character, so choose lots of different tests and dramatic high spots that push your hero to the limits. Finally, you must present the climactic Black Moment -- this is the last crisis, the one where you "... demonstrate how the protagonist resolves the situation, possibly at great personal cost." In a similar vein, this book explains how to create believable characters readers will care about, how to name your characters so they fit right into their setting (Luigi MacDuff is the wrong name for a cowboy for so-o-o many reasons!) Likewise how to dress them, what they eat, drink and how they sound. All characters need to communicate, and there's a whole chapter on using dialogue not just to advance your story, but also to "foreshadow coming conflict, reveal character and indicate the setting." When it comes to the setting for the tale, Morton advises actually drawing a sketch of important scenes, so you can help your readers accurately follow the action. He reminds us that "a book is a movie inside a reader's head," and as such each scene must be clearly depicted. The only way to do this is through the words you choose to describe the various settings, and the best way to describe any scene is to "... use all the senses when possible -- sight, touch, smell, sound and taste (because) ... People don't exist in a vacuum -- they're standing, lounging and walking in a solid world of your making. Let the readers see it -- but let them see it through your characters' eyes." Then there's a whole chapter on a workable schedule to get your book written in 30 days! You'll find some genre-specific information about where and how to research the Wild West, places that publish Westerns, and how to send off an appropriate synopsis and query letter, but the rest of these tips apply to every genre of fiction, which makes this one of the best How-to books I've come across in a long time. See why here: http://bit.ly/15Yvh7F If you have an unlimited data plan, you can watch all these Westerns online (I don't, so I can't vouch for the programs): http://www.westernsontheweb.com/?page_id=75 A list of the world's best-selling authors (note the writers of Westerns are right up there with the big sellers): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_fiction_authors ~ Jennifer Stewart, The Write Way/Write 101

It is the characters and the settings that make a Western, ultimately they are set in a time, that no person currently living has a reference point for, other than what they have read in other books or seen in movies. Therefore to bring to life something without tangible direct history is an art, and Nik Morton is a master artist in this instance. From the taste and smell of the old west to the feel of the era violence, this is another five-star adventure for Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles. ~ Bullets for a ballot, Amazon

Nik knows his stuff when it comes to the publishing business, and he shares some valuable information. If you're writing a book then you need to read this first! And, you don't have to be writing a western; anyone hoping to become published can benefit from these valuable resources that Nik has put together. Great advice! ~ Tell Cotten, Amazon

Nik Morton's "When the Flowers are in Bloom" is one of the best collection of short stories I've come across. Moving, disturbing and sometimes shocking, they nevertheless give hope in an uncaring world. Simply and beautifully written with great feeling, they are stories to be read more than once and pondered on. Thank you for giving the reader that opportunity. ~ When the flowers are in Bloom, Amazon.com

Morton has created a vivid sense of place, and his use of language is so authentic that the reader is immediately transported into the times and mores of the Wild West. I couldn't put it down. A thoroughly enjoyable read. This was the first time I had read a 'western' and I was at first unsure if it would be for me. However, great story telling is not confined to a genre and I found I couldn't put this story down. It is easy reading, but not trivial. I really wanted to know the outcome and I cared about the characters. ~ Death at Bethesda Falls, Amazon

While day work may interfere and I will probably have to take weekends off for church activities, I fully plan to write a 35,000 word (or slightly more) novel for Piccadilly Publishing in 30 working days. The blog of what happens can be found here: http://chucktyrell-outlawjournal.blogspot.jp ~ Chuck Tyrell

Nik Morton
Nik Morton Nik is a published author of 30 books of fiction, in several genres. He has sold hundreds of articles and 120 short stories. He is also an e...
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