Screenwriting: How To Write a Western Film

The western film is a very classic American film, and there are plenty of great examples that can be used for screenwriting. While westerns are not as nearly popular as they once were, they have recently surged in popularity. Westerns are always popular because the concept of the film is easy to understand. Writing a western can be difficult, as it is important to balance new elements with the traditional expectations that audiences associated with westerns. It is not necessary to recreate a classic, but your film needs to be recognizable as a western.

Step 1: Western History

It is a good idea to look into the history of the western genre and learn how the traditional archetypes started and how they have changed over the years. Some of the first are very clear on right and wrong morality. Many westerns use very dramatic extremes that are complex, but also contain completely evil characters. There are so many different styles of westerns that it is a good idea to understand and watch how the style of moving has changed and evolved.

Step 2: The Formula

To determine the formula that westerns use, diagram the story arc of several westerns. Sit down and watch some of the best and most famous westerns and see what happens. Also watch some westerns that have tanked so you know what to avoid. Determining how the story evolves and what is common to all westerns will show what your western should contain and also how it can differ.

Step 3: Setting

Much of the western has to deal with the setting, the wild west itself. There are many areas of the world that contain similar settings. The frontier in the United States, the outback of Australia, medieval Japan using samurai instead of cowboys, and even space, as many describe Star Wars as a type of western. Despite the fact these are different, they all feature a wild area that is slowly being settled (and law is becoming important).

Step 4: Storyline

The storyline is developed around the setting itself. It can be a romantic film or an action western. No matter the type of western, it should contain something dealing with the law. As with any film, it needs to have a good story arc that contains a clear beginning, middle, end and finale.

Step 5: Characters

The best westerns have characters that are fleshed out. They have their own personalities, allegiances, motivations and more. Each character should have his own story arc within the overall story arch. The characters should be different in some way by the end of the story. It is not necessary to include every piece of detail about the characters in exposition, but having some background can help develop the story when you get stuck.

Step 6: Draft

Craft a first draft that will have all the scenes in order. Be aware that about 1 page will equal 1 minute of screen time so the length should not be too long. Once the first draft is done, do revisions. Get others to read the screenplay and get some feedback. Your screenplay will go through many changes before it is in its finished form.