The Writer’s Guide to Bows: Part 5


This is the last in my series on bows before we move on to arrows. Today we are busting myths! There is so much misinformation being spread by books, television, and movies. Some of it’s completely false while the rest is true of modern bows but not traditional or historical bows.

As always, magic is the exception to the rules. Because magic.

Holding at Full Draw

I have seen multiple scenes in movies and television shows where an archer is holding their bow at full draw for minutes on end. At the end of season three of Game of Thrones, Ygritte confronts Jon Snow, aiming an arrow at him. She holds at full draw for 1:18 before releasing!

While not impossible, especially with a lighter poundage bow, holding full draw for an extended time becomes difficult because of two factors: draw weight and stacking. If the draw weight (pounds of pressure at full draw) is high, such as a traditional English longbow that ranged from 100-185 pounds (45-84 kg), it would require tremendous strength to hold the string back for any length of time. Stacking is the increase in weight as the bowstring is pulled back. On average, this is an increase of 2-3 pounds (0.9-1.3 kg) per inch (2.54 cm). [1]

Modern compound bows have a let-up point at which the string resistance decreases dramatically. An archer with this type of bow can stay at full draw for minutes on end. However, most depictions of holding at full draw in literature and film involve either a longbow or a recurve.

Ygritte, played by Rose Leslie, in Game of Thrones holding at full draw. Photo source.

Effectiveness Against Armor

I covered effectiveness in my first post on writing medieval armor which you can find here. As the bow became more widely used in warfare, armor was developed to protect against it. Early armor only offered partial protection while a full suit of 15th century plate had few spots an arrow could penetrate. By contrast, the peasant wearing a gambeson will be less protected. If you are interested in the effectiveness of a specific type of armor, I recommend you check out my posts on gambesons, chainmail, plate, and brigandine.

Below is one of my favorite quotes about the power of the 12th century Welsh longbow by Gerald of Wales. The wars with the Welsh were the first time the longbow was used to great effect in war and the armor worn by the English wasn’t rated against it.

“[I]n the war against the Welsh, one of the men of arms was struck by an arrow shot at him by a Welshman. It went right through his thigh, high up, where it was protected inside and outside the leg by his iron chausses, and then through the skirt of his leather tunic; next it penetrated that part of the saddle which is called the alva or seat; and finally it lodged in his horse, driving so deep that it killed the animal.[2]”

A photo from Mark Stretton’s practical tests. The full article is here.

Bows Have to Be Unstrung

It is essential when a bow is not in use for it be unstrung. If left strung for too long then it will lose its spring, causing a decrease in the draw weight. The power of a bow comes from a bent bow trying to be straight again. One that is strung for too long will start to permanently take on that bend.

Wet Bowstrings

It is incredibly important to keep the bowstring dry. A wet string stretches, causing your shots to fall short. During the Middle Ages, if there was any risk of rain or damp, an archer would remove the string and place it in an oiled bag or under his helmet. Points to Robert Jordan for including this detail in “The Eye of the World.”

Dry Fire

A dry fire is when the bowstring is pulled back either partially or fully then released without an arrow. This is the greatest sin in archery. Dry firing a bow can damage or even snap or shatter it or cause the string to break. The reason it is so bad is because the kinetic energy generated by drawing which normally goes into the arrow to propel it forward instead slams back into the bow.

Writer’s Tip: Having a character dry fire a bow could be a way of showing what a novice they are, especially if other more experienced characters around them react in horror.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

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Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2020 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[2] Weapon 030 - The Longbow, Osprey, p. 66, 12 At the time, 1191, this would be mail chausses, and the story is that having had one leg shot through and pinned to the saddle by an arrow, the knight wheeled his horse around, only to receive a second arrow, which nailed the other leg in the same fashion.

1 Comments on “The Writer’s Guide to Bows: Part 5”

  1. With havin so much written content do you ever run into any problems of plagorism or copyright violation? My website has a lot of exclusive content I’ve either authored myself or outsourced but it looks like a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my permission. Do you know any methods to help prevent content from being stolen? I’d definitely appreciate it.


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