Weapon Primer: Archery

With 2012 being jokingly called “Year of the Bow,” it was inevitable that we’d end up doing a primer on it.

The Weapon

The bow is an ancient weapon, it is in fact one of the oldest weapons in the history of mankind. Almost every civilization that has ever existed and perhaps ever will exist has invented the bow in one form or another. It is important then, to note where you choose to draw your inspiration from because there are many varieties of this weapon. Combat with a bow is not unique to any one civilization or society, just as combat tactics have mirrored each other in similarity between different civilizations throughout the centuries. It is also important to remember that unlike other weapons of war, the bow was not invented for the sole purpose of murdering the wielder’s own species. This is a utility weapon, one that is meant to fulfill basic needs such as providing food for survival.

Because of its history, this weapon should be 100% recognizable to any and all serious characters as a dangerous threat. They will know what it is and what it can be used for. This is a weapon that will be noted and noticed by any city guard or local authority, so you’re character better have a damn good excuse for carrying it around (even if it’s not true). In a society that restricts access to weapons, such as futuristic fascist cultures, the bow will not be allowed. The reason for this is that even though the weapon itself may be outdated, it is still a dangerous weapon and any intelligent culture you create will know that and act accordingly.

The bow is still used in modern combat, though it has lost its edge. That said, historically, the bow is not used as a primary weapon for single combat. It has a select set of uses but ones that have it fall short of other weapons like the spear and the sword. The bow takes a great deal of time to master, it lacks flexibility of movement, and a single archer must always be accurate and thus their sighting will be slower. No matter how good your character is, they will always end up in melee, the bow is designed for hunting not killing and there is a vast difference in both technique and tactics between these two approaches.

Historical Bows:

There are many different bows throughout history, many different versions of the longbow and the recurve, many reinventions of the same weapon over and over through time. Some versions are designed for combat on horseback and some are not. So, be specific to which one it is, research how it is cared for, any reader who is familiar with the care and maintenance of this weapon will know if you ignore it. A bow is high maintenance and finicky, you can skip over a lot with some weapons but you can’t with a bow.

An older, wooden bow requires more strength to draw than a modern one. More importantly, the care for the weapon will impact how easily it can be used. Historical bows require a lot of maintenance, even more than their modern counterparts: the wood needs to be oiled frequently, the bow needs to be kept completely dry, transport over long distances requires unstringing and wrapping the bow, finally fletching a half decent arrow involves a lot of skill, even with modern tools and resources. Any responsible archer must be able to fletch their own arrows or risk being unable to use their weapon. This requires a whole skill set, one common in history but harder to come by in more modern times. This is especially important if the character is alone and without resources such as an army or placement in a lord’s household.

The projectiles are just as important as the care and maintenance of the weapon. This is less true in a society or culture where arrows are more readily available for purchase and the bow is a common weapon, but in a world where it is rarer, then the character will have to fend for themselves.

Arrows are weight your character must carry, if they fire the arrow they must retrieve it or lose it. Arrows do not self-replicate through magic. They are a limited resource and that resource must be considered. So, always ask: how much does the character’s gear weigh? How many arrows can they carry in the quiver reasonably without a huge loss of stamina? How do they protect the arrows from the weather? Arrows are made of wood. If wood gets wet it warps. The sinew that holds the arrows will also warp. The metal heads of the arrows will rust. The quiver needs as much careful protection as the bow itself to maintain functionality and combat readiness.

Also: don’t set arrows on fire. It’ll put itself out the minute you fire it. Self-immolation is not a thing your characters signed up for. Though if you want them to for the sake of the story, go right ahead.

(Michi Note: So, when working with or reading about an archer, always stop and ask yourselves a simple question: where do they get their arrows from? If the storyteller cannot answer that or has not put the answer into the text, then they’ve made a critical error. More than that, where are they getting their bowstrings from?)

Modern Bows:

Modern bows are usually either fiberglass composites or the more mechanical, compound bows. Composite bows match the general idea of a classic longbow. Compound bows are the ones using pulley systems. Composite ones require upper body strength, to draw. Compound bows tend to have a catch, early in the draw, where the pulleys take over and the bow’s mechanics take a lot of the draw weight off the archer. Because of the mechanical systems, there’s a lot that can go wrong with a compound, and more than most weapons, mishandling will destroy one.

Most modern arrows are hollow aluminum shafts that are bought pre-fletched and have a plastic nock already mounted. The tips can be easily removed and swapped out for convenience.

Target tips are small pointed cones, about the size of the arrow itself. These are easy to pull from a target, and they’re slightly less likely to deal lethal damage if they catch you.

Hunting tips are flying razor blades. They’re usually three or four blades held at an angle working their way towards a tip. They’re designed to cut arteries as they pass through the target. Most also feature barbs that further tear the meat if something tries to remove the arrow.

Hunting

Hunting is the traditional use of the bow. The reason for its creation and evolution is pretty simple and most of you can probably guess why. This is: firing a projectile at an animal (such as a boar, a deer, or a buffalo) is much safer than trying to go into melee with it using a spear. Most humans who hunt as a profession (not as a sport) prefer some measure of safety and security in their job. When fighting an animal in close quarters there’s a risk of being gored by a tusk or horn, missing the animal with the spear, or frightening it off which is a waste of time, energy, and resources. It is important, though, to keep in mind that hunting an animal or hunting a herbivore is different from hunting a human or a predator. In nature, most of the hunters we hunt will hunt us in return. (Michi Note: This is part of the reason why we domesticated dogs.)

This usage of the weapon has remained popular among some hunters and is part of the reason why the bow can still be purchased today. The reasons of modern hunters, however, are completely unrelated to its value as a practical weapon. For hunting, the bow is an excellent choice. I’m told that killing game with a gunshot kills result in a different flavor to the meat, and of the two, bow killed meat tastes better. Of course, the people who’ve told me that have been bow hunters, so there’s your caveat.

A lot of bow hunters enjoy the additional challenges in taking an animal down with a bow. It’s a similar mindset to those hunters who use a revolver. That said, when you’re choosing a weapon for its “additional challenge” it’s not something you want to take into a fight.

Historical Combat

Historical bow combat was built around massing archers and using them to send a lot of arrows in the general direction of the enemy. No, seriously. The idea wasn’t to hit a specific enemy, but to put a lot of arrows in their vicinity, and hope that a few would hit something useful. In many ways, archers are more analogous to mortar teams or artillery on a modern battlefield, than snipers, or even riflemen.

A mass regiment or company of archers was incredibly dangerous, especially to cavalry, but they were almost never in amongst the footmen or on the front lines. The medieval combat disposition was to put a line of skirmishers in front of the archers to protect them from enemy infantry. This is because the bow really does suck in close combat and has no real defensive capability.

Modern Combat

There are a few places where bows excel over firearms: armor penetration and stealth. A skilled bow user can easily dispatch heavily armed and armored opposition, provided they can remain undetected.

That undetected part can be a real problem. The bow is very sensitive to movement by the shooter, meaning it’s impossible to fire on the go. Arrows are more sensitive to air movement and have a sharper ballistic trajectory than bullets, meaning it’s harder to fire quickly and accurately. This means that once a combatant is seen, their bow becomes dead weight, very fragile dead weight.

Finally bows are very short range (compared to modern firearms). You’re working with around 20 to 80 feet, or within shotgun range, meaning they need to get uncomfortably close to their enemy to use it, increasing the risk of detection.

Injuries

Even when hunting tips sever arteries, arrow wounds take a long time to kill. Tracking animals for hours, after they’ve been shot, is fairly common for modern bow hunters.

Arrows tend to seal up the injuries they create, a lot like knife wounds, so even if your archer severed something vital, it’s entirely possible that the character they’re trying to kill will survive for hours. There are confirmed cases, in the modern world, where people have taken an arrow, and survived for ten to twenty hours before receiving medical attention.

So, if your character is shot with an arrow, please do not have them rip it out. Much like the knife, the projectile must be removed carefully or stay within the body to prevent the character from bleeding out. Also, an arrowhead can do as much damage leaving the body as it did going in, so research how to remove an arrow or your character will die, if they don’t already die from infection in a medieval, fantasy, or even a modern day/futuristic setting. (Michi Note: GERMS!)

Character Options:

More than most weapons, bows represent a major commitment when constructing your character. It takes a lot of time and dedication to become proficient with a bow outside of combat, and it can easily take a character’s entire life to truly master the use of one.

In fantasy settings, you can pretty easily give the bow to any adult who spends a lot of time in the wilderness and lives off the land or hunts for a living. In a fantasy setting where firearms exist, bows become less common as guns become more accessible. These characters are more likely to use an axe or sword for actual combat, even if they have a firearm, instead of a bow.

In most historical or fantasy settings, you can have professionally trained archers, who operate as part larger military force. Just remember, these characters will have been trained to fire arrows over longer distances, without any real accuracy. As with the above option, these characters will gradually phase out as guns become more common. Historically: firearms started appearing in Europe and the Middle East in the 14th century.

In a modern setting, you’re basically left with bow hunters, and sport shooting enthusiasts. For these characters, they choose the bow deliberately, over more convenient methods of killing because they enjoy the challenge, prefer the purity, or like the idea of being self-sufficient.

In a post apocalyptic setting where bullets are hard to obtain or produce, the bow has some potential, both in the historical military applications, and for hunting.

In a distant future setting, a variation of the bow might make sense for its stealth and armor penetration aspects, particularly if characters are outfitted with equipment or implants that allows them to aim and fire more efficiently.

In a horror setting with traditional vampires, the bow might be an effective choice for vampire hunters, though, at that point, modern crossbows would probably be a better weapon choice.

I’m just going to go out and say, in a fascist/dystopic setting, unless bows are explicitly permitted or regulated, they’re a very poor weapon choice, because of the difficulty in concealing them, and the amount of training and practice required to gain proficiency with one. (Michi Note: the recognizability and difficulty in concealing them is the kicker here, it’s better to go with a weapon like the sling or the slingshot which is still quite dangerous but considered to be a children’s toy by many, so the adults will be more willing to overlook it and it’s much easier to hide.)

-Starke

Fight Write: The Only Unfair Fight is the One You Lose (Part 2: Brutality)

This is the second part of our article “The Only Fair Fight is the One You Lose”, if you haven’t read the first part “The Nietzschean Defense” please do so. This article refers to some of the other more brutal aspects of combat. Again, we believe it’s important for every writer who wants to work with combat to understand it in its entirety. This includes the bloody, uncomfortable aspects of it.

Knowing when, where, and how far to push your character is a key part of writing a combatant. If you don’t know where the upper limits are, how can you write a character who defies them or worse, how can you write a character who goes there? This part of the article is the slightly gentler side of things. You know, if, for any reason, you don’t want your characters psyching out their enemies by becoming a monster in their personal horror movie. Below are are a few more mild options. These focus on ending the fight definitively and quickly before the fight has even gotten started. Again, we’ll be listing this with a trigger warning.

Joint Break

There are two kinds of joint breaks, elbow and knee. Elbow breaks are strictly defensive counterstrikes designed to cripple the attacker’s arm. Knee strikes exist as both defensive and offensive strikes.

Most elbow breaks rely on catching a strike, twisting the attacker’s hand like a normal arm lock, but, instead of applying force against the elbow to subdue the attacker, the martial artist follows with a hard strike to the back of the attacker’s elbow. If properly executed the strike will hyperextend the limb, tearing muscle tissue, and destroying the joint.

Defensive knee breaks work off a similar system; trapping the attacker’s leg during a kick, and delivering a hard strike to the knee.

Knee breaks also exist as a variety of kicks to the leg, designed to force the joint to tear. To break the knee all your character needs to do, is strike it so it bends in any direction except the one it had originally.

As with the attacks in the previous article; joint breaks are viewed as very egregious in the real world. These are injuries that will never properly heal without significant medical attention and surgery.

About 14 years ago, I hyperextended my knee while running. While, this was substantially less destructive than an actual joint break; I was on crutches for about a month, and was still using a cane to get around six months later. Even with physical therapy, this is an injury that’s never fully healed.

Breaking an enemy’s joint will effectively remove them from the fight, as they’ll slip into shock.

The Head Slam

We’ve talked about hair pulling, but this is the real payoff. The character seizes their opponent’s head, either by the hair, across the back of the skull, in the grip described in the eye gouging section, or by grabbing their face. They then start pounding the head into any nearby solid object with as much force as they can muster.

This works best as a preemptive strike. While a large character could grab an enemy mid fight and start slamming their head into things, jumping a character and using the force to repeatedly slam their head into the pavement is just as viable for a smaller character.

Films are somewhat fond of using these attacks, though they often downplay the danger involved. One or two strikes to the head will seriously impair any combatant.

Strikes to the front of the skull are slightly less effective, because of the heavier bone structure in the forehead, but with these attacks, exterior physical damage isn’t the point; inflicting brain damage is.

Head slams have an advantage over normal combat techniques: there’s little to no risk of hand injury from them. There’s also an equally serious disadvantage. Head slams can easily kill the other combatant, and the factors which control this are completely outside your character’s control. Bounce the brain off the skull to hard, or in just the wrong way, and they have a corpse to contend with.

The Groin

Everyone reading this should have some general familiarity with the concept of groin strikes. “Kick ‘em in the nuts, and down they go.”

This actually works on combatants regardless of their gender, though kicking women in the genitals requires slightly more accuracy to be effective since the striking region is much narrower. (Michi Note: I received an accidental knee to the groin during my third degree black belt test and it wasn’t much more than a clip, but it hurt like a…anyway, it’ll knock a girl out of the fight as same as a man.) If you’re wondering why: the clitoris is just as sensitive as the penis and has as many (or more) nerve endings. It’s just smaller, so it’s harder to hit.

-Starke

Same anon* Also spears… I’m writing a fantasy story, and I’m getting most of the other weapons down, but the spear is aggravating me and how it should be used. This ask is slightly more important x)

We’re doing a post on the bow for another anon. We’ll be putting that one up tomorrow. The twin daggers? You might have to content yourself with general knife fighting when doing your research, we can do a post on that. But to start with, I really recommend taking a look at Michael Janich’s videos Stay Safe Media over on YouTube. He talks Self-Defense training, but his style is focused on defending yourself with a knife and what you can do with it. It’s helpful because if you are starting with nothing, it can be a difficult weapon to grasp.

The spear is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. It was a very common weapon among troops during the medieval period because 1) it was easier for the pole men to learn than a sword or a bow, swords were more of a status symbol anyway in both Europe and Japan. 2) It was exceptionally useful for taking on cavalry. The Greeks, the Romans, and the Chinese all made good use of the spear and their styles are all pretty different. Also, keep in mind that spears are cheaper to mass produce than a sword because of the higher wood to metal ratio.

So, how do you work with a spear? Start by studying up on basic staff fighting (none-pointy end variety), staff fighting and spear fighting are essentially the same thing because it’s the same weapon with a tip added on the end. I say this because when we stop and look at staff fighting, it’ll give you a better idea of the spear’s defensive capabilities as well as it’s offensive.

Here are some basic strikes:

The basic staff strikes create an X in front of the body. The first strike goes high to the temple or the neck with the top part of the staff, the second strikes low to the thigh or the knee, now the top of the spear is back beside it’s user’s face, it’s come across the body. The top beside the face, now strikes downwards to the opponent’s other thigh, switching the position of the hands, the character strikes again with the bottom part of the spear to the other side of the face or neck. Then, they reset and start all over again.

The other three are: straight forward into the gut or chest (where the spear aspect becomes relevant), straight downwards from above to the head, or flipping the bottom of the staff up to strike between the legs to the groin region.

The staff can be difficult for writers to grasp because it’s a dynamic weapon that strikes with both ends as easily as it defends and there aren’t a lot of good examples of staff/spear in fiction compared to the other more (not really) flashy (romantic) weapons.

I have some basic training in both basic staff and Wushu styles. This is why I recommend sticking with basic European styles before trying the swirly ones, they’re a little more complicated and harder to pull off in a fiction context.

A good source to turn to for examples in fiction is:

The Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce. She goes into a great deal of information on the staff as a basic weapon with her protagonist preferring it as a primary. It has the added bonus of training sequences too, which will help you with things to think about.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland for the fight sequence between Little John and Robin Hood on the bridge.

-Michi

Fight Write: The Only Unfair Fight Is the One You Lose (Part 1: The Nietzchean Defense)

This is going to be a rough ride for some of you, so we’re listing this with a trigger warning for violence. Fighting is very violent, any aspect of the human condition that deals with survival usually is. I believe it’s important for authors to be aware of the full brutality of combat so they can go in with their eyes open and taper back as they see fit. The only way to ever truly be in control of your story is when you have as much information about the subject matter as possible. This includes delving into some basic aspects of human psychology and how that affects combat. We’ll be breaking this article up into two to focus on two very important but different aspects of brutal combat.

“The only unfair fight is the one you lose.”

The first time I heard this phrase was in a self defense class when I was about twelve or thirteen. At the time, I’d come to fights with the idealistic belief that there was some kind of fair play involved in how to fight someone. There isn’t.

I’ve since heard the phrase from several former military men and a few cops. Here’s what it really means. You do whatever you need to, to survive a fight. In the real world, a lot of these moves have serious legal consequences, if they’re used outside of a life and death situation, and they probably should in your story as well.

The Psychology

The moves I’m going to talk about are both based on a simple psychological assumption. The idea is to look at people the same way you look at any other social animal. Then have your character present the illusion of being more of a monster than they actually are, in order to scare off aggressors.

This works with untrained thugs, bullies, and petty criminals. It will not work as well on characters who have extensive experience with combat and or the aftermath of violence.

The Eyes

Gouging out someone’s eyes is an excellent counter to choking. This is best achieved by gripping the skill with the thumbs next to the eye, and the index and middle finger near the ear, and pushing the character’s thumbs into their eyesockets.

Going for the eyes, before beginning the actual gouge, will usually evoke a very primal response and force a character to stop choking their victim while they try to deal with the gouger’s hands. Gouges can be done from behind, if the victim is being garroted or held, simply by having the victim reach over their head and behind them. Finally a successful gouge will make other combatants leery of closing in on the gouger for fear of joining the Blind Justice crowd.

Tooth and Claw: Biting vs. Scratching

The strongest muscles in your body are located just below your cheekbone. Regardless of if you believe if it was simple efficiency or divine inspiration, your mouth and teeth are designed to separate meat from, well, pretty much anything.

On the bright side, people are made mostly of meat, so, if it comes down to it, taking a chunk out of someone’s shoulder is just a new application of something you practice three times a day.

Forget zombies, the worst bite a human can suffer is from another human. Our mouths are loaded with bacteria that we’re used to, but other people… not so much. Even if your character doesn’t take a piece off, the injury will need actual medical attention, and explaining away a bite wound to a medical professional or a cop can be very difficult.

Additionally, depending on how you bite, your molars can apply enough force to crush some smaller bones; completely, and permanently, crippling their hand.

After biting off a chunk, your character’s going to want to spit it out, along with as much of the blood as possible. There are a lot of potential pathogens that can be spread from blood or tissue contact (off hand; some flavors of Hepatitis and of course HIV/AIDS are the two most dangerous possibilities) , so, your character is taking on a fairly serious health risk from chowing down. As with the eye gouge, this is going to make other attackers back off; with the logic of, “if she just bit off his fucking ear, what’s she going to do to me!?”

There’s also a pretty serious psychological block about going toe to toe with someone who’s covered in someone else’s blood. This is just as true of people attacking your character.

In contrast, scratching, and this is personal experience, just doesn’t seem to be that viable. You do some surface damage to the tissue, and you do get some skin samples, but it’s far more socially acceptable, and far less dangerous. It won’t have the psychological effect you want and can actually spur more aggression.

-Starke

Can you guys make a post about using a bow & arrow as a primary fighting weapon and its effectiveness in combat? Note: combat will not include modern weapons such as firearms or anything of the type.

We’re definitely going to do a primer on the bow, this will include both concerns for older styles of combat and modern ones since the weapon still has some very specific uses today and we don’t want to overlook those. We’ll put up an article for it in the next couple of days and one on ammo conservation/projectiles to cover all the bases.

Holy crap, guys!

Um, welcome! I’ve sort of been holding off welcoming new followers to this blog because we’ve been getting a steady stream over the past couple weeks and we’ve (Michi’s really) just sort of been staring at the screen in dumbfounded amazement. We’re nearly at 500 followers and given that we’ve only been doing this for three weeks or so, we can honestly say the success of this blog has surpassed our wildest dreams. No, really! Thank you!

We’re still figuring out the blogging thing, I (Michi) still don’t understand html, coding, and live in fear of the day I need to learn how to organize this thing. We’re working hard at creating posts for the queue since we’ll be moving soon in a few weeks and that may mean a few days of no internet. We’re also in the middle of trying to suss out the publishing industry, get a book published, and blocking out the next one. We’d do things like give-aways and we might in the future but right now Starke and I only have enough money for basic needs like food, shelter, paying off debt, and reference materials for our own writing (BOOKS!).

For the new followers, we usually post one article of our own a day and only reblog other articles that pertain to fighting, self-defense, writing about fighting, crafting fight scenes, and helping you guys craft awesome fighting mcbadasses.

Anyway, we’re so glad our information has been useful to so many of you! Welcome! If you have any questions or just want to party in our askbox, remember that it’s always open!

reference for writers: Writing Reference: Sprains and Strains

reference for writers: Writing Reference: Sprains and Strains

Tip: Your character can only strike in the directions their hips point.

Hand to hand combat is all about strategy, tactics, improvisation, and making the most of basic body mechanics. Yes, basic body mechanics. I’ve talked before about how the hips lead the body and they do. It’s not the arms or the shoulders or the legs, though each of the muscles has their place in making the body work. The hips are the guiding factor to creating momentum, the strength that comes from the pivot, the turning of the hips in conjunction with the upper and lower body to create force through movement. You create better results through conditioning the body and training your reflexes, but the limitations the body faces are its limitations.

 So, what are the directions you can strike in without stepping?

Forwards: front kick, roundhouse, shin kick, straight punch, cross, backhand, hammer fist, etc. Most of the basic strikes with the hands go straight forwards, the elbow can also strike going forward by coming across in a circular motion to strike at the face or the neck.

Side to side (right or left): The primary strikes on a sideways vector are the sidekick and the elbow. (Michi Note: Erp. I forgot the backhand, sorry.)

Backwards: the back kick, the mule kick, and other variations striking backwards (or with the fighter’s back to the opponent). Again: the elbow. The elbow is most useful for striking enemies from behind in close quarters, especially an enemy who is reaching in to grab them in a bear hug. Please keep in mind that the elbow is a close-quarters strike only, check it yourself by bending your arm at the elbow and bringing it across in front of your face. That’s the distance your character will have to strike effectively with the elbow, the elbow is the strike used when you are too close to get the windup for a punch to be effective. (Michi Note: my Divergent irritations are showing again, sorry.) Because of limited movement backwards, (yes, surprise! the joints betray us), the elbow is one of the most effective strikes from this direction. Strikes backwards are usually low (to the stomach) because visibility is either bad or non-existent, so the fighter is working off instinct. The stomach is a large, easy, soft target to aim for. (It’s not uncommon in the grab, if the arms are left free for a fighter to reach back over their head for their opponent’s eyes. Eye gouging is a thing, guys.)

It seems pretty limited when you stop and think about it. Forward, back, left, or right. Much of hand to hand and even basic weapons combat is all about maneuvering your opponent onto a vector they can’t strike from, while the protagonist is still able to strike them. This is both why stepping is important (focus on the feet). Now, it’s also important to remember that their opponent won’t want to go that way and may not be easily led. This is why stepping to get on diagonals or out of the way is important.

Always keep track of which directions all your characters in a scene are facing, what they want, where they are going, and what they are doing. It can be hard to visualize this and keep track, so always go back and double check (even triple check) that you didn’t accidentally magically move your characters to a different place just because they need to get hit on that line. Make sure the reader knows how they got from point A to point B to point C in the scene, even if the fighting itself is confusing for the characters.

Happy writing!

Fight Write: Your Character’s Weapon is also a Character

No, we’re not saying anthropomorphize your weapon. But here’s the thing, the best way to prove to your reader that your character knows what they’re doing isn’t what they do in the middle of a fight. It’s the behavior they exhibit outside of it, especially during their downtime.

Every weapon is unique and I don’t simply mean that in the way that a bastard sword and a broadsword are two completely different weapons. They may look almost the same, but when you look at them closely, you’ll notice many differences between them that are key to how they were used in combat. So make sure you know which weapon your character is using, calling it a sword or a gun is not good enough, know which one it is, what it was and is still used for, and how it works.

 Now, it’s even more important to mention that even weapons that are direct off the factory line like handguns and rifles are all individually unique. No gun, even of the same make and model, is exactly the same as another. Each has their own individual tics and flaws in their construction for how well they work and what needs to be done to care for them.

Handguns specifically are more subject to wear and tear because of their internal mechanisms and more personal customization. For example, the Walther P99 comes with three different grips designed for the shooter’s hand to be configured out of the box. If you add a tactical flashlight to the weapon, then you change its balance and recoil. This means the weapon will look and feel different from weapons of a similar make.

Any character who has had their weapon for a long period of time will know the ins and outs of it. They’ll have to. For a character that fights their weapon is their lifeblood, it’s their most precious possession, in some cases it’s essentially their best friend. Now, a character that doesn’t properly care for their weapon and ignores basic safety is a danger to themselves and those around them. But in fiction, that can definitely be a distinctive character trait to that character. This is why it’s so important for authors to get to know the weapons they plan on using, simply because then they’ll know what makes a good practitioner and what doesn’t so they can adjust the character’s behavior according to what they need for their story.

No matter what the weapon is, a character who is a warrior or who fights will be defined by how well they care for that weapon and their gear.   

Here are some ways a weapon can indicate a character’s state to the reader without any dialogue being necessary:

In the beginning of the story, Joe’s sword is pristine and in perfect condition, we constantly see him cleaning it and sharpening it after each battle as the novel progresses, Joe’s traveling companion Jason begins to notice small signs of wear in Joe based on the blood left on the hilt and that the annoying amount of time Joe spends cleaning his weapon is getting shorter and the blade is getting duller. The more battles there are and the worse it gets until Jason finally steps in to confront Joe about his behavior. This can lead to a moment of crisis for Joe that allows us to see into a character who wouldn’t normally converse about these emotions. The state of the weapon can also be used to show the reader, who may like Joe, that he’s not doing well and encourage emotional investment in his character because it’s obvious he’s having a difficult time.

In the hands of an aware author, this can be a way to humanize characters that are usually unlikeable without ever having to go inside their heads. You also can’t just take a character’s personal weapon from them and give them another with the expectation they’ll be interchangeable. Even a practitioner who is skilled with multiple different arts will have difficulty period adjusting a weapon they aren’t used to using. This is because every weapon is an individual and just like their wielder, should be a considered a character in their own right.

Ask yourself some important questions dealing with your weapon and your setting:

Is the weapon your character uses common in the setting they are living in?

If not and even if it is, where and who did they get it from?

How much effort will they have to put in to care for their weapon? If it’s a rare weapon or one that has fallen out of use, they may have to have some skills in basic chemistry to construct the gunpowder or the oils they’ll need.

Why do they use this weapon instead of another? Were they trained in its use or are they self-taught? If they did learn from someone, then who was it and who taught their teacher?

If it’s a projectile weapon is the ammunition for it readily available or will they have to manufacture it themselves? If you’re using a more exotic weapon like a matchlock or a flintlock pistol, this will be extremely difficult even if your character has the chemical understanding to manufacture the gunpowder because getting flint in the proper configuration will be a pain if it’s not readily available in the setting. Flint will wear down over time.

How durable is the weapon? Will it require a lot of special care? If your character is using a katana, it’s best to keep in mind that there is a significant difference between blades forged in Japan today and older blades made using the natural iron deposits found in Japan.  The older katanas are very rare because though they didn’t see a lot of use, they weren’t very durable. If it’s a different sort of bladed weapon, they’ll need something like a whetstone to be able to keep the weapon sharp and hammer out the inevitable dents the weapon will receive if there’s no blacksmith readily available. (You won’t be able to do this with any katana that pre-dates WWII. You may be able to hone one though, research as needed).

Is this a weapon that another trained practitioner or even local law enforcement will recognize? If yes, will carrying it get them into trouble with the local authorities? If not, why not? It’s important to remember that even today in states like California, the bow and crossbow are regulated weapons that require a permit to be purchased and owned legally. If your character is living under a restrictive regime, the number of weapons they will have access to and be able to effectively hide will be limited. So pick one that makes sense for the world they live in, not just their profession and their skill set.

Here are some ideas for how to include weapon cleaning scenes in a narrative:

You don’t need to take time out to specially point out that your character is doing this or make a big deal out of it. Besides, that would be strange for them since for most warriors these tics in behavior come naturally and are a package part of their training.

You can have them cleaning and caring for their weapon while they are in the middle of a conversation with another character if they are a center of that scene.

You can show them cleaning their weapon in the background of a tense conversation that they may be watching but doesn’t involve them.  It will only take a few lines to show what they are doing through other characters basic observation skills.

Sometimes, it’s important to show non-combat characters feeling threatened by the fact that they have the weapon out and annoyed by the fact that this character isn’t paying attention to them even though they are.

Depending on a character’s martial style, they may have an annoying habit of being up and mobile. They’ll pace, they’ll stretch, even just during normal conversation. Character A stretching can be very distracting for Character B if they are sexually attracted to them. It’s important to remember that stretching can be done in complete innocence or with the intention of arousal, depending on who the characters are and what their personality is.

Weapons are an easy source of tension because for many people who don’t fight (and even some who do) they are threatening. One of your characters may not even realize that the fact they have their rifle out and in pieces on the table with a loaded handgun right next to it might be perceived as a threat by another character. Or, the fact that they are cleaning their weapon could be a threat, such as sharpening their sword with a whetstone. It could be a way to indicate annoyance. So, think about where they lay out their weapon, what direction it’s facing, where they choose to look, and how fast they are going. A character’s body posture can communicate a lot without them ever having to say anything or it could suggest to the reader (and the other character if they’re good at reading body language) that they mean the opposite of what they are saying.

The time it takes for a character to get their weapon ready or put away can be a hindrance, especially if it’s a weapon like the bow where such action is necessary to maintain the battle-readiness of the weapon. This action can be used to cause narrative tension between those who just want to get on with it while the first character needs to make sure their weapon is prepared right.

Here’s an example of a good use of an exotic weapon in fiction and how it affects the character:

Marcus in Babylon 5 is an excellent example of how to make use of an exotic weapon in a narrative without it being either ostentatious or aggravating. In the show, Marcus carries an Mimbari fighting pike, which is an alien weapon carried by the race Humanity was at war with ten years before the series starts. It’s a rare weapon even among the Mimbari, used only by high ranking members of their warrior caste. In the weapon’s natural state it has the advantage of not looking like one. But even in combat, it’s a weapon that most people won’t recognize. The problem for him, though, is that veterans of the war will (and do in the show) recognize it as a Mimbari weapon and they react, often according to old prejudices. The weapon also puts him at odds with members of the Mimbari warrior caste when he encounters them because it’s offensive for him to be using one of their traditional weapons. It also means he was extensively trained in what his own people consider to be an alien fighting style and a fighting style used by the enemy. The people who see the weapon for what it is are left uncertain of where his loyalties lie and whether or not he can be trusted.

The pike serves as a method of showing to the audience how Marcus is a balance between the two races while also being isolated by it and pushed to the outside edge of both communities. It’s an excellent demonstration of what a weapon can mean for a character beyond them just carrying around a unique shiny that makes them special.

Every aspect included in your story must be there for a reason. This includes a character’s weapon.

Advice and suggestions for writing fight scenes.