7 Tips to Using Swords: Freebie Is to Avoid Sword Puns

Sword Art Online

I was originally going to write something similar to Monday’s post with a list of swords and some info about them.  Then I remembered how many different types of swords have existed.  Shortswords, longswords, flamberge, cutlass, rapier, saber, daggers, dirks, katanas, ninjato, hook swords, shotel, talwar, kampilan, gladius, claymore, broadsword, foil, epee, and the list keeps going.  Some are categories while others are types, but it’s a massive list.  Swords seem to have appeared in nearly every culture just like dragons and fearing your neighbors.  Instead, I’ll do a few tips on adding swords into your story.

  1. It isn’t always the pointy end that goes into the other man.  While there are plenty of swords for stabbing, it isn’t the only way to hurt someone.  Anything with a sharp edge can be used for slashing.  Certain hilts like the basket hilt can deliver a blunt shot to the face for stunning and breaking bones.  This also means that not every injury is a simple puncture wound and a character dying of a slash across the belly will be treated differently than a stabbed one.
  2. Not every swordsman starts off a fight with the bellowing charge, especially if they see range fighters.  I don’t know why some people think holding a sword turns a character into an idiot.  Since the weapon requires that you find and possibly create an opening, a frontal assault isn’t very useful.  In a big battle, it’s because everyone is charging, but one-on-one can start off slow as the two combatants size each other up.  If the enemy has a bow then a smart swordsman takes cover and tries to sneak around or get the archer to run out of arrows.
  3. The type of sword that a character uses can determine the rest of their equipment and tactics.  If you wield a two-handed weapon then you won’t have a shield.  If your weapon is a rapier that depends on flexibility and speed then platemail might not be the best choice.  You also can’t have a speed fighter using a weapon that is bigger than they are unless you establish that as a thing for the world.  I mean, Final Fantasy does it all the time, so I assume it’s part of the universe.
  4. If you pick a unique sword shape then know what the use of it was or give some reasoning for it.  Hook swords are a perfect example.  Dagger-like pommels, crescent-shaped guards for blocking and slashing, and hooked ends to put the two blades together or trip an enemy.  It’s a complicated weapon that needs a lot of training, so a novice shouldn’t be using one very well unless there is a really good reason given.  I’m talking reincarnation of the inventor or they can imitate a fighting style by watching it and his father used them.  By the way, the Flamberge’s design is to sound vibrations along a parried blade and slow contact.  For so long, I thought it was done just to look like a flame.
  5. Not every sword is created equal in terms of durability and quality.  Consider this when arming a hero with a non-magical weapon.  Weapon breakage typically only happens for the plot, but you can have it happen to enemies and supporting cast.  This can also show that the warrior is more than the weapon because you really need to think on your feet if you only have a foot of broken blade left.
  6. If you do use non-European blades in a fantasy world that is very European then explain the difference in style.  Perhaps there’s another country that is more Asian, which is why katanas are around.  Somebody could have recently created the blade after a lifetime of design.  At the very least, explain why that weapon was designed.  For example, Kira Grasdon uses a kusari-gama, which is a Japanese weapon.  Yet, she comes from a Middle Eastern desert people.  I explained the weapon’s existence there by pointing out that it helps in defeating giant scorpions. They can strike out of pincer range and get the chain around the stinger to have some control over its movements. Now, this isn’t a necessity, but people do get twitchy when you mix up cultures in a fictional world where those cultures and countries never existed in the first place.
  7. Don’t forget the scabbard.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, but most swordsmen don’t walk around with a naked blade.  The scabbard protects against the elements and prevent the character from looking like he’s about to stab someone.  If the weapon is sheathed then it won’t hurt anyone by accident and there’s less chance of a fight breaking out over a misunderstanding.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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28 Responses to 7 Tips to Using Swords: Freebie Is to Avoid Sword Puns

  1. L. Marie says:

    Oh my goodness! This is so helpful! Great tips! I don’t know anything about swords. I’ve never handled one (except for the ones that friends have). I didn’t want to fake knowledge that I didn’t have, so my characters use knives (which I at least have used).

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  2. L. Marie says:

    That’s why I don’t usually mention swords. I don’t have your history with them. Though I love when authors use an iconic sword in a story.

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  3. We won’t even mention the urumi – those things are as dangerous to the user as to the opponent 😱

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  4. So many choices. Your knowledge is amazing.

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  5. Wow, what a list of swords! I’ll have to read up about some of those, they sound interesting.

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  6. I love how you mention choice of weapon deciding a lot of the rest of the equipment. Sometimes the weapon conjures a strong image, like an epee being so associated with the Three Musketeers and their world of 17th-Century France.

    You could also use tidbits about weapons to suggest more about the world. For instance, if they’re made of steel vs. iron that tells both the resources available and the technical development of the smiths.

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    • True. Weapon advancement can show a lot about social structure, smithing level, and also what they focus on. A society of strength would have larger weapons than one that focuses more on stealth and speed.

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  7. Pingback: Writing Links 8/21/17 – Where Genres Collide

  8. Bookmarking! Thank you for that great piece of research.

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  9. Pingback: A Brief Guide To A Fantasy Arsenal | Nicholas C. Rossis

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