Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bows (And How to Use them in Your Fantasy Story)

Following up on the last post on Swords, I thought it might be helpful to provide a complementary guide on bows. Now, again, this is a simplification of a very complex subject, so this information is best used for aspiring writers who just need a quick fact-check or a source of inspiration.

Now then, to business. I’ll begin, as I did with the Swords post, by outlining a few of the various types of bows.

1. Training Bow
--This light bow is easy to draw and is thus ideal for training beginning archers. The bowstring can be tightened or loosened according to the level of ability. Because it’s so light and simple, it’s not intended as a fighting weapon; it could perhaps be used for hunting, but is mostly suited to target practice.

-- If your characters are in training (either as archers or rangers or other military/protection forces), than the training bow will be a good bet to start them off. Be sure to graduate them to an actual bow, though, after their muscles develop!

--The longbow is quite tall (roughly the height of the person who uses it) and fairly slender. It’s widest at the handle, where the archer grasps it. Historically, this bow came from the English Longbow used during the middle ages and made particularly famous by Robin Hood and by the success of various battles in the Hundred Years’ War. It is quite a strong bow with a large shooting range, so it functions well for both hunting and warfare.

--Among bows, the longbow is generally lighter, quicker to prepare for shooting, and quieter. Additionally, it is fairly simple in construction, so skilled carpenters (like Medieval bowyers) could construct the longbow in just a few hours. The longbow can be made from various woods, with yew being preferable and mulberry, elm, oak, ash, hazel, and maple being acceptable substitutes. Because of the simplicity of a longbow, it is ideal for a fantasy culture where there are large military forces of archers who must be armed quickly or where bows do not play a primary role in the action.

-- True to its name, the recurve bow has tips that curve away from the archer when the bow is strung. Because of its shape, the recurve bow stores and delivers energy more efficiently than a strait bow (e.g. a longbow), which gives the arrows greater speed. At the same time, the recurve bow is often a good deal shorter than a longbow, which makes it lighter and easier to transport. A version of this bow, the Mongolian bow, was the weapon of choice for the Mongol Horde during the Middle Ages, a force that conquered most of Europe and Asia.

-- Because of its practicality and range, the recurve bow is favored by mounted horsemen (like the Mongols). However, since it’s so intricate, it’s also much more difficult to make. Thus, the recurve bow would work best with a culture that hunts or wages war primarily on horseback and has a long history of skilled craftsmen.

-- A crossbow is a special kind of bow where the arrow is attached to a simple machine that holds it in a ready-to-fire position until the “trigger” is releases it. Crossbow construction ranges from a simple wooden mechanism to a much more complex weapon incorporating several pieces of metal. Typically, crossbows are made of a composite of wood, horn, and sinew that make them much stronger and more efficient.

-- You may think that, because a crossbow is a “simple machine,” that you can’t use it in your fantasy story. The earliest known crossbows, however, date back to 5th century B.C., during the time of the Ancient Greeks. Ancient Chinese also utilized this weapon. If the ancients were smart enough to discover this weapon, why not your fantasy cultures?

-- A longbow has a faster shooting rate and are more accurate, but crossbows release more kinetic energy (thus have greater speed and can penetrate harder surfaces, even armor). Additionally, crossbows can be used after a single week of training, while longbows may take years to build up the strength to draw and use it. It’s up to you to decide whether or how to include the crossbow in your fantasy!

Included is a picture of the components of a recurve bow. Generally, the parts labeled in that illustration may be applied to other bows, as well; I’ve found them useful myself when detailing the specific actions of an archer. 

If you are writing extensively about bows, archery, or any function thereof, get a good reference book from the library and be sure to do your research. After all, nobody wants to write a climactic battle scene in which the fate of the world hangs in the balance of one misshot inaccurate badly-made arrow!


  1. Awesome! I've done some of my own research on bows, but this one post covered most of the things I've read. Thanks!
    ~Sarah F.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Sarah! I'm a little shocked that the post managed to cover most things you've read--after all, I didn't even get into proper bow construction or how to actually shoot those things! (Considering, though, that I have almost no experience in the matter, it's just as well that I don't!) Glad you liked it!

  3. Archery is so fun--I love my recurve. I'd really like to get a longbow someday, though, just because of the Robin Hood link, though I think I remember that technically it came to be used more something like a century after the typical Robin Hood placement (12th century). And I believe it first came from the Welsh.

    ^You would not see me babble like that about swords. *is ignorant*

    Good post! I didn't know that about crossbows. It'd be cool to seem them used in a fantasy story--they aren't typically what comes to mind for fantsay authors, I think.

    I find it amusing that crossbows are generally utilized by the bad guys in Robin Hood films, though. Haha!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Nairam! Ooh, that's really cool that you've got a recurve bow! I've only tried the modern compound bow with pulleys and such (it doesn't quite have the same atmosphere...). Hmm, so the English Longbow came from the Welsh? How odd :)

      Yes, I agree, I'd love to see more crossbows and other simple machines come into use in fantasy! What are we waiting for? And I agree with the Robin Hood connection; my first thought about crossbows was those vultures in the animated Disney Robin Hood who were always misfiring their crossbows :)

  4. I have actually read a lot of your blog posts in the last hour. I really enjoy what you are doing here. (And as a writer of fantasy novels, I'm enjoying looking at different aspects of that when you go through them in blogposts). And truly, I love world-culture building :)

    1. Thank you so much! It's extremely encouraging to know that all the blog posts I wrote during those long months when I had no followers and no comments are actually being read! haha :)

      Me too! World-culture-universe-building is one of the most fascinating aspects of being a fantasy author. After all, you can experiment and truly try anything!

      Thanks for the comment :)

    2. I thought I replied to this the other day...but I guess I didn't?

      Anyway, you're welcome. I just started reading a lot of them because I was interested in what you had to say on those topics. I also see that you've had posts about some of my more favorite authors for their series: C.S.Lewis with Chronicles of Narnia, and Rick Riordan with Percy Jackson. (I need to find the newest one with Percy again, the Son Of Neptune I think it's called?). Anyway, have you ever heard of Wayne Thomas Batson? He's a good fantasy/Christian writer, who literally shapes everything into Biblical truth (So in this case, his stuff isn't really for non-believers, because they'll probably find his stuff slightly annoying). But I love his characters. Also, you must take a look into Bryan Davis' book series. :)

    3. Percy Jackson is great :) . I love the modern feeling of it, although the theology behind the Greek gods is somewhat...dicey. I should do a post on that! And I agree, I really want to read Son of Neptune.

      Yes, I've heard of Batson! I actually follow his blog without ever having read his books :P . I did start on The Door Within, but I think the book became due at the library so I had to return it.

      Also, Bryan Davis...I had somewhat mixed feelings about his stuff. I've read all of his Dragons in our Midst series, plus the other prequels/sequels. I thought the later ones were by far the best--the first one had a bit too much predictable plot and such. Also, since I live in Asia and I can find his books in the library, I sort of secretly rearrange the books to more prominence so that hopefully some non-Christian will check them out :)

      Anyway, thanks for all these awesome post ideas! You've given me enough thoughts to keep me busy for a month!

    4. Yeah...I think the 'true belief' in the 'greek god' concept is a little silly, of course, but 'fiction' about them can be interesting (as Rick Riordan has done :)).

      Haha, that's funny :) I really love the Door Within Books. I haven't been able to grab the third though.

      I enjoyed the whole series with DIOM...just because I liked how he put a spin on King Arthur mythology to a Christian twist, especially the item of Merlin being a prophet...that was just great :). But I can see what you mean, a little. I do like him as a writer though, and I love his characters. I finished the Starlighter awhile ago, and that was pretty interesting. Too bad I can't seem to find the rest of those books though :( What about the late Brian Jacques? I love his Redwall books. It's a shame he past away though :(

    5. Yes...I guess Percy Jackson is really too unrealistic to be believed. And, on the upside, it seriously helps on Ancient Greek Mythology tests in school! :)

      I got all three Door Within books once at the library. Unfortunately, to my great regret, I read some other books first and then I had to return them all!

      DioM certainly had some interesting connections with legends and myths in our world. Oh, I want to read the Starlighter! I think he's definitely improved with more books written.

      Brian Jacques' Redwall is excellent. I loved it. Then I tried reading a few other books in the series. Some, I really enjoyed, and others had a bit too much skipping-around on the plot and narration for me to quite enjoy. Still, they have the distinction of being one of the few animal books I really like!

  5. I got this little book that my youth pastor was throwing out called about archery and it has been really helpful. Your post mentioned a few extra things of interest as well. We all need a little bit of research to help us along, but we have to be careful not to choke the reader with all of our vast knowledge.

    Nice post! I'll link up to it under Helpful Links on my blog.

    1. Aww, thanks a bunch, Sunny! I'm thrilled that you found it helpful! And that does sound like a good book (don't you just love getting other people's books for free?!).

      You're absolutely right--there's such a fine line between accuracy and deluge of boring information! Come to think of it, I think the book The Hunger Games did a pretty good job with non-boring archery that's essential to the main character.

      Thanks a bunch for the comment!

  6. Nice post, Dawn! :)

    I love bows; I think at least once character in each of my stories uses one. I've even gotten to shoot a handmade longbow a few times, since my grandpa makes (and hunts) with them!

    The only thing I was wondering about was the speed at which longbows can be made... maybe medieval carpenters were faster, but I know it takes my grandpa a few days to make a decent bow, and he's been doing it for a long time. I'm not sure exactly how everything is done, but I know he has to do something to the wood to make it more supple - that way he can bend it into the correct shape. Then it has to dry for a long time. Combine that with whittling down the wood, making the string, and whatever else he does, and you end up with more than a few hours of work. :)

    1. Thank you, Abby! That must be awesome to have a grandpa who makes longbows; wow! I bet you'd learn a ton.

      Hmm, thanks for pointing that out! I guess it probably varies a lot depending on what materials you have on hand and how supple the wood is already. Maybe that was with apprentices working on it too?

      Thanks again!

  7. Oh, perfect! I confess to having no idea what to arm my novel's squad of archers with. This helps so much!

    1. Thanks, Rowan! I'm glad you found it helpful :)

  8. Hello! My first visit, will visit you again. Seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed your posts. Congrats for your work. If you wish to follow back that would be great I'm at http://nelsonsouzza.blogspot.com
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks so much, Nelson! I appreciate the comment, and I'm delighted that you enjoy my posts! Your blog has a very nice layout, but unfortunately, since I can't read Spanish, I must resort to Google Translate. Still, I look forward to reading it as best I can! Thanks again :)

  9. 05. Awesome post. Most informative. That's great! What kind of wood did you use for the bow and for the bolt? It’s a very useful post. thanks for the efforts.
    John Hillman


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