September 30, 2011

Violence in Christian Fiction

To sort of follow up the "Arming Your Hero" series, I wanted to write a post about violence in Christian fiction. In the speculative genres, particularly fantasy, it is basically assumed that stories will contain violence, be it a sword fight, a fazer battle, storming a castle, or a good old-fashioned fist fight.
But as Christians, what should our approach to violence in fiction be? Readers, how much is too much? At what point should we put the book down? Writers, how should we handle violence when it comes up in our own stories?

The first real question is: When is violence biblically justified?
If you discuss this with enough people, it's only a matter of time until 'Thou shalt not kill' comes up. This is a relatively easy issue to handle with a quick explanation of the King James version's word choice. What they translated as 'kill' actually means 'murder' in the original Hebrew text.
If you haven't done it already, I would encourage you to study Old Testament law (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) and familiarize yourself with what it says about violence and killing.
Going into specific detail on the Bible's commands and accounts that revolve around violence would require a series of posts all its own, so for time's sake I'm going to base this post on the assumption that you all have at least a basic understanding of biblically justified killing and violence and are okay with the idea of violence in the real world as well as in fiction. (If this is not the case, leave a comment or email me with any questions you have.)

This brings us into the real issue I wanted to discuss in this post: What should a Christian writer's or reader's approach be to violence in fiction?
It is extremely important to understand that violence is very, very ugly. Over the last several decades books and movies have glamorized it into something exciting, dramatic, even artistic. You know the routine: the hero slays the dozen enemy warriors surrounding him while managing to sustain only superficial and cool-looking injuries himself, leaps onto his horse, swings the girl into the saddle behind him, rides to the arch-villain's stronghold, engages said villain in a deadly, several-minutes-long battle, slays arch-villain (sustaining another glamorous injury or two), kisses the girl, makes some profoundly witty remark, and the end credits roll. Hurrah.
Only that's not even close to what violence is really like. Real-life violence is unbelievably fast, bloody, terrifying, and horrific. A man doesn't just kill his attacker and carry on unscathed; even a perfectly justified killing has serious psychological effects on a person. A man who has been run through with a sword doesn't just cringe and crumple to the ground. Even a fight that doesn't end with a fatality often results in broken noses, missing teeth, black eyes, and more.
More recent titles in movies and literature have actually begun to show violence more realistically, but I don't see that trend as any better than the last one. Glamorized violence lulls people into a false perception of violence; realistic violence displayed as 'entertainment' inoculates people against the horror of what violence really is.
So as writers, we are faced with the task of finding a very delicate balance somewhere in the midst of all this. Where in the world do we start?
First of all, I want to make it clear that I don't have a problem with a fun, light-hearted work of fiction portraying violence in a somewhat goofy way (e.g. The dashing and witty hero makes an incredibly clever remark and all the oafish bad guys stand there dumbfounded while he renders them unconscious with a rolling pin.). With a book or movie of that nature, people understand that it's not supposed to be serious or realistic; it's fun and entertaining for the sole purpose of being fun and entertaining, and I have no problem at all with that as long as it's done in a clean and tasteful way.
But when you get into the heavier fiction, fiction intended to be taken seriously, violence becomes a much more complicated issue.
We don't want to commit the error of glamorizing violence. At the same time, though, we don't want to carry realism too far. A normal person does not enjoy seeing or reading about extremely realistic or gory violence, and we don't want to ruin their enjoyment of a story with our quest to achieve literary realism. (Besides which, a normal person probably isn't going to enjoy writing about excessively realistic violence, either.)
So where do we draw the line? How much realism is too much?
Honestly, I don't have a concrete answer or a step-by-step formula for dealing with violence in fiction. No two fights or battles are alike, and the scenarios surrounding them aren't alike either. Readers and writers have to use their own judgment in making decisions on what to read and what to write and where lines should be drawn.
In my own writing there are a lot of battles as well as fights on a smaller scale. My standard approach is to tell what happened ("He fell to the floor with a knife in his chest...", "blood poured from a cut on his face...", etc.) and leave it at that. If a character dies a violent death, I say enough to let the reader know what happens, but I do it in a relatively vague way that allows them to understand what's going on without having to read (and thereby 'see') all the gruesome and gory details. They can choose to fill in more detail (or not) with their own imagination. The way I see it, this allows me to tell the story without having to write bloody and unpleasant descriptions, as well as allowing the reader to read the story without having to read more detail than they want to.
One thing I make it a point to keep in mind when writing violent scenes is that violence is not something to be taken lightly. Ever. I'm not talking about a goofy bop on the head or a shove off the dock and into the pond; I'm talking about serious fiction. With fiction we do have some leeway to work with (simply because it is fiction and people don't read fiction expecting everything to be realistic), but as Christian writers it is still something we need to take seriously and consider carefully.
Society's persistently flippant view and portrayal of violence has greatly influenced individuals' perspectives of it--even Christians' perspectives. But maybe, if a generation of Christian writers would commit to portraying violence in a godly way--as something very serious that can't be taken lightly--we could begin to open their eyes and change those perspectives.

I think it's worth a try.

September 28, 2011

New Short Story Published

Hey all, I have a new short story, "Spark of Hope" available to read on Avenir Eclectia. If you've been following my stories there at all, you'll definitely want to catch this one. It could be a real plot changer! While you're there, be sure to read up on all the great stories from the other writers too. The world of AE is growing and expanding all the time, and it's a blast to follow the progress of all the different story lines. Be sure to leave comments--I'm sure I'm not the only writer who loves getting feedback on my work. : )

September 26, 2011

Arming Your Hero - Part 8

Here is the final installment in the 'Arming Your Hero' series... for now, at least. My brother James is hounding me to do a related series on sci-fi weaponry, but in my opinion that is just way too broad of a topic (especially since James doesn't even write). If sci-fi weaponry is something you would be interested in seeing here at the Lair, though, leave a comment and let me know.

Now then, down to business: arming your hero--as in, putting armor on him.

I'm not going to go into piece-by-piece detail on parts of armor and kinds of armor--that could be a post series by itself. Mainly, I just want to cover a few issues, misconceptions, and ideas about armor, wearing it, and using it.
A lot of people have the idea that a knight wearing armor had to be lifted onto his horse with a crane, or some such notion, because the armor was so heavy he couldn't mount a horse by himself. I understand how that idea could come about--after all, armor is heavy, true enough.
But a.) if the knight's armor is so heavy that he can't get onto the horse, chances are even a warhorse isn't going to be able to carry him any significant distance at any significant speed, and b.) if his armor is so awkward that he can't mount a horse, how is he supposed to be any use fighting?
Armor was heavy--very heavy. A normal suit of war armor weighed between 70 an 90 pounds. Jousting armor, which was designed to take hard hits, was heavier--90 to 100 pounds or more. So knights trained long and hard for wearing it and carrying all that extra weight. Even before he could become a knight, a squire went through arduous physical training to learn to function and fight in armor. It's really no different than what our armed forces do today. An American soldier in the Middle East today is carrying roughly 100 pounds of body armor and equipment, and he can still run, jump, fight, and work.
Furthermore, armor was fitted to the individual knight and designed to allow the most flexibility and agility possible. The armor was jointed where the knight was jointed, and fitted to match his particular body shape. So it's not as if he was a hermit crab who just squeezed into some random shell and ran with it. His armor was made for him and fit accordingly.
This also speaks to the incorrect idea that, if a knight was unhorsed, he was as good as dead. Certainly he was much more vulnerable on the ground than on his horse, but if he is trained to fight in full armor, he still stands a chance.

Your hero has options when it comes to how heavily and thoroughly armored he wants to be. If he's riding into battle he may want to suit up and go in full armor, but if he's a scout, or a bodyguard, or whatever, he may only want a piece or two--or none at all. Remember, armor isn't only the solid metal part. Your hero could wear chain mail, or leather, both of which were often used as layers of padding and extra protection under the outer armor. Or he could wear just an essential piece or two of armor, like the curaiss and pauldrons to protect his torso and shoulders, or greaves and vambraces to protect his arms and legs.
By the way, if you don't know the parts of armor and need to find out, I would advise you do a Google search or stop by the library to learn more. As I said before, there is way too much information on the subject to put in a single blog post, but you can get some great ideas as well as info if you do some reading on the development, history, and different styles of armor.
You'll also want to keep in mind that armor is very expensive. Not only is it a lot of work to make, but it has to be made to-order every time. So, depending on his financial situation, your hero may or may not be able to afford a full set.

That about wraps it up for the Arming Your Hero series. I've had a ton of fun writing these posts, and I've even learned a lot myself in researching the weapons we've talked about. I hope all of you have enjoyed it as much as I have. Be sure to stick around the Lair; as always, I have a lot of big plans for upcoming posts!

Any thoughts you have on armor? Anything in particular you'd like to see discussed or spotlighted here at the Lair?

September 23, 2011

Arming Your Hero - Part 7

In this installment of the 'Arming Your Hero' series, we'll be looking at war machines and siege weapons. While they don't often have prominent roles in fantasy stories, these weapons are an important part of medieval-style warfare that writers should have at least a working knowledge of. If your hero is commanding an army that's laying siege to a castle, fortress, or city, they may want to use one or more of these weapons. Or, if your hero is the one being besieged, here's what he can probably expect to encounter.


This is a battering ram--probably the most well-known siege weapon in existence. The ram itself was made from a large tree trunk fitted with a metal head on one end and usually reinforced all along its length with thick metal bands. The head was most often flat on the end, which enabled it to crack stone walls with blunt force. A pointed head (like the one pictured above) was more likely to get stuck if driven into a wall. The tree trunk itself was suspended from the top of the battering ram's frame by ropes or, more often, chains. This enabled soldiers to swing it back and forth, building momentum as they pounded it into walls, gates, or doors. The roof of the battering ram (called the Penthouse) was extremely important. The soldiers inside had to be protected from arrows, spears, rocks, boiling oil, fire, or whatever else the besieged forces had to throw at them. Many times the penthouse was protected by shields overlapping like scales, as pictured above. Often, however, it was only covered by planks of wood, or even just cow hides.

This is a type of catapult known as a mangonel. The design goes as far back as ancient Rome, but the catapult was still being used well into the Middle Ages. Using a tension pulley system, the catapult could launch projectiles over castle or fortress walls, or just fling them into oncoming enemy ranks--up to 1,300 feet away. Projectiles were usually rocks or flaming materials, although in some cases where a siege was particularly long and drawn out, a besieging army would throw dead animal carcasses or even human bodies over the walls to spread disease among the enemy (and produce some extremely negative psychological effects as well). One problem with the catapult design was that it had the potential to 'beat itself to death', so to speak. When the tension holding the arm down was released, the arm flew up at a high rate of speed and slammed into the cross bar at the top of the machine. The impact of the collision launched the projectiles incredible distances, but after a while it could be hard on the structure.

This is a trebuchet. It may well be the most ancient siege weapon design in existence, believed by some to have been invented in China as early as 300 B.C. The earliest trebuchets were called traction trebuchets, and used manpower to pull the arm down and launch the projectile. Traction trebuchets were later replaced by more advanced counterpoise trebuchets, which used a counterweight on the short end of the arm to propel the ammunition. The weapon pictured here is a counterpoise trebuchet. Trebuchets had their downside--it took a great deal of time, precision, and mathematical know-how to build one--but their amazingly accurate aim and power made them worth it. A good trebuchet could throw a 200 pound stone up to 300 yards, and a skilled trebuchet team could launch as many as 2,000 stones at the enemy in a single day. Needless to say, if you want to reduce a city, fortress, castle, or anything else to nothing but rubble, a trebuchet is probably the place to start.

This is a siege tower. It looks like heavy-duty scaffolding, and that's essentially what it is. When the terrain permitted, an army would sometimes wheel a siege tower up to the walls of the castle or fort they were besieging and send their soldiers up to the top, where they could then run out on top of the castle walls and get inside. Many siege towers had a drawbridge-type door that opened onto the top of the wall, providing a ramp the soldiers could walk across. Siege towers could be made in an open design, like the one pictured here, or they could be enclosed and armored. The trouble with siege towers was that they were slow, difficult to maneuver, easy to burn down, and if one was rolled up to your castle's wall you knew exactly where the soldiers would be making their entrance. I suppose if you had enough of them, though, you could simply overwhelm the enemy with numbers.

Another weapon that was invaluable during a siege was a ballista. The ballista was basically a giant crossbow that launched enormous arrows or darts hundreds of yards. The arrows were wooden, but covered in a layer of iron; one arrow launched from a ballista could rip through several soldiers at a time.

It's important to note that siege weapons were most always manufactured on an as-needed basis. Kings and generals didn't keep a supply of the on hand in case they suddenly needed to besiege someone. Siege weapons were heavy and slow, making transport over long distances and/or rough terrain virtually impossible. So war machines were usually constructed for a specific situation.

Do you use siege weapons in your writing? Which war machines do you think would be most effective?

September 20, 2011

Interview with Sarah Sawyer

I'm delighted to be able to welcome author Sarah Sawyer, a writer of Christian fantasy, to the Lair for an author-to-author talk. This will be a long post, but I had a great time chatting with Sarah and I'm excited to be sharing our conversation here at the Lair.

So, Sarah, how long have you been writing? What got you started?

As a child, I loved reading, and I loved inventing stories and story worlds. I can’t remember a time when fictional characters and situations weren’t floating through my mind. A few of these early tales made their way onto paper in some form, but they mostly existed in my imagination. In time, it became natural to consider actually recording them, and I sat down to write my first novel at sixteen. Now, I can’t imagine not writing.

Did you start off in the fantasy genre, or come to it later?
From the time I was a young child and my dad read me the Chronicles of Narnia, fantasy was the genre closest to my heart. However, the first two books I wrote were historical fiction—I was fascinated by certain eras of history, and the stories naturally fit with those time periods. I still enjoy historical fiction—like fantasy, it imparts a sense of exploring another world and immerses you in a different time and place. Yet when I wrote my first fantasy novel, I knew I had found my writing passion. At this time, I don’t see myself writing other genres. There’s so much variety in the world of speculative fiction, so much freedom for the imagination to roam, and so much room to explore the spiritual element (which is important to me).

What can you tell us about your current project?
Currently, I’m rewriting and editing the first book in an epic fantasy trilogy, tentatively titled Strong as Death. Giving any kind of short description is difficult because it necessitates leaving out so much of the story, but this is my working blurb:

For centuries, the Amroth desert has remained untouched by outsiders. But when a brutal enemy invades without warning, destroying villages and then vanishing into the rocky cliffs, terror sweeps the land.

In the wake of the devastation, Liana Aieul must lead the few survivors of her village to their one hope of safety: a mystical hidden refuge that may not even exist.

Pursued by an unstoppable foe and plagued by her own self-doubt, she must unravel the mystery of her past and her future in time to reach refuge. If she fails, they will join the dead.

Is there any kind of pattern to how you get your ideas, or is it different every time?
While there isn’t any one way I get ideas, I do have certain creative patterns. Old bits of myth and lore, ancient cultures, and unusual real-life accounts often spark ideas. I also find that music, times of prayer and worship, or quiet walks waken creativity. In addition, I tend to dream in story, and I’ve found a number of intriguing concepts that way—it’s amazing what the mind can invent in slumber. Then there are the ideas that come seemingly from nowhere, unfolding when I’m doing dishes, driving down the road, or taking care of some other mundane task. There’s a wealth of inspiration out there!

When you get a new story idea, do you immediately sit down and start brainstorming, or do you wait and let it grow for a while first?
When I get a story idea, I immediately write down everything that I know about the story in MacJournal. Often during that process, I wind up doing some informal brainstorming, and the general concept begins to take on form. It may be a few paragraphs, a few pages, or more. Regardless, after I’ve written it down, the concept simmers in my mind for an extended time, and I try to keep a record of everything that comes to me, even if I don’t end up using certain elements in the future. I usually only sit down and intentionally brainstorm when I’m fairly certain that I’m going to use the idea for a book.

Do you prefer brainstorming with a blank Word document, or with pen and paper?
As I mentioned, I start with the basic concept in MacJournal (which allows division into folders and individual files), but if I begin to suspect I will turn the concept into a book, I transition to Scrivener. I can type a great deal faster than I write, which is helpful to keep up with the flow of ideas in the brainstorming stage, plus the software helps me keep it organized for future reference, as opposed to stacks of paper that will later require sorting through. So for me, using the computer is a given. Especially with my most recent project, I’ve found organization of my brainstorming and notes to be vital and having everything digital from the beginning has helped that process.

A lot of 'experts' say that writers should keep a journal in order to stay in the habit of writing every day. Do you do this?
I do keep a journal, and write in it almost daily. I use it for reflection on life, working through thoughts and feelings, and as a way to dialogue with God, so it’s not something I do for the writing experience, but because it helps me process life.

What's the best piece of writing advice anyone has ever given you?
While this wasn’t advice given directly to me, I think William Wordsworth’s instruction to “fill your paper with the breathings of your heart” can benefit all writers.

Alright, time for the fun questions! What is your favorite fantasy creature?
There are so many fascinating creatures of lore, but if I had to choose one, I’d probably say Pegasus. A horse with the ability to fly would be quite a boon when it came to adventuring, not to mention an entertaining companion.

In your opinion, who is the best character you've ever written, and what do you love about him/her?
Wow, that’s a tough question. All my characters have a place in my heart, so I’ll just tell you a little about why I love my current protagonist. She perseveres in the midst of the worst circumstances, and despite her flaws and doubts, she’s committed to doing what she believes is right. Her inner strength is beautiful, and though she doesn’t see it yet, it’s ultimately what gives her people a chance for survival. Lest I sound like an overzealous author, I’ll leave it at that!

If one of your stories was made into a blockbuster movie (and you could be there to ensure they did it just right), which story would you want it to be and why?

Again, it’s hard to choose one. I’d probably say Strong as Death, in part because it’s the story freshest in my mind. Its epic scope would lend itself well to film, and I would love to see the story world—parts beautiful and parts grim—come to life.

Last question: it's pretty much an accepted fact that we writers are kind of... well, strange. I know I've been known to do some crazy things when I get a new idea. So what's the strangest 'writer thing' you've ever done?

Aside from the flow of laughter or tears while writing emotional scenes or the sudden leaps from bed in the middle of the night when struck by an idea or the housework completed while muttering character dialogue, I really don't do anything strange.

Well said! : ) Thanks so much, Sarah, for sharing with everyone here at the Lair, and for letting me barge into your world and ask so many questions! I had a great time talking with you.


If you're interested in keeping tabs on Sarah's thoughts and writing, visit her gorgeous website and/or her blog. She has some great thoughts on Christian speculative fiction and story elements, and a great store of intriguing thoughts, facts, and ideas about mythology, folklore, fairytales, fantastic creatures, and more. It's well worth checking out.

September 19, 2011

Arming Your Hero - Part 6

This post highlights a category of weapons known as 'bludgeoning weapons'. While there's nothing pretty about the violent use of weapons of any kind, this category of weapons presents a particularly gruesome side of it.


This is a flail. I often hear people referring to it as a mace, but that is incorrect. The confusion probably stems from a variation of the flail, known as a chain mace. The flail was used by foot soldiers and knights alike (although flails carried by knights were usually smaller) and was an excellent weapon to use against armored soldiers. The chains created an enormous amount of momentum when swung by the user, allowing the heavy, spiked metal balls on the ends to damage armor (making unearthly amounts of noise in doing so) and cause severe injuries.
While it may be effective as a weapon for a skilled user, personally I just don't look at this weapon and think 'Wow, what a good idea'. It's a formidable offensive weapon, but you couldn't use it for defensive purposes, and frankly I foresee me hurting myself with this weapon more than I see me hurting the enemy. It would be great for the intimidation factor if used by a villain, though!

This is a mace. In the Middle Ages it was cheap and simple to make, which contributed greatly to its popularity. A mace's handle or shaft could be from 1 to 5 feet long and made of wood or metal, and the head could be made of wood or stone. Also known as a flanged mace, this weapon had a knobbed or spiked head that made it brutal in close combat, even against heavy armor. It's certainly not an elegant weapon--personally I see it as just a glorified club--but, to each their own.

This is a war hammer. The one in this picture is somewhat stylized; most war hammers were very basic and straightforward in their design, and their spikes were curved, enabling the bearer to grab at the edges of armor or hook horses' reins and pull them away from the rider. And of course the hammer head itself could deliver a powerful blow and deadly injuries.

What are your thoughts on bludgeoning weapons and the more gritty, ruthless side of combat that seems to go with them?

September 16, 2011

Arming Your Hero - Part 5

Polearms get the spotlight this time! While you probably won't have your hero questing around through his grand adventures carrying a 14-foot pike, many fantasy stories involve armies--and armies need to be armed too. So this post features some great weapons to issue your troops, as well as some you could give to individual characters if you wanted to. Enjoy!

This is a halberd, which is essentially a pike with an axe head added to it. Pikes and halberds were the weapons of choice for combating knights on horseback. Both weapons had shafts (usually made of wood) that were between 10 and 14 feet long. Needless to say, the length made them useless in close combat, so pikemen always carried a sword and dagger with them in case they had to fight a horseless knight on foot. The horse could be as much of a target for pikemen as the knight riding the horse was; without his horse, a heavily armored knight was practically helpless.

The spear is one of the oldest styles of weapons we know of, and it's versatile too. It could be used for hunting or fighting, and could be thrown or thrust. This particular picture is of an Angon--a 6-foot spear used during the middle ages, but based off of an ancient Roman design. Javelins, lances, and even modern bayonets are all variations on the spear concept and theme.

This is a poleaxe, or battle axe. Like the pike and halberd, it was most commonly used against armored knights on horseback. The shaft was relatively short--only 4 or 5 feet, usually. A poleaxe was capable of cutting through armor or severing an opponent's limbs. As in the case of the pike, axe men carried smaller weapons such as swords and daggers with them in case they had to fight in close quarters. The battle axe is a weapon that works well for arming your literary forces en masse, but it would make a great primary weapon for a hero or arch-villain too.

The polearm category is a broad one with many styles and variations of weapons falling inside its brackets. I've featured the main ones, but someone willing to do a little research or use their imagination could easily turn up many more styles and applications. So have fun with them and don't be afraid to make them your own!

The next installation of Arming Your Hero will feature bludgeoning weapons. Be sure not to miss it; you never know when your characters might need to bludgeon someone. : )

September 15, 2011

Chapter Nine of Falls the Shadow

Prepare for intrigue and mystery as Maricossa provides a deeper look into the lavish and deadly world of Shandor Rei's upper crust--the world of the White Tiger.

As one of the White Tiger's best operatives, Maricossa is assigned to gather intel on possible resistance pockets and rebel groups within the Forgotten Sector.
Libby, the kids, and the library have not escaped his notice.
Now he has to decide whether to turn them in to Sergei, the White Tiger's Commander in Chief, or to keep their existence a secret... and put his own plans for them into action.

Click Here to read Chapter Nine.

September 12, 2011

Arming Your Hero - Part 4

If you want to venture outside the traditional realm of swords and knives to arm your hero, a bow and arrows are a good place to start. Bows seem to be popular among elves in fantasy fiction, but they would be handy for anyone with the skill to use them effectively. The downside to archery is that it has a limited number of practical applications. It can't be used in close, hand-to-hand combat, and of course your character will be limited by the number of arrows they can carry. In the right setting, though, a skillfully-wielded bow is a deadly force to be reckoned with.
So here is a lineup of basic bow styles writers can choose from. Enjoy!

This is just a basic plain bow, sometimes called a self bow. It has anywhere from a 40- to an 80-pound draw, and a relatively short range--usually from 10 to 50 yards. It can be made out of wood alone, or a combination of wood and horn.

This is an English longbow. Longbows are usually as tall as, and sometimes taller than, the archer, and have excellent range (well in excess of 200 yards). They have anywhere from a 60- to a 200-pound draw and can puncture armor at up to 250 yards.

This, of course, is a crossbow. Rather than a traditional broad-head arrow, the crossbow launches a bolt--a heavy arrow with a square point on the end. It has a range in excess of 200 yards, and can puncture several layers of armor at up to 200 yards, making it a highly formidable weapon.

It's important to take pull strength into consideration when deciding to arm one of your characters with a bow. For instance, if the character in question is a girl, arming her with a longbow that has a 200-pound draw might not be the best idea in the world. (And don't think you can get away with it and nobody will notice. Even if it slips past your editors and publishers, a reader--probably more than one--will notice and say something.)
One erroneous idea that has been promoted through books and movies is the concept of carrying your bow across your back with the string across your chest. Whoever came up with that idea had never done it--it is outrageously uncomfortable, and hard on the bow string to boot. So don't go off half-cocked. Do your research and make sure you're not writing something that's totally inaccurate.
But after that, have fun! They may not be appropriate for every character and every circumstance, but bows and arrows still have a lot to offer your fictional characters' armory.

Do you use bows often in your fiction? What's your favorite bow style?

September 8, 2011

Arming Your Hero - Part 3

Swords are amazing and fabulous, no doubt about it, but they don't make a fully armed hero, and they aren't ideal in every situation. They're difficult and time-consuming to make, expensive to purchase, heavy to lift, and hard to conceal. If your character gets attacked in a tiny alley barely wide enough to walk through, a sword isn't going to be very helpful. If he's trekking through the wilderness and kills a rabbit to eat, a sword is just slightly overkill (and extremely difficult to use as a skinning knife). Plus a sword could break, get stolen, or get knocked out of his hands. Then where would your swashbuckling hero be?
Obviously, he needs a backup or alternative plan, and a smaller knife may be just the thing. So here are some common kinds of smaller blades you just might want to slip into your hero's arsenal.

This, of course, is a dagger--probably the most common small weapon used in fantasy fiction. It's popular for a reason; it's small enough to conceal under a cloak or tunic, but it's still effective. And for a word nerd like me, what's not to love about something with a name as dramatic as 'dagger'?

These are throwing knives. If your hero is facing multiple assailants or wants to take down that 12-foot troll before it gets close enough to pulverize him, a few well-aimed throwing knives could be very handy. Notice that I said 'a few'. A fantasy hero carrying only one throwing knife is something like a wild-west cowboy carrying only one bullet. What if the opponent doesn't go down after the first shot (or throw)? And of course, there's always the chance that he could miss, so it's better to be prepared.

These are throwing stars. The concept is basically the same as that of a throwing knife--helpful if you're facing multiple attackers, and perfect for getting the attacker before he gets you. Some of the characters in my WiP use throwing stars, but I've never read a published book where they come into play. I don't really know why no one uses them, because I think they have a lot of cool potential.

Here is a dirk. Historically, it was most commonly used by the Vikings and ancient Scottish clans. Perhaps that's why, for me at least, the dirk has a sort of ancient, legendary connotation. It's versatile enough to be used in any number of different settings, though.

And here, last but not least, is a hunting knife. It can certainly be used in self-defense if need be, but basically it's just something every prepared and savvy hero should have at least nearby, if not on his person. Whether he needs to kill, skin, and butcher an animal to eat, slice a piece of bread or cheese, or clean his fingernails, the hunting knife makes a great all-around tool to have on hand.
What's your favorite small weapon? What is your hero's backup weapon of choice?

September 6, 2011

New Short Story Published!

Hey, all! For anyone who's interested, I have a new short story, "Communiqué," just published on Avenir Eclectia. Click Here to read the newest installment of Celeste's and Celia's story.

If you haven't read my other stories on Avenir Eclectia but you'd like to check them out, Click Here. Be sure to give me your feedback--I love hearing from my readers! And while you're there, browse around and check out all the stories on the site. There are a lot of very talented writers there, offering a lot of really great stories.

The next post in my "Arming Your Hero" series will be here soon, so be sure to stick around. Meanwhile, carry on and write well!

September 5, 2011

Arming Your Hero - Part 2

Every great hero of fantasy fiction needs to be well armed, right? And, if you're writing fantasy fiction, the most popular weapon of choice is a sword.
But of course, 'sword' is a very broad and rather vague word, and every great character needs a weapon that compliments their own personality and style. (Would Aragorn be half so Aragorn-ish if he carried a rapier rather than Narsil? What would Peter Pevensie be without the sword given to him by Father Christmas?)
There are many different kinds of swords out there, though. So with that in mind, I've put together a list--a showcase, if you will--of the basic styles of swords, to help you fantasy writers out there figure out just exactly what it is your hero (or any other armed character) is carrying. Enjoy!
This is a broadsword--your most basic, straightforward sword design. It can come in variations of one-hand, hand-and-a-half, and two-hand design, and the hilt and crosstree can be as simple or as elaborate as you like, so there is a lot of flexibility to work with here.

This is a scimitar. It was the weapon-of-choice for the Turks during the crusades, and probably due to that fact, it often brings to mind images of sheiks and desert nomads (or the Calormen army running around and harassing Narnia).

Here is a rapier. The picture probably has you thinking of The Three Musketeers or A Tale of Two Cities, and rightfully so. The rapier was used historically in private duels, but played its role in warfare as well. It also made a classic appearance in fantasy fiction in The Princess Bride.

These are butterfly swords--one of my favorite weapons. I love them for their totally distinctive look, but one of the coolest facts about them is that they belong in sets of two; the inside of the grips are flat so that the swords 'nest' together in a single scabbard (talk about a recipe for trailer moments!).

This is a cutlass, a favorite of eighteenth-century pirates and Civil War cavalrymen alike. But I think the cutlass has a lot to offer in a fantasy setting as well. It has a sort of 'gritty' look to it, I think, but you could also dress it up and stylize it--give it more of a saber look--for use in more formal settings.

I hope y'all enjoyed this post, but even more so, I hope it will be helpful to you as you're building and developing your fantasy worlds and the armies and fighters who inhabit them. There's more to come; in Arming Your Hero Part 2 I'll be showcasing smaller knives used in hand-to-hand combat.
In the meantime: What's your favorite type of sword? What kind do the characters in your fantasy stories use?

September 2, 2011

Arming Your Hero - Part 1

A great deal of the time, especially in fantasy fiction, weapons are very important to a story. Whether a particular weapon is the key to the hero becoming the hero, or the hero just happens to use weapons throughout his adventures, the point is the same: the average fantasy hero needs to be well-armed, and as the writer it's your job to arm him.
So where do you start? Is it enough to just hand your character a sword and send him on his merry, swashbuckling way?
Not really.
Personally, I've found that a character's personality and mindset have a great deal of influence on the type and number of weapons he carries. For this reason, I include questions about weapons in every character sketch I write. Here are some of the things I like to take into consideration:

What is the character's motivation for carrying a weapon? Is he a 'professional warrior' type (such as a soldier, knight, or bodyguard) for whom carrying a weapon is just part of the job? Is he a business man who keeps a weapon on hand simply to protect the security of his establishment?

What is the character's mindset about using his weapon(s)? Is he a bodyguard who will use his sword at the first sign of a threat to his charge? Or is he more likely to draw his weapon and hope that the sight of it will have the desired effect so he doesn't actually have to use it? Is the use of weapons his first response or his last resort?

Is there a certain effect your character is trying to achieve with his weapon choice? Is he all about practicality, or does he go in for the look of the thing too? This question works particularly well for arming the villain of your story. Does he want a weapon with swift, silent deadliness, or does he want to make a show and work off of the intimidation factor?

How much training does the character have with his weapon? Is he a knight who trains for hours every day, or a farmer who is content just knowing he has a weapon on hand?

Does backstory play a part in the weapon(s) your character carries? Is his sword one that's been in his family for generations? Does the weapon have a story of its own? Is your character's mindset about weapons affected by his backstory? Is he intimidated by weapons because his family was killed when he was a child, or is he motivated to have a weapon at all times because his family was caught unarmed and murdered?

Learning the answers to these questions will help you figure out how many and what kind of weapons your character carries. For instance, a farmer who only carries a weapon in case he happens to come across a venomous snake or wild dog probably won't be carrying a sword belt or battle axe while plowing the field. A professional fighter like a soldier or knight will probably have more of a combat preparedness mindset and carry more than one weapon.
When it comes down to choosing the right weapon for your character, though, there are dozens of options, and it's an important decision. In the end you very well may decide to stick with a basic, nondescript sword. On the other hand, though, you just might want to go in for something a little different. So in the next few posts, I'm going to be showcasing and discussing different types of weapons you may be familiar with, or perhaps weapons you've never even heard of.
Feel free to join in the conversations--that's what the comment box is for!

Meanwhile: How do you choose a character's weapons?

September 1, 2011

I'm back!

Well, I've returned from my little summer's end sabbatical, and you've probably already guessed: we're kicking off September with a new chapter of Falls the Shadow.

After a frustrating argument with the Professor, Skylar heads off into the forgotten sector to blow off some steam. In the process he makes an astounding discovery that could change his entire life.

Don't miss one link in the exciting chain of events taking place in the shadowy world of Shandor Rei.

Click Here to read Chapter Eight, and of course be sure to stick around here at the Lair for everything coming up!