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?


  1. I've been watching a Robin Hood series on BBC where Robin does indeed use his bow in close combat--i.e. whacking Sir Guy across the chest or face with it, and the bow comes out just fine. I cringe every time because it's so unrealistic! ;)

  2. I have passed archery ranks using a compound bow--not quite fitting for fantasy, but definately a possibilty for steampunk or alternate history.


  4. @ Heather - Really? How hard is it to ask a history or archery expert what works and what doesn't? I guess, though, that most viewers nowadays don't take the effort to know or care about such things. So annoying!
    @ Galadriel - I never thought of using a compound bow in a steampunk setting... what a cool idea!
    @ Lostariel - You're welcome. : )

    More hand-to-hand weapons coming up next time!

  5. My favorite is the long bow. I have a bow that I've had since I was ten, and I'm not sure what class it falls into. It looks basically like a modern, fiberglass long bow, but it definitely isn't as tall as me. The self bow sort of looks like Susan Pevensie's bow :)

  6. These posts are getting even better. I have always loved sword fihting, but when I saw The Princess Bride a couple years ago, I became kind of obsessed with fencing. This summer I did archery at a camp and I like that a lot, too. I really don't like compound bows, though-they seem to modern and too complicated, even though they are supposed to make it easier. I would rather have a good old plain bow. I can't wait to see what your other posts are about. Thank you!

  7. the self bow could actually be used in close combat but it still has a 45% chance of breaking, they are genarally thicker than long bows and are really good for hunting


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