During my research for Alara’s Call, I read some great articles about archery. Unfortunately, that was in the days before I discovered Evernote, so I no longer have the links. But one of the most important things I learned is that one doesn’t fire a bow.
This was crucial, because I did at one point have a commanding officer tell his sergeant, armed with a crossbow, to “fire.” I really wish I could remember who wrote that article, because I’m indebted to him. The line now reads, “shoot.”
One can shoot or loose an arrow, but one does not fire it, even if it’s a flaming arrow. Although “fire” might be used to give the command to ignite the flaming arrow, it would not be the command given to loose the arrow.
“Fire” only came into use in the sense of “discharge your projectile” in the days of black-powder weapons. A lighted match or wick had to be touched to the powder to light it. Hence fire and firearm.
I found that some dictionaries define a crossbow as a weapon that “fires” bolts. But Merriam-Webster, the dictionary recommended by The Chicago Manual of Style, says a crossbow “shoots arrows.” I suppose if you were writing a modern or future story, you could get away with “firing” a crossbow, but some enthusiasts would call that wrong. If your story is set in a prefirearm culture, stick with shoot.
What to call the projectile from a crossbow
Dad is always one of my first beta readers, and while reading Alara’s Call he sent me an e-mail noting that I had called the crossbow projectile an arrow when it should properly be called bolt. This is mostly true.
The crossbow projectile is most commonly called bolt, and is also known as a quarrel. If you look up bolt and quarrel, you’ll find they’re defined as types of arrows. I used arrow first because it’s the more familiar term for most readers. Then later in the story I use the others interchangeably. Although most fantasy readers would get bolt right from the top, I wanted to accommodate those who are unfamiliar with the term.