Saturday, March 04, 2006

Louis L'Amour: Master of the Primal Plot

Cliff face in the Sandia Mountains, New Mexico

I write science fiction, not westerns. But I had a western phase, sometime around the age of 13, when I discovered books by Louis L'Amour. The first one I ever read was The Key-Lock Man. It had *everything*, horses, a beautiful lady of viking decent, a dangerous hero unswayed by greed or avarice.

I've started rereading, buying the recent republished books at the grocery store... It started when I saw The Key-Lock Man on the shelf and wondered how different it would be to read at the age of 41 instead of 13.

The biggest difference, even more than age, is that I'm a writer. I notice things related to craft that I'd never have noticed before, each POV shift or if the book is written in 1st or 3rd, word choices, structure. Concerning continuity, Lois Bujold insists that she reserves the right to have a better idea in a later book... Louis L'Amour sometimes had a better idea on the same page. No one is going to mistake this for literature.

But he does something right. Something vitally important. A screen-writing book I read recently used the term "Primal". Louis L'Amour writes primal. The themes and conflicts of his books are not complicated... life or death, to stand on values or abandon them, jealousy, greed, family, loyalty, and the human desire to build and create something to last.

This is where my plots are weak, my characterizations mushy. My characters don't want anything bad enough to sacrifice for it. They don't face life or death issues where their beliefs and principles are tested. In my mind I suppose I'm viewing life realistically, but the plot and story that results just isn't very interesting. It's not compelling, vital, primal.

There is a lot I can learn from Louis L'Amour.


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