When you’re a writer, you get to all the fun stuff other people would call “wasting time.”
But it’s not.
It’s book research.
Need some good character names? Check out lists of popular Austrian or Mongolian or Zambian names.
Want to know how long it takes to travel one hundred miles on foot? Google can tell you. And a whole lot more about hiking and wilderness survival. Good stuff to know for a future book.
Then there’s archery.
I’ve been working on my fantasy novel for a few years. Several of the main characters are accomplished archers (including the hero). I have them shooting arrows through the eyes of bandits or charging wild beasts.
So, when I heard of the opportunity to take a free archery class, I was all in. It sounded like a fun adventure to me. What better way to get a sense of what shooting a bow and arrow is really like?
The 35 or so of us rookie archers listened to the safely lecture. Most of the others were kids. They were amazingly patient through the list of rules. No poking out anyone’s eyes, please. I was probably the most fidgety one in the bunch.
Then the coaches handed out string bows so we could practice the motion of drawing back a bowstring.
And what is a string bow? Exactly what it sounds like. A long string with a reinforced section that mimics the grip of an actual bow.
We worked on pulling our strings to the corners of our mouths. I was sure I had that down pat.
Then they had us all do a little test to figure out which is our dominant eye. This is where I got into trouble.
They told me my dominant eye is my left. “But I’m right handed,” I said.
“But your left eye is dominant. You’ll have to give shooting left-handed a try and see what happens.”
When it was my turn to shoot, I selected a bright yellow left-handed bow. The bows we were using were modern bows, with wheels on the top and bottom. Not the primitive bows my fantasy characters use. But close enough for the purposes of my research.
We all had five arrows in our quivers. I was sure I’d have no problem hitting the target.
With assistance from the coach, I nocked my arrow on the string. Not a good start if I couldn’t do that task unaided.
Then I pulled the bowstring back. I could barely get my hand halfway to my mouth. I couldn’t hold the bow steady enough so I could take aim. The tip of the arrow danced around the gold circle in the center of the target.
I released the arrow. It hit the ground two feet in front of the target.
Pretending I saw nothing embarrassing my failure at all, I pulled another arrow from the quiver.
Nothing to be done but try again. At least I got the distance right this time.
Two more shots. One hit the target, but outside the outer circle. Still, that thwocking sound my arrow when it hit was very satisfying. Progress!
Then another coach wandered over. He saw me struggle to aim. “Stop a second. That bow is too hard for you.”
He pulled a little tool from his pocket and adjusted the top wheel. Then he moved to the lower one. “This one’s all messed up,” he said. “The top wheel’s too tight and bottom too loose.” Now they tell me.
He helped me line up my last shot. My stance had been all wrong. I didn’t raise my elbow high enough when I pulled back on the bowstring. I didn’t pull the bowstring all the way to my mouth.
Once we corrected all my errors of form, it was a lot easier to aim.
I still missed the target.
I told him I was right handed and having a hard time with the left-handed thing. He told me to try the other way next time.
When I got home, I had an idea. I took out my contacts and did the eye dominance test wearing my glasses.
This time my right eye was dominant.
The bifocal contact lenses had messed me up. No wonder I was having trouble sighting my arrow in the direction I wanted it to go. No surprise I was completely un-coordinated with my efforts to shoot left-handed.
Note to self: Next time, lose the contacts.
While I was a failure as an archer, I have a much greater appreciation for the skills I’m giving my fictional characters. And I have lots of material if I ever write about someone who tried to learn to shoot and was a complete failure.
It was an afternoon well-spent. I learned a lot and my husband was well-entertained watching me.
And I’m thinking I may need to go back for some more research. Just until I can hit the center of the target.
What adventures have you gone on in the pursuit of book research? Or just for the fun of it? Tell me about it in the comments.