Claire McEwen, hopeful romantic.

What Makes a Great Western Romance?

I love reading western romance. Put a hero in faded jeans a flannel shirt and a cowboy hat on a book cover and I will very likely buy that book! But sometimes I end up feeling like the cowboy on the cover is the only part of the book that is western. And since I write western romance as well, that got me thinking about what makes a story a western.

I was raised on the old Hollywood westerns. John Wayne movies especially, thanks to my dad’s obsession with them. And what I love about those old movies is that the hero has to overcome obstacles you’d only find in a western setting. They’ve got to move those cattle! I really like the characters in my western books to have problems they wouldn’t face in another setting.

Cowboy, cattle black and white

In my new book, Wild Horses, there is a conflict with — you guessed it!— wild horses and ranchers who want to graze land for cattle, and the government that wants to open land up for resource extraction. In my July book, Return to Marker Ranch, day-to-day issues of cattle ranching come up, as well as a conflict over water due to drought.

Part of the appeal of a western is that it can take us into another world that’s very different from most of our daily lives. So setting needs to play a bigger part in the story than it might in another sub-genre of romance. When I read or write westerns, I want to be transported to a new place. I want to be able to climb the fences, smell the crisp air and know what the views are like. Then I know for sure that I’m in a western romance!

sagebrush in field

But to be a good western romance, the book can’t only be about ranching issues and setting. There has to be big emotional drama as well. All that wide-open space in western settings requires sweeping emotion! I need my characters to have some big troubles, and to grow and change a lot during the story. And when they fall in love, I want them to fall hard!

still-of-john-wayne-and-coleen-gray-in-red-river-(1948)-large-picture

And I want my characters to be tough. They should be capable of taking care of themselves, even if they might need a little help once in a while. It feels realistic to me because when people live in a really rural area, they have to solve a lot of problems on their own. So I want my heroes and heroines to be strong people who try to face their problems head on.

woman working with horse

Thanks for joining me today! I’d love to hear your ideas. What do you enjoy about reading or writing western romance? Or is there another type of romance that you love the best?

Note: This post originally appeared as part of the Wild Horses Prism Book Tour with Tara Taylor Quinn, on the blog Underneath the Covers.

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