Posted by: Bridgett.
As the knight neared the forge, only the backsmith’s back and a muffled, “See to ya in a moment,” greeted him. The burly man kept his gaze fixed on the set of iron tongs he held over the fire, the blade they gripped glowing orange in the midst of the flames.
The knight fanned away a gust of heated air and blinked the sting of woodsmoke from his eyes. “I can spare at least that long,” he shouted over the din of nearby armorers pounding out shields and breastplates.
“Sire.” The blacksmith favored him with a brief glance and nod. “This blade’s near ready for quenching. Can’t interrupt the process just yet.”
After a few moments, the blacksmith withdrew the red-hot shaft of steel from the forge and dunked it, point-first, into a vertical tube of warmed oil. The liquid hissed and smoked. He lifted the blade part-way from the tube, flames licking along its edge, then plunged it in again. After several repetitions of this, he withdrew the blade and laid it carefully aside to cool.
He snatched up a cloth to mop his shining brow and turned to the knight. “How may I serve?”
—modified excerpt from Dark Prism (working title)
The pen is mightier than the sword
We’ve all heard that quote, but can the sword make the pen mightier? For that matter, can learning about swords help us sharpen our faith?
As a fantasy author, I get to research many strange and interesting things. A while back, one of my main characters decided he needed to talk with a blacksmith—to interrupt him, in fact—right in midst of forging a sword. Research time! I read articles, studied the history of armor & weaponry, and watched YouTube videos of actual swords being forged…all to get a blacksmith’s actions right in one paragraph of one scene of my second novel.
I was surprised to discover that the steps involved in forging a sword or dagger are a fitting analogy for the sharpening and perfecting of our words…whether in the writing craft or as spiritual weapons.
1. Forging: Intense heat is an absolute requirement for the shaping of the sword. Without heat, you can hammer the metal all day, but all you’ll get is a stiff, blunt bar that’s full of dents and scuff marks.
Faith: (Zach. 13:9, James 1:2-4). Here, the fire I’m thinking of isn’t just circumstances that test whatever area of faith we are focused on. It can take the form of deeply rooted doubts or the words of others, which contradict or question the principle we are believing. If faith is never tested, we don’t have a chance to sharpen the words, the weapons we use to defend it and keep it strong in our own hearts.
Writing: “Rejection.” “Criticism.” A couple words sure to make a writer’s blood boil, eyes sting, or cheeks catch fire. If we are wise, though, we’ll use those flames to sharpen our craft and strengthen our prose. Sometimes, we actually learn more from recognizing poor writing than we do from getting it right. (This is also true when we read poorly-written published books.)
2. Hammering: To shape, sharpen, and strengthen the blade, blacksmiths pound the hot metal repeatedly. Besides lengthening the steel and narrowing it at the edges, they often create a ridge, or fuller, down the center to make it stronger.
Faith: Faith comes by hearing, and hearing, and…Well, you get the picture. (Rom. 10:17)
Writing: The same goes for craft techniques. Reading or hearing once won’t make a rule or method part of your writing. On occasion, it only took one hammer blow and a technique became a permanent part of my writing arsenal. But that is the rare exception. I’d read about the importance of avoiding adverbs, for instance, for two years before the reasons behind this sage advice truly sunk in. Now, my writers’ group members seem to think of me as the adverb police!
3. Tempering (or quenching): The blacksmith in the scene above used this technique to cool the blade for hammering and also to strengthen it. Unlike in many movie portrayals, warm oil is used rather than water, as water would weaken the metal or cause it to become brittle. This process is repeated several times as the blade is being shaped, alternating with the two steps mentioned above.
Faith: Oil is an anology often used for the Holy Spirit. The oil in a lamp that keeps the flame burning. The oil used to anoint someone for a high office or in preparation for undertaking an important or sacred task. The Holy Spirit helps us temper our words, even in the midst of the fire, just as oil tempers a hot blade.
Writing: In writing, I compare the oil to inspiration. Learning the craft & proper techniques are essential, but sometimes you just have to let those creative juices flow over you. Temper those useful critiques and oft-heard rules with sessions of pure writing. You can, and should, revise later. Just set fingers to keyboard and let the words flow! As with tempering steel, alternating this with the first two processes will make your words stronger and more precise than ever.
4. Getting a handle on things: A sword wielder also needs a safe place to hold onto the blade, an anchor to keep it steady during the fight. During forging, one end of the blade is shaped into a long, flat piece (the tang) which will fit inside the hilt. Hilts are usually made of wood and fastened to the tang with metal screws or spikes.
Faith: I think of this as being anchored in the Word. Without knowing the will of God or what His Word has to say on a matter, our faith and words have nothing to hold onto.
Writing: Creativity must be rooted in craft. Anchor those brilliant flights of fancy in proven writing techniques. Read craft books, visit writers’ blogs, and attend workshops…and revise, revise, revise!
5. Getting a good grip: A hilt is often wrapped in leather or wire or both to add comfort and prevent the warrior from losing her grip, and her head.
Faith: This reminds me of surrounding ourselves with people whose faith is similar to that which we are forging. Their words will help the anchor to hold & our hands (um, words) not to slip.
Writing: Authors are often introverts. I’ve developed that trait to a master’s level skill. Thing is, to hold onto the dream, the calling, we…need…each…other! Join critique groups, network online, attend conferences. These are the people who “get” you. When a character shouts dialogue in your head while you’re driving to work, and you can’t remember any of it later. When that last critique has convinced you you’re the worst writer to ever touch a keyboard. Surround yourself with those who won’t let you lose your grip.
6. Forming the guard: We need a guard to protect the sword hand from enemy blades & as an added anchor to prevent slippage.
Faith: This is prayer, not just in times of need, but in advance to protect us before trouble strikes, so our words will be ready, & steady, to meet it
Writing: Develop a thick skin. Prepare your heart, in advance, to receive criticism and rejection as teaching tools, rather than letting them tear you down
Here are a couple of other good practices our friend the blacksmith can teach us:
Never turn your weapons on a friend or ally.
Your blade must have constant upkeep to stay sharp, strong, & free of rust.
Will I ever forge a sword like author Robert Treskillard did for the cover of his novel Merlin’s Blade? Not likely. With my vision, lighting a candle can be a tricky business. Me, manning a forge? Bad idea. However, what I’ve learned will help me remember to continually forge new weapons of faith & to keep my words in shape for battle.
How are you forging your faith or writing expertise?
About the author:
Bridgett Powers has defied the limitations of impaired vision and overcome a 21-year battle against chronic pain, all of which taught her a profound truth. God shines brightest through cracked lanterns.
Now, she shares that truth through her fantasy novels, picture book, and short stories. A member of ACFW and MyBookTherapy, she also serves as co-leader and writing coach for the Write Now writers’ group, operates a proofreading and editing service, and teaches writing workshops.