5 on the 5th: Five Things I Learned from Archery Lessons

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On the fifth day of each month, 5 on the 5th shares five of something that I like or recommend to readers. Whether it’s five items that share a common theme, or five reasons why I like the topic at hand, this monthly meme gives us an opportunity to talk about other subjects that aren’t normally discussed here at the blog. 

Some of you might remember that I was taking a beginner’s archery course over the fall and early winter. Well, the final class was a few Saturdays ago, so I wanted to share what I learned over those 10 weeks. And what would a post on archery be without some GIFs of famous fictional archers? 😉

So, here are Five Things I Learned from Archery Lessons!

legolas-surf

Oh yeah, Legolas? I can do that, too! (OK, not really…)

Lesson #1: Archery is HARD.

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.

Katniss Mockingjay archery

Great shot, Katniss! Can you teach me how to do that? 🙂

Lesson #2: Archery requires patience, perseverance, a positive attitude, and a good sense of humor.

This is a no-brainer, thanks to Lesson #1. And 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.

Oh, and the instructors had their own brand of humor, too. Sometimes they let us shoot at dinosaur printouts or donated stuffed animals for targets – and that ALWAYS brought out my competitive spirit. 😉

OK… Now that I’ve disturbed you with that last bit… (*blushes*)

Susan Pevensie archery

Don’t get in Susan’s way!

Lesson #3: Archery is a great workout for your arms and shoulders!

This sport 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.

That said, the following bits of archery gear can help you reduce muscle strain or protect yourself during archery:

  • Use a fingertab or shooting glove to protect your fingers against the bowstring and ensure a smooth arrow release. (Our instructors gave us fingertabs during our first class.)
  • Wear an arm guard on the arm holding the bow. This protects the inside of your forearm in case the bow or bowstring hits it.
  • Practice your form and build up arm strength outside of class using rubber exercise bands or archery-specific stretchbands.
Hawkeye archery

SHOW-OFF. (Btw, did you notice the arm guard on Hawkeye’s bow arm and the glove on his string hand?)

Lesson #4: Trying your character’s hobbies and activities gives you a new appreciation for that character and her strengths.

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!

In addition, once lessons began and I learned Lessons #1 through #3, 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.

Merida archery

BULLSEYE! 😀

Lesson #5: Traditional bows are strung only when they’re going to be used.

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*)

BONUS: What Else Do Writers Need to Know About Archery?

If you’ve never taken archery before and you’re writing about sharpshooting characters, the answer is… LOTS. There are other facts regarding terminology, equipment, and “myths” that are crucial for writers to know, especially when working on stories set in medieval or historical periods.

A great place to start your archery research is this post at Ink and Quills. Kaitlin’s points and lingo are spot-on, and she includes some great archery videos and lots of additional links. However, the best way to research archery for your book is by trying it yourself. 😉

Have you taken archery lessons before? What other activities (sports or otherwise) were you wary of trying in the past but thoroughly enjoyed when you gave them a shot? And for any writers out there, does your WIP include archery or characters who use a bow and arrows?

48 thoughts on “5 on the 5th: Five Things I Learned from Archery Lessons

  1. As I mentioned earlier, I am completely bowled over by your dedication to your craft — to go to the extent of taking archery lessons to be able to get into the skin of your protagonist. Thanks for sharing the valuable life lessons you learnt, Sara 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I took archery in high school and fell in love with it. And yes,my bow arm had bruises all the way up. But I learned how to hold my elbow out so the string wouldn’t wank it anymore. My parents even bought us a bow, which we had to string ourselves. Good article. 🙂

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  3. My brother took archery but I never did. Closest I got was in Amtgard using weak bows (can’t remember the max allowed pull, think it was like 25) and arrows with the sharp tips removed and replaced with big honking padded ends to avoid dealing serious injury when striking an opponent on the field.

    One of the main things I learned:

    people that claimed that an arrow had struck them in the throat (illegal target) to get out of a death were spouting bullshit because you can’t talk when hit in the throat even with a heavily padded tip and weak bow.

    I did encounter a few issues with stringing a bow…one of my drow characters has a facial scar which is the only scar she won’t happily explain where and how she received it when asked. This is because she got it as a youth when she made a mistake stringing her bow and it smacked her in the face. (she’s lucky she didn’t lose the eye)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a fantastic resource for writing medieval fantasy, Sara! And i think you can always tell the difference authors actually have experienced using the weapons/tools they write about. I’m sure you will be writing your archer far more effectively – I always think of Miles Cameron who has had taken part in jousting tournaments wearing armour and his fight scenes in The Red Knight series are outstanding. Thank you for a really informative, interesting article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Sarah! I do hope that knowledge shows through in the WIP. It’s also a good reminder to never assume that what you see in the movies or TV is accurate, and that you need to read, ask questions, and even experience those things for yourself.

      I don’t think I’ve heard of Miles Cameron before… I’m guessing his Red Knight series is medieval / epic fantasy? How would you describe it?

      One good author-researcher I can think of is Maria V. Snyder. She actively studied martial arts / self-defense, glass-blowing, lock-picking, horseback riding (my next research adventure!), and other things as part of her novel-writing process.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes! Miles Cameron’s Red Knight series is medieval/epic fantasy, though far narrower in scope than A Song of Ice and Fire – and the battle scenes and the main character are awesome. I think you’d really enjoy it. I’d agree with you regarding Maria V. Snyder – her descriptions are very realistic and bounce off the walls. I am lucky as my mother has owned horses for years, so I know about them and what they are capable of – though as it happens, I haven’t written medieval fantasy, yet. Good luck with that slice of your research – they are lovely animals.

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  5. This was really fun to read – thanks for sharing 🙂 I think it’s awesome that you pursued your research to this degree, and I’m sure that the realism and accuracy of TKC will benefit from your dedication.

    I have only a wee bit of archery experience, but I DID find that I was a better shot if I was aiming at something like Spongebob, as opposed to the traditional target! And competition doesn’t hurt things.

    I have done various things over the years for a WIP’s sake – from writing in runes to dancing to immersing myself in another language. I would still like to take a blacksmithing course, since blacksmiths show up in a lot of my books. In lieu of that, I have read quite a few books on the subject! I had to do a ton of research for the traveling parts of Knight of the Blue Surcoat, in particular. You don’t know how many hours I spent pouring over maps and old, translated works about travel, distance, and measurements!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I hope the archery bits will come across that way in the story, too. 🙂

      Oh, so I’m NOT the only one who was more motivated by unusual or stuffed animal targets? 😉 *lol* I remember telling my parents and co-workers about using a teddy bear for one class, and they all said how horrible that was. 😄

      I think I remember you saying on your blog that you want to take dance lessons at some point to help with TLCS. Are you still thinking about that?

      “I had to do a ton of research for the traveling parts of Knight of the Blue Surcoat, in particular. You don’t know how many hours I spent pouring over maps and old, translated works about travel, distance, and measurements!”

      Actually, I might, because I’ve done some myself for TKC! :S A writer doesn’t realize how crucial it is to consider how fast horses can travel in one day, how wide mountain ranges are from one side to another, and other things until he/she writes a quest story.

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      • Stuffed animals aren’t alive – despite what Toy Story would have us believe. So my conscience is clear. And I have zero regrets about targeting Sponge Bob.

        I still want to take dance lessons – I’m just not sure if there’s anywhere that would make it feasible around me. As of right now, I’ve been using library instructional videos, and of course, doing faux aggressive hip hop dance offs with my sister . . .

        Months of research – months of research. If I’d had the money and the time, I would have done the entire sea + horseback + walking journey myself. Instead, I used everything from Google Maps to books about Marco Polo, and I drove the library crazy with the amount of books I requested . . . I think they’re kind of relieved that I’m done with that book.

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      • TBH, I Googled those and read a few different sources. With mountain range widths, for example, I Googled different mountain ranges and read up on their statistics (how tall, how many miles long, etc.) to find that info. They were mostly to help me ensure the quest’s logistics were reasonable – or to correct those logistics if they weren’t.

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  6. I always thought my main character would be a skilled archer, but I have no first hand experience of it. Not wanting to sound unrealistic, I changed the character’s strengths. I currently don’t have the time or resources to join a class, so thanks a lot for sharing what you learnt. I’ll keep it in mind when I get to the writing part. 🙂
    Also, LOVE the gifs! 😀 Very appropriate and informative at the same time. Hollywood got something right with Hawkeye, it seems.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Nandini! Yes, they did get something right by including Hawkeye’s safety gear. Very important – or else Jeremy Renner would have bruised his bow arm quite a bit!

      That wasn’t a bad idea, changing your character’s strengths to things you were already familiar with for the sake of sounding realistic. What did you change it to, just out of curiosity?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have zero knowledge in anything combat-related. So, I made her personality that of a diplomat, who doesn’t get why people fight so much when they can persuaded with words, one who values mental prowess over the physical. I’m not that good with people either, but at least I can write a character whose main strength is her intelligence. I study personalities of the people around me to help me with this.

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  7. Love this, Sara! I’m glad that you were able to take away so much from your archery lessons and apply it to your writing 🙂 It really does help you to get into the mind of your character, doesn’t it? I would highly recommend all writers with an archer in their stories to try shooting a bow for themselves! There are certain aspects of research you just can’t learn from a book.

    I’ve been itching to try fencing lessons to get into the minds of my sword-wielding characters, but alas, tis more expensive than archery, which I just do on my own in my backyard. Also, I don’t want to wear the pants xD But we shall see! It really would be invaluable research.

    p.s. Thanks for linking to my archery article! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Kaitlin! It definitely did help me step into Eva’s shoes more than it had before. And now I’ll be more sure of whether my archery facts and motions are accurate – which is equally important. 😉 And you’re welcome about the link to your post!

      Ha ha! Yeah, fencing would be fun, but budget is always something to think about. The next research-related activity I want to try is horseback riding. I’ve never done that before, either!

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  8. My big quasi-YA series has a three person team, one of whom is an archer (since she’s the daughter of Odysseus, that seemed appropriate). I should definitely keep all this in mind if I can ever force myself to undertake the massive endeavor of re-writing the drafts. I have, technically, used a bow myself, but that was more than twenty years ago, at a summer camp, and I don’t really remember anything except that the instructor had an accent that made his “oo” come out “i” when he said “shoot!”…and so a bunch of idiot kids got the giggles every time he told us to fire our arrows.

    I wonder if there’s someplace I could take spear-fighting lessons? The other two leads prefer their spears to their swords…and they were usually thrown, now that I think about it (based on the Iliad, that seems to be the proper way to use them in that era) so maybe I should try to learn how to throw a javelin over the summer…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Definitely check out Kaitlin’s article, too; it’s the one linked at the bottom of the post. Hers is much more in-depth than mine is.

      I’ve never heard of places that do spear-fighting lessons, though that doesn’t mean they don’t exist… It never hurts to research and find out, though.

      About your instructor’s accent… 😄

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I actually did some archery in high school. I have this weird condition where one of my eyes is near-sighted while the other is far-sighted, but my vision somehow balances out that I don’t need glasses. It should have wreaked havoc on my aim, but it didn’t. My instructor told me that it might actually give me an advantage, since I’m so used to using both eyes to aim, while a lot of people tend to close one eye and that’s something you’re apparently not supposed to do. Maybe if I’d stuck with it, I might have become really good! But yeah, it’s fun as hell 🙂

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  10. I really want to give archery a go again some day (not that I have more upper body strength). The last time I tried it was at school camp in year 5 and I SUCKED. We were playing a team game where we all took turns firing the bow and had to hit balloons for points. Of course the only balloon I hit was the one that lost your team 50 points that was no where near the balloon I was actually aiming for 😄

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  11. Great post! Even though I don’t have a bow-shooting MC, I’m thinking of trying archery once I move over to States and settle down, so your post definitely offered some valuable insights. I especially liked the bit about protecting your fingers and forearm, because this is one of those things that should be obvious, but the rest was very interesting too.

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  12. This is really cool info! I’ve checked out that Inks and Quills post, but this is super cool too! I have a recurve bow for cosplay and I learned some about it to make my cosplay more authentic. 😄 Bows are difficult but awesome!

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

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    • Thanks, Tori! Yeah, I didn’t want to copy too many of Kaitlin’s points, since I was planning on linking to her post. So I focused less on the actual technique and mechanics of archery and more on things that personally stood out to me.

      Was the recurve bow for your Katniss cosplay? 😉

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  13. While I didn’t take actual archery lessons, I did get a recurve bow back when I was in high school and used to practice shooting targets for fun. Now I wish I’d had lessons, as some of my characters will use bows. I’ll have to pick up archery again, and study some more! 🙂
    Fencing is another activity I’d like to learn and master, though my wrists are sadly too weak to take actual classes. But I definitely want to study up on it, and maybe practice a bit on my own. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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  15. I love archery! I took lessons a while ago and asked a lot of questions, just like you did. 🙂 I really want to practice it more, though.

    Thanks for reminding me about bows not being stringed. :O I forgot about this. I may need to make some adjustments in the scene I just wrote yesterday… >_>

    And Kaitlin’s post is fantastic! You were right to include a link to it! 😉

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    • I’d like to practice archery more as well. But it’s not something I have room for time- and budget-wise at the moment. :/

      *lol* You’re welcome! I actually need to edit one of TKC’s scenes for the same reason, so you’re not alone. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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  18. That’s so cool that you took archery as research for your WIP. Both it and fencing are activities I always wanted to try out because I read a lot of fantasy and would like to better imagine what the characters are doing.

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