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Western Story Skeleton

The overall story problem pits man against self, other men, or nature to survive in an unsettled land. 

The reader asks, "How will they overcome the difficulty and will they stay or go?"

The conflicts weigh the morality and challenges of survival. These stories are usually set west of the Mississippi and before 1900, but could be set in space, Africa, New Zealand or any place before it was settled and “civilized”. 


In Western stories, the protagonist is usually the pioneer trying to save his ranch or the sheriff intent on saving the town.

Villains are often rogue cowboys, Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans or plagues, storms, floods, etc. They are whoever stands to gain the most if the pioneer is driven from his land. Sometimes in a Western, there is an antagonistic force such as man against nature more so than an actual human antagonist. It can be about a flood, or a drought, a horde of locusts, or a potato blight. If there is a human antagonist, they are usually the corrupt sheriff, the robber baron intent on driving the pioneers from their land so he can push through the railroad, or the native Indian tribe that begs to differ on who actually owns the land in question.

Part history and part myth, they explore the people who are courageous enough to explore new frontiers and the obstacles they must overcome to do so. 

External conflict scenes show the protagonist putting out the fire in his barn, catching the Indians on his land, spraying lye on the locusts eating his crops, or he tries to prevent his house from flooding. This is when the wagon train is attacked. This is the overt battle against the crooked law enforcement or the evil land baron, his efforts to tame the land. He is plowing his field and the mule dies. The gunslinger strolls down Main Street and shoots up the town. This is the shootout at the OK corral, the bar brawl, the Indian attack. The final confrontation that decides his fate, does he stay or go?

Antagonist Conflict scenes are either scenes where the pioneer faces down his enemy or scenes that show the antagonist plotting the pioneer’s demise. The protagonist is warned by the evil boss to get out of town. The rancher catches up with him and warns him to leave his family alone, or else. This can also follow the evil ranch boss or corrupt sheriff as he plots and schemes. It can show a meeting of the Indian chiefs who want to drive the white man from their land.

Interpersonal Conflict scenes show the protagonist meeting the saloon girl with the heart of gold. Someone tells him about a new kind of seed that will grow in clay soil. He talks to the sheriff who would like to see the evil boss run out of town. He encounters an Indian brave who tells him the chief wants his land because it used to be theirs. This can also follow the friends and foes as they meddle and scheme. The girl with the heart of gold confesses her love for the pioneer to the bartender. They show the pioneers rebuilding the barn, quaking before the evil land baron, or the harlot with the heart of gold defending her saloon without the hero present. These are scenes where the hero learns the laws of the land, or learns the history of the fight. These are the tender moments with the saloon girl, his wife, or his child.

Internal Conflict scenes are where the rancher wrestles with whether to stay or go while re-plowing the locust-stripped field. He may think about his father telling him he had to make it out west while watching his wife sleep next to him. Or debate doing something immoral to keep the ranch while grooming the horse. How far will he go to survive? Is it worth the price to stay?


Check out the newly released Western Build A Plot Workbook in print and ebook to help you plan your showdown. In addition, lookup the Build A World Workbook in print and ebook 
to help you develop your Wild West.

Next week, we will examine Thriller subgenres.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Western Subgenres Part 2

This week, we continue a rundown of Western subgenres:

16. Mormon Westerns explore the settlement of Utah by the Mormons during the 1840s and 50s.

17. Outlaw Westerns explore the attempts of law enforcement to deal with some of the outlaws and their gangs of the time such as Jesse James, Billy The Kid, and The Dalton Brothers. They can combine the Con and Heist formula with the western if the outlaw is the protagonist.

18. Prairie Settlement Westerns combine the Literary structure with the Western and focus on the difficulty of taming of the vast flat plains of the Midwest during the 1800s. The protagonists can be Europeans who decided to try their luck.

19. Prospecting/Gold Rush Westerns are set in California during the 1860s or Alaska in the 1890s and explore the quest for gold and silver by panning or mining.

20. Quest Westerns use the hero’s quest structure set in the untamed frontier. The protagonist has something he has to find, prevent or obtain.

21. Railroad Westerns focus on the Central Pacific and Union Pacific companies’ efforts to stretch railroad lines from the east coast to the west coast from 1807 to 1912. They faced difficult terrain and employed indentured Chinese workers as well as Native Americans, chain gangs, and many others.

22. Range War/Shepherd Westerns focus on the homesteaders fighting with the cattle ranchers over grazing lands. Some of these stories focus on the battles between shepherds, mostly Basque immigrants, and the wool merchants who owned the flocks.

23. Revenge Westerns feature a protagonist who storms into town to exact his revenge on a criminal that escaped justice or someone who injured him or his family.

24. Revisionist Westerns portray the Native American in a more positive light. They go from being villain to the vilified. The themes question the morality of violence and whether might truly makes right.

25. Romance Westerns fuse the romance structure with the Western structure. They don’t necessarily end happily. This is often the “mail order bride” or “marriage of convenience turns into true love” format.

26. Town-Tamer Westerns feature a protagonist, sometimes with his own posse, who is, sometimes reluctantly, forced to step in and take on the bully running the town.

27. Trapper/Mountain Man Westerns focus on protagonists who head west before the mass arrival of pioneers. He is typically a loner and is forced to live in Indian territory. He has to adapt to their ways and often takes on a Native American bride.

28. Wagon Train Westerns follow the wagon trains heading west. The protagonist is often the leader of the wagon train and must defend his charges against extreme hardships and sometimes savage Indians or bands of outlaws.

29. Women Westerns feature gutsy, female protagonists who are determined to triumph over the west. She sometimes sets out alone or is widowed or orphaned and must survive on her own along the way.


Whew. That is a whole lot of Wild West.

Check out the newly released Western Build A Plot Workbook in print and ebook to help you plan your showdown. In addition, lookup the Build A World Workbook in print and ebook to help you develop your Wild West.

Next week, we examine the building blocks that make up the Western story skeleton.
For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Western Subgenres Part 1

Last week, we explored the Suspense and Thriller skeleton. This week, we look at Western subgenres.

1. Australian Westerns are set in the Australian outback and replace Native Americans with the indigenous aborigines. The protagonist can be an American dissatisfied with the rapidly-filling western United States who settles in Australia's vast outback. It could also be a protagonist from somewhere else who decides to try his luck.

2. Black Cowboy Western (aka (buffalo soldier) is inspired by the US Army’s 9th & 10th Calvary, and use the western frame with an African-American protagonist.

2. Bounty Hunter Westerns focus on a bounty hunter tracking down a criminal.

3. Cattle Drive Westerns focus on the challenges of moving a herd of cattle from one location to another, usually fighting off an antagonist who wants to steal them. Can also be a coming of age tale of a youngster who participates in the cattle drive.

4. Civil War Westerns are set during 1861 to 1865 or just after the war. The battles were waged as far west as New Mexico. The battle between Blues and Grays continued to simmer long after the war was declared over.

5. Classic Westerns feature normal cowboys trying to tame the frontier. There are shootouts and saloons and harlots with a heart of gold. There is usually a hero who is either a cowboy or a lawman who steps in to save the town from an unscrupulous foe.

6. Cowpunk Westerns borrow their title from science fiction's 'cyberpunk,” combining Science Fiction or Fantasy elements with the Western structure.

7. Doctor and Preacher Westerns feature either a doctor or a minister who try to civilize the wild west by bringing either medical or spiritual enlightenment.

8. Eurowesterns are set in Europe and include the spaghetti westerns from Italy, but there were also western motifs used in Germany, Russia, and Spain.

9. Gunfighter Westerns have the lone gunman who drifts into town and has to use his unique gun fighting abilities to overcome a brutal antagonist threatening the town. He sometimes has a posse with him, but he is the one who ultimately saves the day.

10. Humorous/Parody Westerns combine the Comedy structure with the Western in a lighthearted way or to poke fun at the genre itself.

11.Indian War Westerns explore the battles of the white pioneer against the native Americans. Earlier tales portrayed the Indians as savages who needed to be tamed. Later examples explored the plight of the Indians in a more sympathetic light, exposing the cruelty on both sides.

12. Land Rush Westerns explore the drive of pioneers to claim new lands as they “opened” out west and the difficulties they faced on the journey and their success or failure once they arrived.

13. Lawmen Westerns focus on the honest lawmen (Often a Texas Ranger) bringing order and justice to the outlaw west.

14. Mexican War Westerns are set in Texas during 1845 to 1848 surrounding the time of the Alamo and the battle over the border between Mexico and the US.

15. Modern Indian Westerns are set in the current era, usually on a reservation, and focus on protagonists dealing with the realities of the Native Americans' plight or the clash of ancient heritage with modern technology. They usually feature a Native American protagonist who is a policeman or tribal leader.


Next week, we will finish the list of Western subgenres. 

Check out the newly released Western Build A Plot Workbook in print and ebook to help you plan your showdown. In addition, lookup the Build A World Workbook in print and ebook to help you develop your Wild West World.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

The Team Victory Skeleton

Last week, we explored the Science Fiction skeleton. This week, we explore the building blocks for the Team Victory skeleton.

The overall story problem is an underdog who needs to win or achieve something. 


The reader asks, "Will they win?"

 Usually they should. If they don't, they have to still feel really good about it: almost was good enough. Usually the other coach or team needs to be taught a lesson.

These are mostly action and plot-centered tales that make people feel good. These stories are usually about athletic events: tennis, baseball, football, soccer, cheer leading, skiing, etc.

People like to root for the little guy. Like the con or heist, there is typically an assembling of a team. The coach or leader of the team is considered the protagonist. The
 coach often has something to prove or to regain his winning streak.

In the Team Victory story, the antagonist heads up the opposition. There can be additional antagonistic forces at play, but the antagonist is the owner, sponsor, star, or coach of the opposing team.

External Conflict scenes are all about the competition. These are the games or events that lead up to the final face-off. They will win some and lose some. These are the cheerleading competitions, the dance recitals, the school debates, or the spelling bees. The climax is the final confrontation, win or lose.

Antagonist Conflict scenes, depending on the points of view, are the exchanges between the two coaches or team leaders. They follow the opposing team coach as he fuels the flames of competition or the opposing boxer who is being blackmailed into throwing the match. The antagonist’s POV can be explored in this story. These are the scenes where we see him urging his team toward victory or where the head coach or player brags about his prowess. It can also be scenes where the antagonist and protagonist face each other alone to exchange threats.

Interpersonal Conflict scenes reveal how the individual team members succeed, fail, fight, and work at crossed purposes. The underdog shows his talent. The friends and foes manipulate and undermine and cheat to win. The opposing team member throws a game on purpose to help the other team.

Internal Conflict scenes show the coach wondering why he is being punished this way. We find out about his drinking habit. Or we find out why the head cheerleader is so insecure. We find out about the fight he threw or the relationship he destroyed by his need to compete. We watch him struggle between what is right and wrong. How far is she willing to compromise her integrity to win? She struggles with the abusive parent or the overachieving sibling. Maybe he wants his wife back or to win the respect of his father or his child. Maybe he needs to overcome low self-esteem or repay a gambling debt.

Next week, we explore Thriller and Suspense subgenres.

Check out the newly released Team Victory Build A Plot Workbook available in print and e-book.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Science Fiction Skeleton

Last week, we examined Science Fiction subgenres. This week, we examine the story building blocks for Science Fiction.

The overall story problem pits good against cosmic evil.


The reader asks: Will the hero, find, change, or stop something in time?

These stories explore the boundaries beyond what is known, therefore anything can happen. There is usually a protagonist on a quest to find, change or stop something. Something happens to threaten the existence of a place, humanity or a group of beings. Science Fiction stories, by definition, have some element of plausibility.

They can be set in space, on earth, in the future, or an alternative version of the past or an alternate version of the present. The stakes are high. The villains can be mad scientists, aliens, earth-like tribes, viruses, evil rulers, robots, androids or bands of intergalactic bad guys bent on conquering the planet. 

The conflicts involve how the characters deal with this cosmic problem. They often explore the effect of science on civilization, especially science gone wrong.  It can be about exploring the galaxy or atoms. They sometimes feature aliens but don’t have to. The Planet of the Apes is an example of exploring the earth in a different way.

You must have a well-developed story world with rules of what can and cannot happen in it. You must stick to those rules or you lose your  audience. You cannot change them mid-story. Audiences will go with you anywhere in the Sci-Fi realm as long as you make the cause and effect tight and logical. These stories allow us to explore themes from our own world: wars, famine, disease, genetic tinkering, technology, space exploration, industrialization, and genocide. Setting these stories in a different world removes the need to be politically correct and themes can challenge our current beliefs.

In Science Fiction stories, the protagonist is the star ship captain, the head Klingon, the research scientist, or astronaut. It is the person responsible for attempting to restore cosmic or scientific balance.



The antagonist is the source of the threat. This is the lead Klingon, the mad scientist, the out of control space captain, or the leader of the Planet of the Apes. It can be a virus, but if there is a team investigating the virus, someone in that team needs to offer some resistance.


External Conflict scenes focus on the central conflict between cosmic good and evil. The star captain leads the charge against the aliens, the arctic station is attacked by giant insects or the Klingons invade the star ship. Scientists make an important discovery. A spaceship wrecks on a distant planet. Everyone is involved in this cosmic fight. These are the battle scenes, the interplanetary council meetings, and the smaller battles leading up to the final battle. These are scenes where the entire planet awaits the streaking asteroid, the Klingons fire on the Vulcan ship, or the Men in Black face the giant cockroach. 

Antagonist Conflict scenes are where the opposing sides face off. If you follow the antagonist’s POV, these are scenes that show him hatching his lethal plans. The head Klingon and Captain cross swords or verbally spar. The giant insect rallies his troops. If the antagonist has a strong belief system, this is where he can argue his side of the thematic question to his henchmen. He actively works to achieve his goal. You can explore the antagonist’s personal dilemma in these scenes too. 

Interpersonal Conflict scenes focus on those helping and hindering the protagonist and/or antagonist and those involved in the subplots. The captain and his lieutenant disagree about how to handle the attack. The astronauts plan a way off the planet behind the captain’s back. Some will urge the hero to take the right action, some will stand in his way. He may be distracted by the beautiful young emissary from planet Zircon. His girlfriend might want him to give up alien hunting to settle down on Venus. These scenes can follow the friends and foes and reveal their true motives.

Internal Conflict scenes show the captain wrestling with his obligation to save the world. He debates his sanity or worries about his dying mother. He struggles with his addiction to Vesuvian wine or his past obsession with winning at any cost. This is the demon that drives him, the character flaw that trips him up. He reveals his innermost thoughts about the conflict or debates whether his sacrifice is for the greater good. 


For more information on building the Science Fiction story, check out the newly released Science Fiction Build A Plot workbook, available in print and e-book.

Next week, we examine the Team Victory skeleton.


For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Science Fiction Subgenres

Last month, we looked at building blocks for the Romance structure. This week, we look at subgenres of Science Fiction.

1. Alternate History Sci Fi could feature time travel as a device, but is considered separate from Time Travel SF. It explores what our world would look like if a specific historical event turned out differently.


2. Apocalyptic Science Fiction explores what happens after an apocalypse caused by war, pandemics, natural disasters, or nuclear weapons. It can explore the moments immediately following it or project the progress into the future.

2. Cyberpunk Science Fiction is a relatively new subgenre in which stories are set in the near-future and explore advances in information technology and the internet, prosthetics, and artificial intelligence. It explores themes of government and control. T
he protagonist is often a reluctant hero.

3. Hard Science Fiction demands rigorous attention to accuracy in your details. Hard-core “science geeks” will be harsh in their criticism if the research isn’t accurate.

4. Military Science Fiction features conflicts between nations or interstellar forces. The protagonist is usually a soldier. These stories explore military technology, procedures, culture, and history.

5. Social/Soft Science Fiction explores topics such as economics, psychology, political science, sociology, and anthropology. They focus more on the characters and the emotions surrounding the cosmic threats. They can explore alternative Utopian or Dystopian societies on earth or in an earth-like place.

6. Space Opera Science Fiction is more action and adventure than thematic exploration. The attention to scientific detail is slim. They feature Fantasy-like heroes on quests to save the world. There can be an element of comedy.

7. Superhuman Science Fiction explores humans with abilities above and beyond normal for the current era. This can be through genetic mutation, genetic tinkering, or prosthetic augmentation. These stories explore what it means to be human and what we lose if we start altering our DNA, bodies, or minds. They examine the line between human and nonhuman.

8. Time Travel Science Fiction is a subgenre that started with Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, then came H. G. Wells's The Time Machine. These stories explore the question of what happens if you tinker with the past. Can you or should you? What are the repercussions if you do?

9. Space Western Science Fiction combines SF with the Western structure. It can feature cowboys and aliens or take place in space colonies that resemble the Wild West. 

Next week, we explore the building blocks for the Science Fiction story skeleton. For more information on building the Science Fiction story, check out the newly released Science Fiction Build A Plot Workbook, available in print and e-book.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Working with Romance

Several of my past blog posts have dealt with the topic of Romance. Click on the links to continue reading about developing believable lovers, what currency is and how it works, and booby traps to avoid when writing about relationships.

1. Not sure what you want to write? One story, eight options

Dressing Up Your Romance

2. What are the temperament types like as lovers?

Sixteen Lovers Part 1

Sixteen Lovers Part 2

Sixteen Lovers Part 3

Sixteen Lovers Part 4

3. What is emotional currency and how does it manifest in your novel?

Tapping Your Characters' Currency

Currency in Action

4.  Avoid the pitfalls of bad romance.

Subliminal Messages in Romance

The Trouble With Romance

Bad Romance

Toxic Messages in Fiction 1

Toxic Messages in Fiction 2

You can have conflict without severe dysfunction. Heaven knows the world needs less bad bad boy/bad girl role models.


To learn more about plotting the Romance, check out the recently released Romance Build A Plot Workbook available in print and e-book.

Next week, we will examine Science Fiction subgenres.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.