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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.

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