Sunday, February 25, 2018

BEYOND COWBOYS: CHARACTERS OF THE WEST by Vonn McKee


I love lists: making them, reading them, crossing things off them. Even the act of creating a to-do list for the week makes me feel I’ve accomplished something. I also keep ongoing lists of things helpful to my writing cause –– such as interesting character names, trivia about historical events, or those little stories told around dinner tables that might fit perfectly in a fictional scene.

A few years ago, I heard the incredible author Win Blevins (STONE SONG, GIVE YOUR HEART TO THE HAWKS) speak about his mental list of character types. He said that, when he first began writing western fiction, he realized he didn’t know that much about real cowboys. After some pondering, it occurred to him that there were dozens of other characters to write about: miners, natives, fur trappers, and so on. That opened the door to an endless supply of potential plots and character studies. Thank goodness Win had that realization. Western literature would have missed out on his emotional, beautifully styled novels.



This inspired me to keep a list of my own (included below) for those times when I’m stumped for a story idea or just need subplots and interesting side characters. Feel free to add more suggestions in your comments!

FRONTIER CHARACTERS:



COWBOYS, RANCHERS, VAQUEROS, SHEEPHERDERS

RUSTLERS, ROBBERS, ROADSIDE BANDITS

GUNFIGHTERS, BOUNTY HUNTERS

LAWMEN (RANGERS, SHERIFFS/MARSHALS & DEPUTIES)

INDIANS
EXPLORERS, SCOUTS

MILITARY OFFICERS AND CAVALRYMEN

POLITICIANS

MINERS, PROSPECTORS, FUR TRADERS

SETTLERS, HOMESTEADERS, SQUATTERS (MALE AND FEMALE)

STAGE COACH DRIVERS, PONY EXPRESS RIDERS

RAILROAD WORKERS (LABORERS, ENGINEERS, BUSINESSMEN)

LAND SPECULATORS, BUILDERS

BUSINESS OWNERS AND EMPLOYEES (MERCANTILE, LIVERY, BLACKSMITH, TRADING POST, DRESSMAKER, SADDLE MAKER, NEWSPAPER REPORTER, BANKER, TELEGRAPH OPERATOR, ETC.)

SOILED DOVES, ENTERTAINERS, BARTENDERS

TEACHERS, PREACHERS, NUNS



Hopefully, this list will spur you on creating all kinds of interesting folks in your next book. It took a lot of people to build the West. Go forth, and tell their stories!



All the best,

Vonn McKee
“Writing the Range”
2015 Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award Finalist (Short Fiction)
2015 WWA Spur Award Finalist (Short Fiction)



WEBSITE vonnmckee.com



From WOLFPACK PUBLISHING
Now available on Amazon:



10 comments:

  1. Great list. Hope you don't mind if I take a few to add to my own list. The only thing I would add to yours would be children - small to teens because I feel they were not only part of the settling of the west, but they can also add dynamics to a story. Thanks for posting this.

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    1. Yes, children! Great suggestion, Agnes.

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  2. I found a good place to find names is in the credit role at the end of movies. Of course you need to make sure that the odder names were used in the 1800s. You can mix first and last names of course. If using foreign names, like Germans, French, Dutch, etc, you need to do some research to make sure they too were used in the 1800s. In one book I had a Ukrainian individual. Yes, they use a lot of Russian names, but there are also Ukrainian unique first and last names. As for American first names. I searched through census lists hoping to find old unusual traditional first names. There were very few and the large percentage of men were named with common British names, Tom, Luke, Mark, Robert, etc most being Biblical names.

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    1. Choosing names is one of my favorite parts of writing. Often, the name will just pop into my head along with the character sketch. If that doesn't happen, I consult census lists, my own family tree, or name the character after someone I've met. (Gordo is a great name. Maybe I'll add that to my list!)

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    1. You bet. Thanks for stopping by, Vicky.

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  4. I've used farmers quite a bit, also an ex-con, a bootmaker, a carpenter, livery owner, and others. Working on a blacksmith now. Most have been cowhands in the beginning but I wanted to change that up some.

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    1. All good choices, Jacquie. Your characters are always interesting!

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  5. I love lists! This is a good one! Sorry I'm so late getting over here. I always love your posts, Vonn!

    Jacquie, I used a farmer in my Wolf Creek character, Derrick McCain. But of course, he had a "past"...

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  6. “List, list, O, list!”

    William Shakespeare (Hamlet)

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