This is the first article in the “Creation of a Character” series I’m writing for my Ink and Fairydust column. (That’s right; I’m now a Columnist! Any ideas for what I should name the column? Something magical and writing-related!)
If you are writing a fantasy story, then you know the importance of weapons. They are absolutely essential. And they’re essential not simply because they provide a character with a way of defending themselves, but because they provide insight into their very being.
“The pointy end goes in the other man!”
The sword has been a fantasy staple since the genre began. In our minds a sword conjures up visions of epic battles between good and evil. They can be ornamental (jewels and prophecies for a hero, or perhaps skulls and dark symbols for a villain). A hero might wield a hand-and-a-half sword, one that can be used with one hand or both. It isn’t too heavy or too long, but still looks impressive. Yes, the hand-and-a-half sword is my favorite. However, say you have a hulking fellow; perhaps a Viking or an ogre. They would probably wield something a bit heftier, like a broadsword. Huge, crushing, and powerful – perfect for someone who relies on brute strength. And then, there’s the short sword. You wouldn’t see Frodo walking around middle-earth with the aforementioned broadsword; he wouldn’t be able to lift it, much less wield it in battle! The short sword is perfect for someone small, who will be fighting in close quarters. But we’re not done yet; let’s not forget the rapier! Say you have a dashing character; someone who fights with a little flare, a little pizzazz. It could be a man or a woman; but the rapier signifies elegance, cunning, and a razor-sharp wit.
“Did you just call me a liar?”
Sometimes, there’s simply no room for a sharp weapon. One of my characters, Thalion, tends to get himself into tavern brawls. (He’ll say the other guy started it, but witnesses will tell differently). When someone insults you, cheats you in a game, or maybe spills something on your shirt, you don’t pull out a sword and demand a civilized duel. You jump up, throw something, and tackle the guy with your fists. In brawls, almost anything can be turned into a weapon. Chairs fly and smash against walls. Ale is something to throw in an opponent’s eyes, and the jug that carried it is perfect for smashing over someone’s head. Of course, brawling won’t work for every character. A character that gets himself into fistfights has to have some substance to him. You won’t see a child or a lady getting into battles that require greater strength. You also won’t see a well-behaved character getting into such a fight – at least, not by choice.
“…And you have my bow.”
Bows are very popular fantasy weapons, and it’s easy to see why. They have the ability to look ‘cool’ while still maintain a very medieval feel to them. Often, characters who wield bows are somewhat aloof – after all, their personality matches the weapon. Bows come in many wide varieties and are very diverse. Longbows, recurve bows, crossbows, compound bows – the possibilities are uncalculated. Bows are graceful weapons, however, which is probably why they’re wielded by elves in many stories. Brutes won’t use bows; they’re too refined. They are excellent for someone who (a. doesn’t have the bulk to wield a sword, mace, etc. (b. doesn’t like to get in the thick of things or (c. has very keen eyes. (See? Perfect for elves)
“How did you do that?” “I aimed for the middle.”
Knives are just awesome, there’s no other way to put it. And there is absolutely no limit to the styles available. Daggers (for crafty, sneaky people). Bowies (for backwoods-types). Gutters (for hunters and trackers). And my personal favorite, throwing knives; for those really over-the-top-cool types. A knife can enhance a person’s cool factor to the nth level. But a bulky character would be less likely to use them than, say, a woman or a scout/tracker-type. Knives are also perfect weapons for assassins, as they can be used for stabbing in close quarters, or throwing from farther away.
“Give me a row of Orc-necks and room to swing!”
Sometimes, ya gotta do away with delicate weapons. There are some characters who like to fight, and they’ll want something effective and not too delicate. So what do you do? Hand them an ax! But now, you have to think: what kind of ax will you give them? For Gimli, it’s a battle-axe and nothing else. The mess he leaves in his wake isn’t pretty, but it’s definitely effective. But take Will Scarlet from the BBC adaption of Robin Hood, for example. He’s a carpenter, therefore he uses a hatchet. It’s a little neater and in keeping with both his character and his occupation. But axes aren’t the only weapon good for characters like this: pickaxes, war-hammers, and maces also work well for those who want to get in the thick of it.
“Is this all ya got?”
I’ve barely scratched the surface on this subject. There are so many more kinds out there; I can’t even begin to tell you, though I’ll try. Shurikens, also known as throwing stars, are perfect for sneaky and deadly attacks. Nanchuks, for someone skilled in martial arts. Mace and chain for a particularly nasty bite. Poison, for someone who doesn’t like to get bloody. Darts, spears, perhaps even guns (rifles, pistols, tiny little up-the-sleeve guns, machine guns, you name it) if your fantasy is urban or Steampunk. Don’t like anything in the arsenal above? Use your imagination! One of my characters, Eristor, is an elf – but he would probably sneer at Legolas and call him a name or two. Bitter, scarred, sarcastic and a little bloodthirsty to begin with, his weapons are something I invented called ‘kelehb sticks.’ He wears two of them crosswise on his back. They’re about two and a half feet long, and each end is decorated with a double-sided blade. They’re perfect for throwing, spinning, close-combat, you name it – and he guards them with an ever-watchful eye. (Don’t try and steal them, borrow them, or even touch them without his permission if you like being alive. Believe me, I know).
The weapon your character chooses to have says worlds about them, so be wise when picking. Don’t simply choose something for them, let them choose; let them tell you what they want. Trust me. They’ll know.