Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It's All About the Good Old Days...Isn't It?

We don't often get writing tips that take us into the western scene. But I love a good western now and then. I imagine many of you do too.

I'm pleased to say that Linda Ford, one of our author contributors here at A Pen for Your Thoughts, has just the thing to tell us, if we enjoy reading or writing prairie style or western romances.
Linda has already published 26 books and now has six more scheduled for release in the months ahead  (a very busy lady, indeed). She writes historical romances mostly prairie and western romances. Besides the six more scheduled for release, she has  three more under contract. Go for it, Linda!

Conquering the West by the Way We Write
Linda Ford
I love writing about historical settings, especially the pioneers, settlers, and those who conquered the west. One lovely thing about writing in this time frame is the research. It’s recent enough to find remnants of the lives and experiences of the people I want to write about and it’s fun doing so. I've taken road trips to various places where I poke through museums, visit historic buildings, and generally transport myself into a different time, a different place. I collect books on pioneering history. I'm in awe of some of the recorded stories of men and women conquering the challenges of their world. Of course not everyone agrees it is an appealing time period. I once had a letter from an elderly lady who insisted there was nothing romantic about the good old days. But I feel the circumstances tended to bring out a degree of strength we perhaps don't need quite so much in our modern day. Imagine facing a winter without adequate heat or worse, adequate food, or being the first white woman to venture across the prairies. Picture coping with illness and injury by relying on your own resources. Talk about strong characters.

When it Comes to the Heroines

Heroines faced constraints of their society, sometimes unable to own property, not free to decide who they would marry, or where they would live, and often treated as a piece of property, yet they found ways to impact their environment while maintaining a sense of humor...these are my kind of heroines. Strong yet sweet, idealistic as well as practical. One comment by my editor in the margin of an edited manuscript indicates the type of heroine that suits these stories. I have the heroine standing up to a man who is trying to control her. the editor says, "Yeah. You tell him."

And What about the Heroes?

The heroes, too, are shaped by their environment and the dictates of their society. A man was a man and had a job to do. And yet they had a soft side, especially when it came to their own heroine. How fun to take such a man and show him the joy of revealing that soft side because these stories are, above all, rich romances.
I feel I am uniquely equipped to write western and historical romances. If you share some of these experiences you might be too.
These aren’t essential but I certainly have found them helpful.

1.     Spend a few years of childhood living in a bunkhouse much like the pioneers would have used. That’s what I did with my parents when I was about 6 years old. No conveniences at all. We roughed it but at the time I didn’t know we were roughing it. I thought it was a great adventure.
2.     Live in the back corner of nowhere so we were the last people in the civilized world to get modern conveniences..phone, electricity, piped in water, sewer.
3.     Have a father who liked to visit museums and tell stories about pioneers.
4.     Date and marry a man who lives to watch westerns. And of course, as a good wife (and with only one TV in the house) I spent many hours watching them too.
5.     Live in an era when Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Big Valley were the mainstays of prime time TV.
6.     Live in a red-necked part of the country where guys wear Wranglers and attend rodeos on weekends.
7.     Love reading anything and everything which meant I read Zane Grey and fell in love with his heroes, his heroines and his settings.
What do we really Need?

But seriously, if we intend to write westerns there are a few things I believe we need as writers:
1.     The ability to develop a strong sense of setting. Rich details interwoven into the fabric of the story should place the reader right there.
2.     An understanding of the constraints and restrictions of the culture. Yes, young women who got pregnant out of wedlock faced incredibly shame and were often sent away to ‘visit an aunt.’ Those children were called bastards as if the circumstances of their birth marked them. And yes, prejudice existed openly and was even sanctioned.
3.     A willingness to research—visit museums and archives, read books--journals and first-hand experiences are especially helpful. Search the internet for details. It amazes me what you can find if you dig hard enough and deep enough.
4.     I think, above all, we must have sympathy and compassion for the restrictions and challenges of the time. If we think those people were stupid or ignorant for living as they did, or accepting the restrictions, we won’t give them the credit they deserve for being brave, noble and just plain heroic.
If you have questions or suggestions as to what I could talk about in future columns, please let me know. Do you want to know specifics on research, writing in the particular time period. . .research books I know and love? Do you want to know my writing process? (So do I.) Do you want to know what courses and how-to-books I recommend? All of the above? None of the above?
Until next time. . .write on.

© September 2011
Linda Ford
coming in October

1 comment:

  1. I love Westerns. Thanks for telling about how to best write one.
    Diane Carvell