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Writer’s Guide to Archery

The vocabulary and writing about archery


  • Compound bow: modern bow that uses pulleys and lever systems with both a string and a cable to increase efficiency.
  • Recurve bows : bows with limbs that curve away from the archer when unstrung. The recurve bow stores more energy and delivers it more efficiently than an equivalent straight-limbed bow, giving more energy and speed to the arrow.
  • Longbows: tall bows that are straight at rest and create a “D” shape when strung.

Bow Parts:

  • Limbs : the two symmetrical bending portions of a bow
  • Limb tip : extremities of the limbs where two notches are cut into the limbs so that the string is retained.
  • Riser : fixed portion at the middle of the bow which contains the bow’s grip.
  • Nocking point : small demarcation at the middle of the string so that archers nock the arrow at the same point each time. It is most frequently done by tying a small thread onto the string.


  • Arrow shaft : straight stick portion of the arrow.
  • Arrowhead : sharp point of the arrow that will hit the target
  • Fletching : part of the arrow opposite to the arrowhead, historically made of feathers. It keeps the arrow steady in flight.
  • Arrow nock: small notch at the extremity of the arrow that will fit on the bowstring.

Use a bow:

  • Bows don’t “fire”, guns do.
    You either “shoot” a bow, or you “loose” or “release” an arrow
  • Quiver : container for holding arrows. Typically placed across the torso for easy access, it can also be placed at the hip for target archers.
  • Anchor point : a place on the face where the archer draws the bow fully back and pauses to aim. Most common anchor points are the mouth, nose or under the chin.

Protective equipment:

(isn’t mandatory, and you could not need it. But it’s extremely useful, it doesn’t just make a great costume for your character)

  • Arm guard (or bracer): a leather or plastic cover of about 5 inches long. It is strapped to the arm that holds the bow and protects it from the bowstring.
    Arm guards are often required in modern archery and a lot of archers wear them because the bowstring can seriously hurt your muscle.
    However you can learn to shoot without one by slightly bending your arm at the elbow. But don’t forget to do it or you’ll end up with the mother of all bruises!
  • Finger tab : three pieces of leather that slide over the middle finger to protect the hand that pulls back the string. Older ones were like short gloves with only the middle three fingers. Finger tabs are really important as archer will still get massive calluses through those three pieces of protective gear.
  • Chest protector : a sort of small vest that covers half your chest, on the same side of the bow arm. It keeps the bowstring from catching on clothing or breasts for female archers.


Writing about archery

Here are a few book excerpts containing archery to help you create your own archery scenes.


From “Luck in the Shadows” by Lynn Flewelling

Four archers stood in the road less than two hundred feet away, sending out a volley of arrows. Alec also caught a glimpse of others working their way through the trees in his direction.


The archers kept up their steady attack; arrows sang in the air, nipping off a hail of twigs around him, thudding into the trees he sheltered behind. There was no sign of Seregil except a third track snaking off through the snow into the trees beyond Micum. Left more or less on his own, Alec knew what his next step had to be.


His heart pounded sickeningly as he fitted an arrow to the string and took aim at a man for the first time in his life. A tall archer standing boldly at the edge of the road presented an easy target, but try as he might, Alec couldn’t seem to hold steady.


Startled by a horse’s scream, he released the shaft high and it sped off uselessly into the trees. Micum’s gelding drove itself into a heap just in front of him, a shaft protruding from its throat. Another arrow slammed into the beast’s chest and it gave a final bellowing groan.


“The bastards know their business, killing the horses,” Micum called over to him. “I hope you have a few shafts left—I’m pinned down here!”


Nocking a second arrow, Alec drew the fletching to his ear and tried again.


“O Dalna!” he whispered as his bow arm wavered again. “Let me pull true!”


From “The lord of the Rings : the Two Towers” by JRR Tolkien

The wolf snarled and sprang towards them with a great leap. At that moment there was a sharp twang. Legolas had loosed his bow.


There was a hideous yell, and the leaping shape thudded to the ground; the elvish arrow had pierced its throat.


Éomer’s eyes blazed, and the Men of Rohan murmured angrily, and closed in, advancing their spears.


‘I would cut off your head, beard and all, Master Dwarf, if it stood but a little higher from the ground ‘ said Éomer.


‘He stands not alone,’ said Legolas, bending his bow and fitting an arrow with hands that moved quicker than sight. ‘You would die before your stroke fell.’


Keep reading for the next part about Arrow Wounds and How to treat them !

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10 Responses to “Writer’s Guide to Archery

  • As an obsessive traditional archer, I just gotta say this is the most accurate and involved article for writing about archery I have ever seen. The only improvement I would make is that, in the steps of shooting a bow, the lift and draw is usually done simultaneously in one step. Also, you mentioned the anchor point- which is great, because most articles don’t- but the BEST archers don’t always need an anchor point. Instead they can shorten or lengthen their draw length to make the arrow fly slower or faster and therefore drop slower or faster. It’s a difficult but great technique, especially for forest hunting scenes where you have to anticipate the arc of the arrow in between sticks and leaves.

    • Tales of Wonderland
      6 months ago

      Thank you so much for leaving this wonderful comment! I will definitely use your advice to improve the article. I’m so glad you liked it as a professional archer!

  • Love it!

  • I would add, on the point of arrows whistling, that traditional Western arrows generally do not whistle, but can be carved or bored to create a whistling sound depending on the use to which the arrow is put. As an amateur archer myself, I have to agree with Emily that your information is quite factual, and helpfully laid out.

    • Tales of Wonderland
      6 months ago

      Thank you for your comment! That is a good point you’ve made, I will add to the post 🙂

  • I think this is an excellent piece of writing with concerning archery. The only thing I would disagree with is the blunt force trauma.

    Hew Soar, in his book “Secrets of the English War Bow”, does talk about blunt force trauma with regards to plate armour. Despite what some may think his research has shown that the war bow was capable of piercing but not always. But it does not have to penetrate to kill. Soar mentions that modern research for military body armour has shown that a projectile with kinetic energy of 80 joules or greater can be considered fatal. He calculated that an arrow having a total weight of 102 grams moving a 47.23 metres per second would impart 113.76 joules of energy on impact. So even if it did not pierce the armour an arrow hitting on the head or over the heart could cause sufficient blunt force trauma to kill a knight in plate armour.

    I cannot remember the source but I do remember reading that there is research which shows that archers did aim for these areas when shooting at the enemy. As good place as any when you aim at your enemy no matter what he is wearing as I am sure you will agree.

    I hope you have found this useful.

    Happy trails

    • towadmin
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your detailed comment Peter! 🙂
      You’re right, I looked into it and arrows are sure to cause grave blunt force trauma in some instances. I added it into the post but didn’t go into too much details as I think writers will more likely write about penetrating injuries caused by arrows.
      Thanks again ! Jemma

  • TheStarlightLass
    14 hours ago

    As an over half a year junior archer (so for more experienced ones feel free to correct me if you see anything!) I’d clarify the ‘hold it’ ‘hold it’ myth: It is true the longer you hold the harder it becomes, but bear in mind that the less pounds the easier it also is to hold the string. So you can, and in some cases even have to or at least it’s very well recommended, to ‘hold’ the string while you try to find the correct height, check that the lining with the bowstring is correct and then aim. Just after that process you’ll release the arrow and hold the both hands up for so long that you hear the hitting sound or then long enough that the arrow has already got far away from your hands, because if you lower your either of your hands too early when the arrow hasn’t flown away from the string your hands’ movement can affect and change the arrow’s course. For instance the arrow can end up lower than you intended because of this.

    I just wanted to say this because you only mention compound bows. I’m a longbow archer myself and it’s true you can hold compounds for ages, but depending on the pounds of your longbow/recurve bow proportioned to your strength those can also be held for several seconds if you don’t have much strength in your back muscles/can’t use them or if you are the one with great strength can even hold them minutes. Again it depends on the strength of the archer and the amount of pounds on his bow. (Of course, tiredness can make things worse but that’s not the point).

    Oh, and here is probably good to tell why it is so. Because unlike tons of movies show, you actually draw the bowstring using your strong back muscles. (Or well that’s the correct way to do things.) Why so? Well, the back muscles are far stronger than the ones in your hands, do you agree? And also when you draw with your back muscles it sort of ‘activates’ the one you use for releasing the arrow, when you press that muscle and your fingers “slide” over the bowstring. That’s how it should go, but finger releases happen too, that just means you aren’t using your back muscles, which can make the loose appear more unsure, easier to fail.

    Another thing I want to point out is this: bows aren’t completely silent when you either draw them or loose the string. And one archer friend of mine told me that bows can even creak. At least the wooden ones do, like longbows. Well, that’s wood, surprise, surprise. They may not make as loud noises they’d be worth showing in a film but they do let out hearable sounds. This is also why hunters use those tufts, (modern things as far as I know) the furry things attached to their bowstring to silent that sound in question, because their prey can hear the sound of drawing and run away before the hunter gets to even aim. Imagine that delicious-looking deer escaping before your very, hungry eyes, not a very pleasant sight.

    But I still have to thank you deeply for doing such a fine job so far on putting this site up! And a little secret: this is one of those things that got me to try archery myself and caused it to become a hobby of mine, so I’d say this introductions has already proven to be successful! Thank you, you’ve done a great job, I appreciate your effort, after all you mention many things many don’t even know. Keep up the good work! 🙂

    • towadmin
      1 min ago

      Hi The Starlight Lass ! First of all, thank you for posting such an informative and detailed comment! 😉
      As to the “hold it” myth, you’re totally right; a little holding is necessary/crucial to shoot the arrow correctly. In the post, I was only referring to those scenes where archers are ready to release their arrows (aim is right, position is right) but wait long seconds, even minutes to get the perfect dramatic timing for the scene. Of course depending on your strength, or your bow, one could hold it for up to a few minutes if one wished but that would only happen in the context of training, of exercising. What I wanted to demonstrate is that during a fight, while on a hunt,… no archer would sap his energy holding his bow at full draw any more than he needs to to shoot straight. That is especially true in the context of fighting as it would take an extraordinary amount of strength to keep holding a war bow anymore than necessary.
      As to the sounds bow can make, you’re also completely right; sometimes it can happen and also be prevented.
      The aim of this article isn’t an exhaustive writing on archery, there are wonderful books and other articles that touch on every detail out there. I simply wanted writers to get a strong knowledge base of what archery truely is and how it is done so they are not building their scenes with what they have been shown in movies/books which is often a “romanticized” version of it. That means I had to cut out a lot of details and make some general assumptions so to not have a too long post of a million characters 😉
      That being said, I really appreciate the time and effort you put behind your comment, all the precisions you made, as I’m sure every reader will find them useful too.
      Thanks again for your comment and keep having fun with archery!

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