The Value of First Hand Experience

Mar 12, 2017 | Opinions


The interesting, and difficult, thing about being a writer is that you must usually write about things that are outside your experience. The wonderful thing about being a writer is that your writing is enriched by your experience. Being a fantasy writer, this begs the question: how do you get experience of things that are very obviously not real? I don’t think there’s a good answer to that. I certainly wouldn’t rule out anyone writing about a topic that they can’t experience, but that just puts the onus on them to do as much intensive research into the subject as possible. Hence, you get a Google search history that reads like a cross between a medieval serial killer and a cryptozoologist.

Seriously, never ask why I once spent an hour researching the names of specific pieces of armor, and the effective cutting resistance of forged steel.

Still, there’s something to be said for having first hand experience. And this is why I’ve acquired these: a pair of Okinawan sai.

They’re eighteen inches long, because my arms are relatively short. The right length for a sai depends on the length of the wielder’s forearm.

One of the main characters in my other fantasy series uses a pair of daggers. Originally, I wrote her using the usual generic daggers, but a lot of things changed when I started training in western martial arts and I learned, first hand, what it feels like to wield a sword and the mechanics of swordplay. I decided that she should wield a pair of sai instead, so that my writing would be informed by an actual, versatile martial technique.

But if she is going to use them effectively, then so do I. If I write about a character’s use of a weapon, especially if they’re significant to that character, I must know how to use them. It’s important to me that the fighting in my fantasy come from a place of realism. I have to know the weight, the feel, the limitations of the weapon.

I see a lot of kata training in my future. Wish me luck.