Western and Eastern Genre: Stories of Subjugation and Freedom

What is the Western/Eastern Genre?

An external story in the Western/Eastern genres focuses on the conflict between the individual and society. It turns on the subjugation / freedom spectrum while generating feelings of intrigue in the reader.

The underlying question in every Western/Eastern story asks:

Is the autonomous, self-reliant individual in society dangerous to law and order or necessary to protect the powerless from tyranny?

Western/Eastern Genre: Stories of Subjugation and Freedom

What is the Controlling Idea of the Western/Eastern Genre?

The universal theme or CONTROLLING IDEA of a Western/Eastern story is:

Justice prevails when an uncompromising individual sacrifices for the good of others, but tyranny reigns if the individual is betrayed by those they defend.

The Four Core Framework of the Western/Eastern Genre

The FOUR CORE FRAMEWORK helps us meet reader expectations by bringing the core of our story into focus to create an irresistible, memorable, and shareable experience for the reader.

1. Core Need

Individual Sovereignty

The core need of the protagonist in a Western/Eastern story is to transcend their own self-interest to offer their gift unconditionally, sacrificing themselves to help others.

The need arises from an inciting attack in which an antagonist (human, animal, or environmental) threatens the peace so much that the protagonist must risk subjugation or control by the larger society to restore order.

2. Core Value

Subjugation to Freedom

The core value of the Western/Eastern genre, derived from the need for individual sovereignty, spans subjugation and freedom. The protagonist acts on behalf of the larger society to bring order from chaos but struggles not to surrender their freedom in the process.

3. Core Emotion


The core emotion in a Western/Eastern story is intrigue. Attaining the core value is a penny-drop revelation that sets the world right. In a Western or Eastern, the villain is rarely torturing the protagonist on purpose, as in a thriller. Usually, the protagonist is simply getting in the way of the antagonist’s goal.

4. Core Event

The Big Showdown

The CLIMAX of the Western/Eastern genre is the big showdown. This moment forces the protagonist to choose between sacrificing their autonomy and subjugating themselves to the needs of the community in order to save the victim. 

6 Conventions of the Western-Eastern Genre

Genre Conventions are specific requirements for the story’s ALTERNATE WORLD, AVATARS, or circumstances that create conflict and enable solutions. Conventions set up genre reader expectations. Without these, the reader will be confused, unsettled, or bored and quit reading.

The Western/Eastern genre has five necessary conventions:

  • Harsh, hostile, wide-open landscape.
  • Features hero, victim, and villain.
  • A MacGuffin. The villain must have an OBJECT OF DESIRE and the protagonist must stand in the way of attaining it.
  • The hero’s object of desire is to stop the villain and save the victim. 
  • The hero operates outside the law (selectively or as a matter of course).
  • The power divide between the hero and villain is large.
  • Speech in praise of the villain: At some point, an AVATAR must discover or point out how the villain appears unbeatable. The villain’s point—the reason the antagonist will not give up—also must be revealed.
  • Subgenre specific conventions. Other conventions may be required by the subgenre.

8 Obligatory Moments in the Western/Eastern Genre

Obligatory Moments are the must-have events, revelations, or decisions and actions that pay off the raised expectations of the Conventions.

The Western/Eastern genre has eight obligatory moments:

  • An inciting attack by the villain or environment.
  • The hero sidesteps responsibility to take action.
  • Forced to leave the ordinary world, the hero lashes out.
  • The protagonist discovers and comes to understand the antagonist’s MacGuffin.
  • The hero’s initial strategy to outmaneuver the villain fails.
  • Realizing they must change their approach to salvage some form of success, the hero reaches an all-is-lost moment. 
  • The showdown or gunfight between the hero and the villain.
  • The hero’s sacrifice is rewarded when they ride off into the sunset or come into the fold of the town.

Western/Eastern Genre Subgenres

The Western/Eastern genre can be further broken down into four subgenres based on the protagonist’s domain:

  • Vengeance: The Stranger comes to town to right a wrong. Examples include A Few Dollars More (1965) and Yojimbo (1961).
  • Transition: The hero is part of society at the beginning of the story and exiled from society by the end, or the hero representing the old ways clashes with newer more nuanced ways of operating. Examples include High Noon (1952) and Red River (1948).
  • Professional: The hero is a mercenary or law enforcement just doing a job or lives outside the law and perpetrates “victimless” crimes against, for example, banks or corporations. Examples include True Grit by Charles Portis; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000); and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).

“The Western/Eastern story concerns the role of the individual in a mass society. Is the self-reliant individual dangerous to order or necessary to defend the powerless?” — Shawn Coyne

Additional Resources for the Western/Eastern Genre

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