Western Genre

The Western Genre is set in the old West of the United States, west of the Mississippi River before the year 1900. It’s usually between 45,000 and 75,000 words long. Westerns have had a great impact on American culture. Westerns typify the rugged individualism that built the nation. They are part history, part myth, and part American culture.

The Virginian, published 1902, is considered by many to be the ground-breaking literary western novel, containing the central element of a rugged individual who stick to his guns in the face of trouble, neglecting chances to simply walk away. The elements of this blueprint appear in most Western stories ever since.

Westerns normally have the following elements:

Romanticized History: The cowboy, the gun fighter, the judge, ranchers, stage coaches, cattle drives, “Indians,” the greedy rancher or railroad tycoon, the outlaw, and the lawman are a part of the myth and culture of America’s past.

Guns: The man who comes into town with a gun in hand to shoot it up with the bad guys is a familiar theme.

When Men Were Men: Manly men who fought for right have been a resounding element of Westerns. Only recently have female main characters been introduced.

Adventure: Westerns are about adventure, about surviving the elements and battling Indians and outlaws.

Happy Ending: Justice is done. The hero may not survive, but the wicked are punished.

Easy Reads: Good Westerns are short with straight-forward plots and a single story line.


Chase: Plot that focuses on the chase of an individual or group. The hero may seek to recover something lost or gain vengeance. The hero may be chased by the bad guys or be chasing the bad guys. Some sort of quest would also fall into this category.

Christian: Western stories without the bad language, sexuality, and graphic violence where the main characters find that Christianity solves problems and brings people together.

Comic: Stories contain bumbling good and bad characters, that are funny.

Contemporary: Western novel set after 1900.

Historical: These westerns are usually a little longer with attention to historic details and events.

Indian Wars: Stories that tell of the wars between the Native Americans and those who came West.

Mountain Men: Stories about mountain men and trappers and their lonely lives.

Mysteries: Stories that contain the usual mystery elements but are set in the West, and contain the trappings of the western.

Native American: Stories told from the viewpoint of the Native American.

Ranch Life: Stories focusing on life on the cattle or sheep ranch with emphasis on the nature of daily life.

Romantic Westerns: These are sometimes called Prairie Romances. They involve romantic story lines set in the Old West.

Saga: A story that follows family members through several generations.

Traditional: These are the traditional Westerns using the dime store novel format. Some of the most famous Western writers are in this category including Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey.

Trail Drive: Story focuses on a cattle drive.

Vengence: Stories that focus on revenge or the righting of a terrible wrong.

Wagon Train: Stories focusing on the trials of those who went west in the wagons.

This entry was posted in Genres, Sharpening Our Writing and tagged , by Tamera Kraft. Bookmark the permalink.

About Tamera Kraft

Tamera Kraft has been a children’s pastor for over 20 years. She is the leader of a ministry called Revival Fire For Kids where she mentors other children’s leaders, teaches workshops, and is a children’s ministry consultant and children’s evangelist. She is also a writer and has curriculum published including Kid Konnection 5: Kids Entering the Presence of God published by Pathway Press. She is a recipient of the 2007 National Children’s Leaders Association Shepherd’s Cup for lifetime achievement in children’s ministry.

One thought on “Western Genre

  1. Tamera,

    This is a great series. Thanks for pointing me toward it, as it has answered many questions about the definitions of and requirements for each genre.

    Thanks a bunch and best wishes,


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