Like most things cinematic and western, John Wayne understood perfectly by the end of his career what role romance should play in a western movie: almost none. Unfortunately many western writers, no matter how many westerns they may write, never come remotely close to figuring this one out.
There is little in life more frustrating than settling into a great western novel – one with strong writing, a great understanding of the relationship between landscape and plot, and the right kind of dialog – only to have everything come to a screeching halt when a two-dimensional female character enters the picture. Bang! Another potential western masterpiece shot down by a clumsy, pointless, cobbled-on, two-dimensional romance. The only thing worse is the movement in some more modern westerns to transform the bad romantic scenes to bad pornographic scenes. “Disappointment… thy name is Legion.”
Truism One: Westerns are primarily a male genre… written and read by males. There are exceptions, of course. But they are just that, exceptions.
Truism Two: For most men, sex is way more interesting than romance. By definition most men would rate a romance novel or a romantic movie somewhere on a continuum between “deathly boring” and “completely pointless.” Sex, of course, is something altogether different.
Truism Three: Reading about sex is boring. Even though men find sex interesting they do not like to read about it [Note: I said “read” not watch or look at] any more than they like to read about romance. Go to any bookstore and look in the Erotica section. Erotica is for women. Women like to read about romance and sex… not men.
Truism Four: Male writers cannot write convincingly about either romance or sex. There are, of course, notable exceptions.. but these are few and only Larry McMurtry writes westerns.
Truism Four: Westerns should have no romance or sex.
Truism Five: There are exceptions to every rule… or at least there should be. But before you think, dear western writer, that you are the exception, please do us all a favor and show the story to at least six women. If they think it is really not the same old two-dimensional, adolescent bullshit, publish it. And I will promise to buy it.