Phil Dunlap, Western Author

Monday, March 21, 2011

How important IS accuracy?

As a kid, it never bothered me when some Civil War cavalryman fell off his horse in a river, then got up, drew his dripping 1851 Colt and started blasting away at the enemy. A little wet gunpowder didn't matter. It didn't bother me when gunslingers fanned their revolvers and hit everything they meant to hit. Shooting a gun out of a man's hand at a hundred yards? No problem. But, I was a kid and the thrill of the chase, the shooting, the ultimate defeat of the bad guys, well, that's what I went to the movies for. Those low-slung holsters were cool, hugely inaccurate, but very cool. And did cowboys really carry guitars around so they could break into song at every turn?

But when I grew up and knew I wanted to write about the old west, I was faced with the need to learn about what the frontier was really like. No low-slung holsters? No standing in the street fifty feet apart, watching the other fellow's eyes for that tell-tale twitch before the draw? Where's the romance in a holster riding high, or drawing before the actual confrontation and taking aim to assure a better chance of killing your opponent? The more I researched, the more I realized all those old cowboy movies were nothing more than entertainment. However, learning the truth of the old west brought even more excitement. When writing about a specific area, and then finding out that at the same period an Indian attack was taking place, or that Billy the Kid had killed a man only a mile away, opened my eyes to not only the need for research, but also the opportunities it brought with it. When you can add actual events, supported by history, well, the whole story just gets better. And the reader can put him/her self right alongside your characters. And be comforted that you're getting it right.

Yet, as inaccurate as they were, I still loved those old westerns. Still do, in fact.  

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