A stranger rides into Haxan. He badmouths Magra Snowberry. Marshal Marwood then meets him in the plaza.
I am here to tell you I could write this story all day long. I love this story. I could write it again and again, in different ways and perspectives, and be in clover. I would love it.
But the reader would hate it. Maybe not the first time, but probably by the second. Definitely the third. Because while I like the idea of the story, we have to be brutal and honest with ourselves: it’s crap.
It really is bad. Everything about that story is bad. It’s full of cliches, full of everything I despise about the current romanticized view of the genre. I mean, come on, like we haven’t seen this movie before, right? A bad guy rides into town. He does something bad to a nice girl. The lawman is incensed, things escalate, and they shoot it out.
Sounds like every Saturday morning western program we have ever watched. Not to say people don’t like reading that kind of thing. There’s a market for it. Lots of writers in the genre enjoy using tropes like “Spinster Schoolmarm” and “Laconic Cowboy” or what have you. Many more are successful at it. But as much as I like that stuff, too, at least on a pure atavistic level, I cannot write it. I mean, maybe I can do it once. But I can’t keep doing it. I would go nuts.
But back to my earlier comment. I love that story about Marwood and Magra. I like it because it’s so simple and I don’t have to think very hard. Everything is distilled down to its elemental qualities. But as much as I would like to write that story (and have written that story) I can’t in good conscience write it many times over.
Because if I did I would not be true to myself. I would be writing something, and writing in a fashion, completely unknown to me. I wouldn’t be comfortable doing it, I guess is what I am trying to say. Even worse, I feel the reader would reach a point where he feels he is being short changed. I don’t want the reader to feel that way about any story I write. Even this one.
Sometimes I joke with other writers and readers I will one day write a story where Marwood resolves his problems with balloon animals and party hats. It would have the benefit of never been tried in the world of Haxan, I’ll give it that. But that wasn’t what the west was like, either, and I’m not sure I could bring myself to write a joke story like that. Not because I view my work in such lofty and serious terms, but because I don’t think the story itself would work.
And when you get right down to it that’s what writers are all about: the story. Does it work? If not, why? Can you fix it? Will it be better? What does the story demand? Do I have the talent to bring that across to the reader?
Stories are like that, sometimes. At least I think they are. We may want to write the same story over and over because it would be easy and fun. But if we did we would not be true to the story, even the story we want to write over and over. I can’t speak for anyone else, but this would be hard for me to pull off.
But, yes, I love the idea of a stranger riding into Haxan, badmouthing Magra, and having to meet Marwood. All these things have happened at one time or another in the series. I think one or two stories have even presented them in that sequence, if not that specific structure. But as much as I love the idea, I have to watch myself because I would not be fair to the story or the reader if I kept writing that same story again and again.
No matter how much I love it, what I love doesn’t matter. The story dictates those terms. I think good writers respond to that.