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Thursday, 2 April 2015

Writing – flora and fauna

The following extract is taken from my writing guide Write a Western in 30 Days (pp135/136).

As many a reviewer has pointed out, the guide can be applicable to any genre in most instances.

So, from time to time, try to acknowledge the presence of mother Nature in your fiction.

Saguaro cactus, Arizona - Wikipedia commons

Flora and fauna

A western novel isn’t just about the characters – it’s about the land. A land that is rich in variety. Indeed, in some westerns the land can almost become a ‘character’. It certainly provides conflict.

So, don’t neglect the flora and fauna. Of course, since you’ve set a time period for your western – say, July 1879 – then you can research for plants that flower in July. If you stick to a vague time period, you’re hampered and are liable to mix and match and maybe get nature’s calendar cockeyed.

         He (Corbin) ducked under the lintel, shut the door behind him and breathed in the fresh night air.

         Crickets chirruped, invisible and insistent, and thousands of stars winked in the black sky. Over to the right an array of cactus plants resembled men approaching in surrender, arms held high.

         Fortunately, the wind was to the west so he didn’t get the smell from the stables. He chided himself for being uncharitable; maybe they didn’t muck out as often as they should, but these station masters did very well by their horses. Resting and feeding them and being ready at a moment’s notice to replace an unexpected team. What must it have been like when this territory was still prey to raids by warriors on the warpath? Lonely and very isolated, even if the next station was only about ten miles off. Stagecoaches pulling in, pierced by arrows and more resembling porcupines than modes of transport; and then those stages that had never arrived, their carcasses littering the prairie. He withdrew his hat, transferred it to his double hook and wiped the inner brim with the heel of his right hand. (The $300 Man, Ross Morton, pp 67/68)

 Nothing unusual, maybe, just crickets, stars and cactus, but hopefully it conveys the vastness of the prairie and the stillness – just before a provoking incident occurs.

            In another western, I injected some natural imagery:

As their journey progressed through tall grasses interspersed with blue-white beardtongue, he found that he was again deeply stirred by her. She rode easy in the saddle and was a competent horsewoman. She was really knowledgeable about nature too, pointing out where he was likely to catch bobwhite quail and ring-necked pheasant. Her enthusiasm was infectious. ‘You should be here in the Spring,’ she told him. ‘The meadows east of the town are a purple blaze of Pasqueflower.’ (Death at Bethesda Falls, Ross Morton, pp99/100)

The woman is a schoolteacher and keen about geography, and enthuses her young students. This scene is the calm before a fresh onslaught threatens their lives and binds the pair closer.



Neil Waring said...

I agree that local flora and fauna can lend interest to a story. Be careful though, no ring-neck pheasant in the old west, Prairie Chicken were similar but never called pheasant by cowboys or anyone in the west of that day.

Nik said...

Well spotted, Neil. As a fiction writer, I may have some wriggle room here. While the ring-necked pheasant is the state bird of South Dakota, it’s one of only three U.S. state birds that is not a species native to the United States. And of course the so-called common pheasants were introduced in North America in 1881, some 15 years after the action in Death at Bethesda Falls; however this doesn’t take into account one Joseph Stapleton who built a dude ranch a few miles outside Bethesda Falls and entertained gentry from Russia and England to pheasant shoot – and introduced the bird then, in 1866. Sadly, the shoot was so successful that they were all killed off until the later re-introduction in 1881. :)

Nancy Curteman said...

Good suggestions. I'll add more plants and animals to my piece.

Neil Waring said...

Good stuff. I love this kind of history lesson. I agree there is a lot of wiggle room with this stuff. I never would have noticed it but was for many years an avid pheasant hunter and had done a lot of reading about the ring-necks. I see Matt Dillon hunting pheasants on the old TV show, Gunsmoke, and see it in print at times. I still think, like you, it adds to the scene in a novel. As always I enjoy your blog posts.

Nik said...

Thanks for the comments, Neil, and the insight into Gunsmoke too. I have the first series DVD. Nancy, glad you found the piece useful.