BattleCraft: Archers

I’ve known for a while I wanted the next BattleCraft post to be about bows, but I’ve been wrestling with the approach. Do I go down the list of all the different kinds of bows with their eras and how-they-were-made’s or showcase the story of a single character’s bow? After much mental grappling I finally asked myself, “Well, if I were writing a story with a main character who wields a bow, what would be my biggest issues?”

So, let’s say my character is a young woman in her mid-twenties who has decided to journey away from home. We’ll call her Lorna. Her goals are to find adventures and test her skills against the world. So she ties back her frizzy brown hair, packs some provisions, takes up her bow and arrows and hits the road. Let’s look at some details:

  • What kind of bow does my character carry?

There are a number of standard, real-world options for bows, and like anything else the demographics of the world will influence the choices available. I usually default to some kind of long bow as opposed to a crossbow, but even within the long bow family you have a good number of options. Obviously the culture and the materials at hand will play a large role. Also consider how advanced the society is with weaponry; just because you think the recurve bow looks cool doesn’t mean there’s going to be a bower who knows how to make one.

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  • What kind of arrows does my character use?

Bow decided, we then need to know about the arrows. For the purposes of this little adventure, let’s say our gal is resourceful and equipped to make her own. She’s good at finding branches or small trees that can be carved into shafts and even to some extent the kinds of trees to look for. Soft wood makes for good practice arrows while harder woods are better for more long-range activities, like hunting. She also knows that she can’t use freshly gathered sticks. Potential arrow shafts have to be dried for weeks in advance of the arrow making. After she’s got the dried sticks (which she’s likely been carrying around in addition to her original provisions for the journey) she then has the task of fletching the shaft and adding a tip, neither of which is an easy task.

  • What kind of arrowheads does my character make?

Since we’re on the road, the materials available for sharpening will likely be varied, and limited. Generally speaking, flint and obsidian are pretty good places to start, but they’re not just lying around. So we either need to know where we can find them, or be carrying around uncut chunks. Also, since we’re on the road and curious, we might try experimenting with different kinds of rock.

I don’t know about you all, but I’m exhausted, and we haven’t even reached a point where we’re going to use the bow and arrows! I think I’d just admire my handiwork as opposed to actually firing it, but that wouldn’t be entertaining. So, onward…

  • What scenarios are going to be difficult for my character? Which ones will she hold inherent advantage in?

In terms of feeding herself a bow and arrow are good tools, regardless of prey size. Like being in the archer division of a military force, archers have an advantage with distance that really can’t be beat. Even when throwing a spear or javelin, you’re limited to the strength of your arm. But move in any closer to your target and the bow because totally useless. Let’s say our character finds herself wandering the streets of a strange city at night—she’s in trouble, because that bow isn’t going to do her a lick of good.

  • Contemplate what the bow says about the people and culture.

Let’s say in the story that Lorna’s people are an archery kind of people, and bows are part of their iconography as well as their daily lives. Maybe children make their bows from certain kinds of wood, but after passing a rite into adulthood, they are allowed to make them from different trees. Remember always that regardless of how different your character is, s/he is always grounded by where they come from. It’s just a matter of how much or how little they’re going to represent that place.

  • And finally, contemplate how quickly her weapon choice will get her killed.

I’m serious. Lorna isn’t very smart; she set out into the dangers of the world with a bow and arrows. Unless you’re serving as an archer in a war, or going on a hunting trip, her weapon choice was not smart. At least, not when it’s the only choice.



8 thoughts on “BattleCraft: Archers

  1. I think way to often people get attracted to the idea of a character using a specific kind of weapon, especially bows, because of how “cool” they are, and don’t consider things like how much upper body strength it takes to use one really well or how hard it can be to aim. Great read!

    • That’s probably true. But people in general are usually attracted to distinctive characters, like Robin Hood for example, and using a specialized weapon would be nothing for such a person.

  2. I would add one thing to your list of questions. How does the character shoot the bow. As any long-time archer will tell you, form is everything. However, especially in traditional archery circles, each archer has their own distinctive “style” when they shoot. they hold the bow differently, they cant the bow differently, the release, and the posture can all be very different. Just something to consider. The more real you can paint the picture the closer you will draw the reader in.

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