Book Recipes: How to Write a Classic Western

Time for another book recipe! This one is on classic Westerns so put on your biggest hat and practice your gunfight squint. There’s varmints in them there parts.



  • Big ol’ hats
  • One drifter with a heart of gold
  • An honest yet stupid rancher
  • Horses
  • A corrupt city-slicker businessman, plus goons
  • One suitably feisty love interest
  • A tiny frontier town built exclusively out of wood and spit
  • Guns
  • The fastest shot in the West



  1. Take your tiny frontier town and give everyone in it a big hat and a gun. Ta-dah! Your scene is set.
  2. Introduce your loveable idiot rancher. He’s the owner of One Plot Ranch, a humble yet significant homestead that he built with his own two hands.
  3. But oh no, here comes the sinister city-slicker businessman, and he’ll get that ranch if it’s the last thing he’ll ever do!
  4. Oh, also the love interest is there. Being feisty.
  5. But who should wonder into Fort Settingsville now we’ve completed the initial set-up but our mysterious drifter?
  6. Cause a scene in the saloon. Make sure to throw at least one person through a window.
tenor window
Watch out for Inspector Javert, on secondment from Paris PD, Bread Division! (image:
  1. For plot reasons, our mysterious drifter has to stay in Fort Settingsville – but luckily, our honest rancher has offered him a place to stay! Sure hope this won’t result in an unlikely friendship.
  2. The drifter and the love interest meet and they banter, feistily.
  3. Allude to a mysterious secret in your drifter’s past. It’s mysterious.
  4. The evil businessman’s henchmen are messing around on One Plot Ranch, oh no! Luckily the mysterious drifter is also suspiciously good with a gun and he scares them off.
  5. The evil businessman is determined to find out more about the mysterious drifter and sends a henchman to Backstory Valley.
  6. Meanwhile, the drifter and the love interest are flirting! The rancher is sad about it, the drifter feels guilty and the three of them are just drowning in Man-Pain.
  7. Lean on a fence and think about life for a bit.
  8. Oh no, the evil businessman has discovered the drifter’s secret! He tells everyone that our mysterious drifter is actually a notorious outlaw and The Fastest Shot in the West!
tenor pew pew
  1. The businessman has the drifter arrested and prepares to seize One Plot Ranch.
  2. The love interest tries to break the drifter out of jail but he is too mopey to even think about escaping.
  3. Time for a last stand at One Plot Ranch! The love interest and the rancher share a moment because absolutely no-one is going to turn up in the next step and save them, you guys.
  4. FOOLED YOU! The drifter has gotten over his Man-Pain, broken out of jail and uses his gunslinging skills to save the day.
  5. The sinister businessman gets run out of town on a very flimsy pretext but it’s step nineteen, Fort Settingsville will be fine.
  6. Oh no, the drifter has to leave too for plot reasons! He shares a last goodbye with the love interest and rides off into the sunset.

THE END. Serve with a side of cactus and a tumbleweed garnish.



  • Make sure your mysterious drifter’s past isn’t too dark. He should be a Robin Hood type outlaw, as opposed to a ‘mugging little old ladies’ type of outlaw.
  • Absolutely everyone must be wearing something brown.
  • It’s important to make sure you get your language right. People don’t ‘think’, they ‘reckon’. People aren’t ‘going’ to do something, they’re ‘fixing’ to do something. And never, ever, put a ‘g’ on the end of an ‘-ing’ word.
giphy mcgucket
Well hornswoggle my haversack! (image:
  • Make sure that ninety percent of the romance is significant looks. This is a classic Western, which means they don’t even take their Stetsons off until they’re legally wed.
  • It never, ever rains.
  • Everyone who addresses your love interest must go ‘Why, Miss Firstname’ because she is a lady.
  • Horses are basically just like cars with legs, and they will only need to go for a tyre change or whatever when it’s convenient to the plot. Pretty sure that’s how they work.


And here’s one I made earlier…


“Miss Sally Mae! Miss Sally Mae! Come quick!”

Sally Mae looked up from her sewing. Little John Treadway had burst onto her porch, panting and clutching a stitch in his side. She noticed, with some small measure of alarm, that he was wearing his ‘emergency’ Stetson; it had ‘HELP!’ written on the side in big red letters.

“Why, John! Whatever can the matter be? There a hog that needs wrasslin’?”

“It’s Pa,” said the little boy, “him and Mr Parnassus had a run-in up at the ranch. He’s been shot, I didn’t know who else to call…”

Sally Mae jumped to her feet. “Bring Nellie round the front, John. I’ll get my bag.”

She darted into her cabin and fetched her supplies – bandages, needle and thread, and a bottle of whiskey. She was no doctor, but she was the best that Corolla’s Ford had, and she did at least have an appropriately medical hat – it was white with blue flashing lights. She put it on, climbed into the saddle and within minutes she and John were galloping towards the old Treadway ranch.

It didn’t look good. Half of the fences had been trampled and there were bullet holes in the water trough. In the distance, a few dark figures could be seen limping away into the twilight. She swung down from the horse’s back and lifted John out of the saddle.

“Run along and boil up some water. Tell your Pa I’ll be right there.”

John scampered back into the cabin. Sally Mae led Nellie over to the hitching post and tied her up, her hands shaking. If Mr McKay had been injured…

“Why, Miss Sally Mae! Whatever are you doing out here at this time of night?”

Sally Mae looked up into the smirking face of Ulysses K. Parnassus. He showed no signs of having just been in a gunfight. His black suit was perfectly pressed and his black moustache didn’t have a single hair out of place. Only his Stetson gave him away. It had a ring of bullets instead of a hatband, and several of them were missing.

“I must see to my patients, Mr Parnassus,” she said, with as much dignity as she could muster.

“Now why a charmin’ little thing like you should ever wish to nurse such undeservin’ scoundrels, I will never understand. I told you the day I saw you wrasslin’ that hog – I can make you the richest woman in Corolla’s Ford.”

“Let me by, sir.”

She pushed past him, medical bag in hand. He grabbed her arm.

“Now just you be careful, Miss Sally Mae,” he said, reaching into his jacket. “There’s dangerous folks about in these parts. A little woman could find herself in all kinds of trouble without a fella to take care of her.”

“My thoughts exactly, Mr Parnassus.”

Sally Mae whirled around. Jack McKay was leaning on a stretch of unbroken fence. He struck a match on the side of his jaw and lit a cigarette, and the brief glimpse of the squarest jaw she had ever seen was enough to make Sally Mae go all giggly. He, too, was wearing his gunfight Stetson, and his was all but empty. Mr Parnassus let go of her arm at once and shoved a piece of paper into her hand.

“I’m sure I didn’t mean nothin’ by it, Mr McKay,” said Mr Parnassus, giving him a very peculiar smile. “By rights I oughtta smack that cigarette right outta your mouth – but I would never dream of offendin’ Miss Sally Mae by forcin’ her to witness such a humiliation.”

“Sure you wouldn’t.”

“Goodnight, Miss Sally Mae. Just you think on my offer. And, McKay – you tell Cal that if he ain’t outta here by Sunday, I’ll bring in the Sheriff.”

He left, disappearing into the darkness with one last tip of his hat. Sally Mae glanced down at the piece of paper he’d given her. It was a wanted poster for an outlaw named ‘Mad Dog McKay’. There was a drawing, too, of a man wearing a burglary Stetson and a black mask around his eyes.

She ignored it. It probably wasn’t relevant. “What happened?”

“It’s Cal. Parnassus got him in the leg. It don’t look good, Sally Mae.”

Sally Mae felt a little flutter of panic. Cal’s jaw was not as square and he mumbled whenever he spoke to her, but he was a good man. She rushed inside.

Cal was lying on the bed, his leg bleeding. He tried to get up when he saw her and fell back down, groaning.

“Miss Sally Mae,” he gasped, “I’m awful sorry to trouble you so late –”

“Just you hush, Cal,” she said, switching off the blue lights on her medical Stetson, “it’s a mighty fine mess you’re in.”

Cal took her hand. “Miss Sally Mae,” he said, “I must speak my mind before it’s too late. Since I saw you wrasslin’ that hog, I –”

“I said hush, Cal,” said Sally Mae, blushing, “there’ll be time for that when you’re well.”

She set to work cleaning and bandaging the cut and soon, he was out of danger. When, at last, she was done, she put the patient’s Stetson on his head – soft and squidgy and smelling of disinfectant – and gave him a nip of whiskey to send him to sleep. She let John come in and see his father and sent him to bed, too. By the time she was cleaning her supplies in the barrel the moon was shining brightly.

“Well?” said Mr McKay, as she came back into the kitchen. “Will he make it?”

She nodded. Mr McKay sat down heavily and put his head in his hands. She was surprised to hear a sharp hiss of pain, and suddenly noticed a small patch of blood seeping through his shirt.

“Why, Jack!” she cried, “you’re bleedin’!”

He grimaced. “It’s nothin’.”

“It ain’t nothin’ ’til I’ve said so. Now take your shirt off and let me see.”

He obeyed, taking his shirt off without dislodging his gunfight Stetson. To prevent herself from staring – which was admittedly quite difficult – Sally Mae looked at the piece of paper Mr Parnassus had given her. The drawing of Mad Dog McKay was starting to look a bit familiar.

She put it back in her pocket and cleaned and dressed Mr McKay’s wound without saying a word. This was mainly because she was having a lot of trouble thinking anything apart from pecs pecs pecs and didn’t quite trust herself to say that out loud. When she was done, she fished the poster back out of her pocket again.

“He looks awful familiar,” she said.

Mr McKay gaped at her. His bed was pushed up against the wall and she noticed a large wodge of similar posters shoved beneath it. Now that she thought about it, there had been an awful lot of torn posters on Main Street lately.

“Does he?” said Mr McKay.

“Looks a little like you, I reckon.”

“Well,” said Mr McKay, “he would, if it wasn’t for this big birthmark.” He pointed at the drawn figure’s mask. “I don’t have one of those.”

“Ain’t that just a part of his burglary Stetson?”


“If you’re lyin’ to me, Jack McKay –”

He got to his feet and took both her hands in his. “I ain’t that man, Miss Sally Mae,” he said, giving a cough that sounded suspiciously like the words ‘any more’. “May I…may I take off my hat to show you I mean it?”

Sally Mae blushed to the roots of her hair. She wished she’d thought to bring her romance Stetson, which was laden with flowers and a small box of tissues in case anything went wrong, or her chastity Stetson, which was equipped with a small boxing glove on a spring.

“But Mr McKay,” she said, “we’re not married.”

Slowly, he reached up and took off his Stetson. Sally Mae gasped, suddenly overcome with some very PG-13 feelings. If anyone should see them – if Cal should see them…

“Miss Sally Mae,” said Mr McKay, “I ain’t never met another girl like you. The moment I saw you wrasslin’ that hog I knew you were the girl for me. I can’t lie to you, darlin’. I ain’t that man.”


My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Heh heh heh. (image:

4 thoughts on “Book Recipes: How to Write a Classic Western

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