Friday, May 31, 2013

Writing Archery Don'ts

Have you read the following scenes in a book? Or maybe seen them in a movie?

A company of archers stands ready on the battlements of a castle as a horde of (vikings, orcs, Frenchmen) charges towards them. The captain of archers shouts, "Nock! Draw! Hold it! Hold it!" as the enemy approaches ever closer. Finally, at the critical moment the command is given... "Fire!"

Or maybe an archer/sniper is hiding behind a tree, bow at full draw, waiting for a lone horseman to approach.

Or an archer has a bow at full draw, holding an enchantress prisoner.

To all three, I declare... BALONEY!

Hold it, hold it, hold it!

Bows all have a draw weight. This is the pounds of force necessary to hold the bow at full draw. Any bow fit for war is going to have a draw weight of at least sixty pounds. English warbows of the Hundred Years War and later would have draw weights of eighty pounds or more. How long can you pull and hold eighty pounds? Not very long!

Every second you hold it you hand creeps forward to lesson the strain and your arm starts to shake. The two make for weak, inaccurate shots. 

What would happen in reality? On command, the archers would draw and loose the arrows in one smooth motion. No hold it, hold it, hold it.

And... you don't FIRE a bow. You SHOOT it, or LOOSE an arrow.

Unstring that thing!

Archers in books and movies are almost never described as unstringing their bows. Uh-oh!

Keeping a wooden bow strung for long periods of time is extremely harmful for the bow. The wood cells become compressed and the bow loses its strength. A self-bow (a bow made from a single piece of wood) should not be kept strung for more than a few hours at a time. A composite bow, such as a Turkish or Mongolian bow, can remain strung much longer (maybe a week or more). Composite bows are made by laminating horn, wood, and sinew, and can recover their strength after "resting" and/or heated.

Modern wheely-compound bows are a different matter. But who would want to shoot one of those?

Wow! That was an amazing shot. Again.

An archer in a wildly popular young adult novel is praised for her ability to always shoot squirrels in the eye, and by doing so not ruining the meat or the pelt.

Right in the eye? Really? A squirrel?

Archery scenes would be so much better if writers took the time to actually loose a few arrows. Not only will they discover that impossible shots are, well... impossible. They will discover that repeated impossible shots are ridiculous.

Taking the time to carry a real bow teaches other things as well. You start to realize how encumbering a bow and a quiver are. It isn't like what you see in the movies!

Two arrows at the same time? Bah, how about three?

Two bad guys at the same time? No problem! I'll just nock two arrows.

While this might make for a good performance at the county fair (shooting at balloons ten feet away), it is not going to do much good in the real world. Arrow velocity and accuracy at any range are going to suffer terribly.

Oh, and pulling off the fletching to make an arrow curve around an obstacle? Sorry, it doesn't work.

A whack upside the head. 

Uh oh, the enemy is too close to shoot. I think I'll bonk him in the head with my trusty bow.

Sure, a heavy longbow is quite a staff. It is going to hurt. It might hurt you as well. Strung bows are under a great deal of stress. Whacking someone with it will just put it under more stress, and might result in an explosion.

Yes, bows explode. I just had one blow up on me a few days ago. Luckily I wasn't hurt. (No I wasn't whacking anyone with it.)

An unstrung bow would make a better weapon, but don't put any cuts or nicks in it. Those nicks could cause a bow explosion when the bow is next strung.

Armor works. (Except for Storm Troopers)

Armor that is contemporary to the bow in question will usually protect the wearer from harm. It's kind of the point of wearing armor.

Seriously, armor works. You had to shoot A LOT of arrows at a knight to take him down. The closer the range, the better the chance the arrow has. The arrow is at its maximum velocity, and you are probably shooting heavier arrows. Long range flight arrows have a much harder time penetrating armor.

There is always the arrow with "eyes". The one that finds the gap in the plates, or the slit in the visor, but too many lucky arrows makes for poos suspension or disbelief. 

If you want your archery to be more effective, get your opponent out of their armor!

Spoiling your fun.

Excellent. Now when you are reading a novel (or watching a movie) with archery in it you too can sigh with disappointment when one (or all) of the above occur.

Sort of like when police officers watch crime shows, or doctors watch hospital shows, or lawyers watch court shows.

But if you are a writer you now have a few more arrows in your quiver!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Book Review: The Name of the Wind

Book Review: The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

The riveting first-person narrative of a young man who grows to be the most notorious magician his world has ever seen. From his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime- ridden city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that transports readers into the body and mind of a wizard. It is a high-action novel written with a poet's hand, a powerful coming-of-age story of a magically gifted young man, told through his eyes: to read this book is to be the hero.
            -Amazon book description

Characters: Kvothe is our first person narrator (although in interludes the book moves to third person). He is a brilliant young man (child for much of the first third of the novel) who is trying to survive terrible circumstances. Despite his brilliance, his arrogance and youth often contrive to put him in peril. We know he survives; the story is in how he manages it. A wonderful cast of well-developed supporting characters surrounds him.

World building: A rich, well thought out world. It is a fantasy world, but you will not find hordes of goblins or tall, fair elves with bows. The world has a late Medieval/early Renaissance European feel to it. The otherworldly creatures that do exist do not steal the story, but do add flavor to it. The author has created a balanced system of magic with solid mechanics that do not feel overpowered.

Writing/Mechanics: Professional in every way. Beautifully written.

Engagement/Willing suspension of disbelief: Not once was I pulled out of the story with thoughts of “no way, that couldn’t happen”. Instead, I was pulled in and thoroughly engrossed the entire way through. I freely admit to moments where I laughed out loud and others where I teared up.

Impact: A wonderful fantasy novel. I immediately purchased The Wide Man's Fear, the second book in the series. I give The Name of the Wind my highest recommendation.