Monday, August 13, 2007

Know your weapons

Speculative fiction writers use a lot of weapons in their short stories and novels. Fantasy writers are going to focus on swords, of course, but they'll also use various bows, spears, knives, pole arms, whatever. Horror writers are likely to have bladed weapons, too, with a firearm thrown in from time to time. Science fiction writers, especially those with a military bent, are going to have some interesting weaponry.

Which means one thing: You need to know your weapons.

I'm not suggesting you have to become an expert marksmen, or you have to become a registered stage combatant for a school of theater. I'm also not suggesting you need to run out and buy a bunch of guns or swords. But I am saying you need to know about weaponry.

Books, and the Internet, are a good place to start. You get to see pictures of various weapons, and perhaps you even gain some of the physical statistics about a weapon. You might even read some treatises, modern and ancient, on the use of particular weapons. If you're real lucky, you might even run across a video of someone knowledgable explaining about weapons, or even demonstrating the use of a weapon.

But that's second-hand knowledge. If you really want to know how a gun feels in your hands when its being fired, try it out. I'm not suggesting you purchase a firearm simply for educational purposes, because for too many people that is not an option, whether for personal or financial other reasons. But maybe you know someone who owns a firearms, or better yet, multiple firearms. Perhaps they can take you to a shooting range, or, with proper safety arrangements, out to a farm or someplace else open where there won't be other people (and it's legal) to knock over some cans or shoot some clays. If possible, it's probably best you gain some experience with various types of firearms, calibers, the actions of different weapons, etc. For example, there is a huge difference between a .22 caliber firearm and a .50 caliber. Another example, there are tons of differences between automatic, semi-automatic, lever action, pump and other forms of rifles. Weapons are also different in different timelines, so if you're writing a story set two hundred years ago, you want to make sure your woodsman is carrying a flintlock rifle, not an M-16.

For bladed weapons, you also need to know what you're talking about, especially since bladed weapons are not so common nowadays. You will likely be writing about them in a more historical perspective, even if you're writing fantasy. If you don't know the difference between a rapier and a katana and a broadsword, you need to find out. For one thing, there's that historical element; some types of weapons were common at certain times in history, but not in others. You also need to know the basic uses of a weapon; a rapier or katana wouldn't necessarily make great weapons for fighting on horseback (doesn't mean you couldn't do it, just that there are probably other weapons better suited for the job ... a late broadsword, maybe, for example). Also, you need to know if a weapon is generally used one handed or two, or somewhere in between. And you need to have an idea of how melee weapons and armor would match up against one another; a guy with a rapier would be a fool to go up against a knight in full, heavy armor. A guy with a rapier probably also wouldn't have much luck against someone with a heavy weapon, unless maybe that foe were really encumbered.

There's another reason you need to know about weapons: So you'll know when you can break the rules. For example, thrown knives are actually pretty lousy weapons. They rarely kill, usually just pissing off the person who's been hit with the dagger. If you're lucky, they've been wounded enough to be wary of you, but they're not likely out of the fight. Oh, and you've just thrown away one of your weapons. Now, that's the statistics. That's the logic. That's one example of how a particular weapon usually works. But if you know the rules, you can break them. You can have your weapon tosser be so skilled her daggers fly to the heart every time, maybe because of skill or maybe because of magic. Whatever the reason, if you know your weapons, you can break the "rules" as long as you do it in a way that is logical to the world you have created.

If you want to get a feel for some bladed weapons, check out the closest Renaissance Festival. There are usually plenty of vendors selling swords and pikes and other old-fashioned weaponry. Word of warning, though: Any sword that has a pricetage of less than $250 or so dollars is probably just a stage weapon; it might look like the real thing, but it's not. Check out a higher-priced weapon if you want the feel of the real deal. There might not be a lot of difference, but there probably will be in weight, if nothing else. Also, don't expect the blades to be sharpened. Any sharp blades sold at a Renn Fest are usually stage or cheap weapons. It's generally against the rules at most Renaissance Festivals (if not out-and-out illegal in your state) to carry around an unsheathed, sharpened period weapon.

There. That's the basics. Feel free to add to them. If you want to know about modern heavy weaponry, I suggest joining the military.


Howard von Darkmoor said...

Cool post, Ty! Perfect timing, too, as I've just posted my latest meme at von Darkmoor's thoughts.

A little eerie, as I've had my post waiting in draft mode for a bit and I just read your post now, but we seemed to hit upon a topic at the same time.

Ty said...

Yeah, saw your post, left my own comments. I pretty much agreed with you about preferred weaponry for an Sword & Sorcery character, with a few minor changes and additions.