Take just about any action-based property and you’ll find, somewhere within it, an iconic weapon. A lightsaber in Star Wars. Frodo’s glowing dagger in The Lord of the Rings. Harry’s wand in Harry Potter. Ash’s ‘boomstick’ in the Evil Dead series. So on and so forth.
Because of the outsized place a weapon holds as a hero’s instrument of justice or a villain’s deliverer of pain, settling on what your characters are going to wield is worth taking a bit of thought. Below are a few things I’ve found to be useful when deciding what someone’s going to use when they need to smash some skulls.
- The setting must support it – This is big, and the most important (in my opinion). If your hero, wandering the galaxy as a star-hopping space pilot, wields a broadsword, you’ve got to have a really, really good explanation for why. Star Wars pulled together the Jedi and some sort of noble honor in order to make lightsabers a viable thing in a universe full of laser-spewing rifles. Similarly, if your bar brawler in the old west carries a machine gun or, again, a sword, you’ll have to jump through hoops to make it viable to your readers. In Wild Nines, everyone uses some variation on a gun for their primary weapon. It simply makes the most sense for the setting. In Riven, Carver wields a knife and a lash (essentially a whip with a piercing bit at the end), which, given the time period of the book and the lack of ammunition in the world, makes sense.
- Give the weapon a backstory – Let’s look at Harry Potter for a moment. In a world full of wands, there doesn’t appear to be a reason why Harry’s wand should be unique. There’s thousands, so why would his be special? However, his wand, his specifically, has a backstory as described by Ollivander when Harry first gets the wand. The make-up of Harry’s wand is unique, and it has specific ties that aren’t shared with any other. Therefore, Harry’s wand now has its own identity, rather than being one of many. In Lord of the Rings, many swords and daggers have their own names, complete with histories as they’re passed down from one person to the next. Many fantasy novels do this, and it lends a weapon character – a personality of sorts. Your character isn’t just drawing a sword to face the dragon, they’re unleashing WyldFyre, Blade of the Everlasting Blaze to strike down their foe. If nothing else, it sounds cooler.
- Determine the Enemy first – This isn’t always necessary, but if you’re truly at a blank when considering what you want your characters to wield, look at what they’ll be going up against. It’s not so fun to put a bunch of energy and time into developing weapons that won’t have any play in the major conflicts. For example, if you give your guy a mystical club but then have her constantly waging naval battles, it’s kind of pointless. Better to give her a nifty pistol that she can actually use. Similarly, if the weapon simply wouldn’t make sense, short swords on horseback, say, then you may want to tweak your weapons so they’d be ones your characters would actually use in the situations at hand. Take a look at Evil Dead – here, Ash faces off against a wild menagerie of horror creatures, but he’ll often resort to blasting them in the face with the shotgun. Would a sword make for more “intense” combat? Sure, but the shotgun’s more fun. And more effective than the sword. So when Ash has the option, he’s going to go for the shotgun, and we agree with the choice.
- Be careful with ammo – I”m going to caution against choosing weapons with hard ammo counts. Things that blur the lines, like power packs, are easier to get away with than a rough-and-tumble cowboy with a six-shooter. You don’t want to be counting bullets in every scene, because your more attentive readers will. In the Riven trilogy, Carver uses a crossbow sometimes. Keeping track of the number of bolts he’s got at any moment is, honestly, a pain. Better to use an enchanted quiver that refills itself, or a gun that takes clips with so many bullets that counting it’s an option. Or, you know, get up close and personal where ammo isn’t something to worry about.
- What’s going to be fun? – Really. Ask yourself, because you’re probably already picturing your characters running around with something in their hands. What’s going to be entertaining? What do you really want to spend paragraph after paragraph describing your characters wielding? Because you will do that, and if you choose a boring weapon, you’re going to get bored writing about it and your readers won’t want to read it. Love karate? Maybe describing the many ways a fist can make contact with something else will give your novel a spark. Spend a lot of time at the range? Perhaps assault rifles are the thing for you because you can go on and on about the sound a shell casing makes when it hits the floor. Hit a lot of things with sticks? You get the idea.
In the end, the weapons you give your characters will, to some degree, define how your readers come to see them. How you see them. You never know – someday, you might see fake versions for sale in stores, or swung around in YouTube videos, which, truly, is the dream.
Sidenote: Spirit’s End is sprinting towards its conclusion. Should make it out within the next two weeks. Can’t wait to talk about what’s next!