One Fantasy Writer’s Secret Weapon: Archery Lessons

bow and arrow lessons for writers of fiction

The best way to write about weapons in fiction is to get your hands on some. If you can swing it, one-on-one instruction in a controlled environment is best. (Jamie Woods image via

Today’s guest post comes from fantasy writer Sara Letourneau, someone I came in touch with via the 2016 Writer’s Digest Conference. When she mentioned she took a 10-week archery lesson to better understand the weapons in her stories, I couldn’t help but ask for a post for this site. Be sure to check out her website here for more of her terrific work. Enjoy!


Fiction and Reality Meet When You Use Your Characters’ Weapons

Fantasy writer Sara Letourneau

by Sara Letourneau, fantasy writer

Why did I sign up for archery lessons in the first place? My WIP’s protagonist. Eva is a skilled archer, and her talents with the bow and arrow come in handy throughout the novel. However, just because Eva’s an archer doesn’t mean I was one myself. So, I figured that the best way to understand her strengths (and to portray archery accurately in the story) was by trying it myself. In other words, fun research! Yay!

I realized what I had made Eva capable of. A character needs more than physical strength and endurance to be a competent archer – they also need patience, persistence, discipline, and the ability to concentrate. Thankfully these were traits I had already considered for Eva’s character, but now I know how truly valuable they are.

There’s More to Archery Than Meets the Eye

Legolas, Katniss, and other screen characters make it look easy. But once I attended my first archery class, I realized there’s a LOT more to archery than holding a bow and shooting an arrow at the target. Every aspect of your posture – your stance, the position of your feet, the way you hold your shoulders, your grip on the bow and the string, and much more – has to be just right. Take a look at this diagrammed breakdown of the steps at Learn Archery. It’s a intricate, painstaking process – and if the archer forgets the smallest detail, it can throw off the shot completely.

fiction writing tips weapons

(Image by John Nyberg via

Required: Patience, Perseverance, a Positive Attitude and a Sense of Humor

If you have trouble remembering the details of each step (like I did), archery can be a real test of patience with yourself. However, my instructors reminded me to take my time with the draw-and-loading process, even if it meant going slower than the other students. So I did, and found I had better luck when I paced myself and didn’t overthink my shots. Gradually my skills and aim improved; and by the end of the course, I was proud that I hadn’t given up (and that I’d gotten a few bulls-eyes, too!).

As for the sense of humor? Let’s just say it prevents you from getting too discouraged over missed shots and other mistakes. It’s especially contagious if your classmates share their funny sides during target practice and in between rounds. None of us goofed off with our gear (we didn’t want to make things dangerous!), but by telling jokes and being appropriately silly we were able to ease each other’s tensions and anxieties about learning archery.

Archery is Physical

Archery requires a good deal of endurance and upper-body strength. Especially when your archery class is 2 hours long and you’re actively practicing for most of that time, you’re bound to feel some strain or soreness in your shoulders, arms, and hands after the first few sessions. But like any other exercise, it gives you a certain pride and sense of accomplishment to know your muscles are benefiting from something fun.

Once Again, Hollywood Gets It Wrong

In addition to practicing archery to understand how it works, I also asked my instructors archery-related questions. One thing I discovered as a result was that traditional bows (e.g., longbowsrecurve bows) should never, ever be strung all the time. Rather, bowstrings should only be put on right before use. This prevents the strings from damage or breaking when it’s not being used. It’s a different story for the modern compound bow, which uses a cable-and-pulley system to pull the bowstring and bend the bow’s limbs. (FYI: I used a recurve bow for my lessons.) Either way, I found this tidbit fascinating, since you never see film characters removing or tying on new bowstrings. (*tsk tsk Hollywood*)

See more from fantasy writer Sara Letourneau on her website here.

14 thoughts on “One Fantasy Writer’s Secret Weapon: Archery Lessons

  1. Thanks very much for having me, Ben! I’m really glad we connected and that I could share what I learned about archery with your readers. And if anyone has ever thought of taking archery lessons (either for research or for fun), I highly recommend it.


    • Thanks again for this great post, Sara. I like what you said about the lessons giving you insights into the way the character needed to be shaped. It’s easy to assume these things are point-and-shoot.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog and commented:
    Here’s one thing I didn’t expect to happen as a result of the 2016 Writer’s Digest Conference: Be a guest blogger for one of this year’s presenters! I connected with Ben Sobieck after his fantastic presentation on accurately writing weapons in fiction, then told him how I had taken archery lessons as research for my WIP. And as the saying goes, the rest is history. 😉 Check out my guest post “One Fantasy Writer’s Secret Weapon: Archery Lessons” now at Ben’s site, The Writer’s Guide to Weapons.

    NOTE: If you read my 5 on the 5th earlier this year about five things I learned from archery lessons, much of the content will look familiar. This guest post is a “re-purposing” of that original article for Ben’s audience, done with my permission.


  3. Indeed, Sara did a great service by offering her insights and experiences in archery. It is an EXCELLENT idea for any writer to become “hands-on” familiar with any hardware that fictional characters may use. This can add conviction and strength to our writing, and it keeps us from making dumb mistakes!

    One added detail: I’ve been an archer for many years, and Sara is right about not keeping traditional bows strung when not in use. But in addition to preventing bowstring damage, unstringing the bow keeps the bow itself from developing a “set” or warpage from being constantly strung. I believe that this is an even stronger argument for unstringing traditional bows–particularly those made of wood, but also for those whose limbs are a wood-and-fiberglass laminate, such as many recurve bows.

    Good work, Sara!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Ralph! Especially for the added detail about why bows should be kept unstrung. The instructors had talked more about damage to the strings, but I had figured the bow-warping could also be a potential problem.


  4. Pingback: Field Trip: Writer’s Digest Conference 2016 | Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

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