My best recommendation is to stop thinking about this character as a girl first and fighter second. You’re trying to come up with ways to make the fighting possible for her, instead of accepting that combat is a skill that can be developed by anyone given the proper amount of training and dedication. What weapon would you give this character if they were male?
That’s your answer.
As for picking weapons, I tend to pick weapons as a part of character creation and developing backstory (that blows up a little if the character is already established). I have a habit of doing this the same way I would write a crime: Motive. Method. Opportunity.
Motive: Why did this character want to learn to fight? What reason did they have to seek out training?
Most times, even in a family of established fighters, a character has to make the decision to train and to fight. This decision is a personal one and it can be anything from a desire for self protection to dreaming of being a knight in ballad. If you are working with a setting where female warriors are uncommon, then the character’s motivation for going against societal norms becomes that much more important.
Learning to fight is hard work and depending on that character’s background may well ruin any chance at conventional beauty/traditional womanhood/marriage opportunities that will better the standing of their families. It’s more than just an unusual choice, depending on the setting and gender constraints it could very well be an incredibly selfish one.
So, it’s important to establish that as part of the character.
Method: Who taught them? The good combatants have a teacher and the sword is a weapon that requires instruction, both in the manner of caring for the weapon and how to use it against other opponents. The character is going to need a teacher who can teach them to use that specific version of the weapon.
Did they have an in house tutor like Brienne of Tarth or Arya Starke? Did they receive their training when they joined the local military or militia? Did they have a parent train them? Were they carrying a blade that was common amongst peasants of their time like the arming sword or a weapon that was more regularly associated with the nobility like the long sword?
Opportunity: And what is a method if the character has no opportunity to take it? Think about your character’s background and social constraints, then pick a path that makes the most sense for them and was common for the people of their time (or the time/culture you’re basing it off of). The method they use will inevitably lead them to the right weapon.
This is where research is your friend, by narrowing down your path to profession and time period, you can better establish what your options are.
Remember: any weapon will work. Combat is a skill that can be learned and the only real physical barrier to entry is how hard you’re willing to work to learn it and the opportunities given to learn.
I didn’t pick taekwondo because it was the best suited to my size and body type, I picked the Ernie Reyes organization because they put on a performance at my elementary school that I really enjoyed. I saw it, said “I want to be able to do that”, took home the flier, and my parents signed me up.
I knew a lot of other kids (both boys and girls) who got into martial arts because they loved Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers.
The longbow versus crossbow question is actually fairly easy, both require a fair amount of strength to wield, but the truth is that care for the weapon is the most important point to maintain ease of drawing. Both require regular oiling and careful, specialized handling to ensure that they remain in a ready state of use.
The longbow is for characters like hunters, scouts, and nobles. Someone who grew up learning to or needing to hunt as a means for providing for their families. It can fire more rapidly than a crossbow, but requires more time to learn, more practice, and more training to be used effectively. In mass combat, archers were used in the same manner modern artillery is used today. The crossbow surpassed the longbow for the same reason that the gun surpassed the crossbow: it took a shorter amount of time to become as or more deadly than the other weapon, thus cheaper to replace when your troops fell. A lost archer is one to two to ten years of experience, compared to a lost crossbowman or gunman which is “point that way and fire”.
The crossbow is probably for a character who was trained via the military. A military trained character, depending on the time frame, will also be proficient in the use of anti cavalry tactics and pole arms. A female military conscript could easily just be a peasant girl whose mother dressed her up as a boy to either hide her from the men or hide a more valuable male sibling from the soldiers looking for recruits. It was not uncommon for peasants in the medieval period to be called up as levies to support their lord on the battlefield. They were usually just handed a spear and sent off to die, but there might be some workable ideas in there.
Training molds the body into a more suitable shape for the physical activity. So, if your fighter is a noblewoman, don’t expect her to keep the secret for long. Also, servants talk. People are observant. They will know.
Some things to think about.
My general rule of thumb on love interests is to try to incorporate them into the story as early as possible and to ensure that they are fully fleshed out characters with their own arc in the story. A successful love interest is one that is a recognizable individual and, for me anyway, the best part about even a romantic subplot is watching the two characters interactions as they fall in love. In a novel that runs between 70,000 to 100,000 words that’s not a lot of time to fit in a subplot beneath the main plot if the love interest is introduced in the middle or at the end.
However, the real problem is that you haven’t figured out who this character is yet. If you don’t know who he is, what he likes, what his goals and dreams are, and the itty bitty minutia of quirks that make people so interesting, how can you know what his place in the story is or even if he’s going to be suitable to even be the love interest?
The thing about falling in love is that it is in essence, a learning experience. In my opinion, that’s the joy of the early stages love. The joy that comes after the infatuation stage. The joy of discovery, of finding the person behind the mask. I’m going to borrow the lyrics from The King and I song “Getting to Know You”.
Getting to know you,
Getting to know all about you.
Getting to like you,
Getting to hope you like me.
Getting to know you,
Getting to feel free and easy
When I am with you,
Getting to know what to say
Haven’t you noticed
Suddenly I’m bright and breezy?
Because of all the beautiful and new
Things I’m learning about you
Day by day.
However, for a love story to really take root, the characters need time to get to know each other and the reader needs time to get to know them. This can only happen though if there’s fertile ground for that to take root, otherwise you’ll end up falling back on generic language that usually relates to being in love but not what it means to be in love with Character X.
Love takes two and each character needs to be fully realized with their own roles in the story outside of their romantic subplot. This doesn’t mean the love interest needs to be as important as the main character in the greater context of the novel, but they do need to be present and relevant.
The other important point is this: love comes in several different stages, but there is a difference between a character falling in love with their preconceived notions of who someone is (or who they want them to be) and falling in love with the actual person in question. This happens all the time in real life in many different kinds of relationships, so your character discovering a dichotomy between who they think someone is and who they actually are is incredibly important.
To do that well, you’ll need two characters who are put into situations where they must interact with each other on a regular basis. They have to get to know each other, see each other for who they really are, and not look away. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
For me, real love is about finding someone with whom I can trust my broken pieces to. The safe refuge in the storm. The person who is willing to look at me, in all my imperfections, and not ask me to change to suit them. I don’t want the person who wants the best version of me, I want the person who wants me. As I am. No unnecessary edits to the personality to make me more palatable. A gloriously imperfect love between two flawed human beings. (Which I do have, thanks.)
There is nothing more frustrating for me as a reader than not knowing why two characters are getting together or, worse, that the process of them getting together is held off for several books when the couple’s issues could easily be resolved in one.
Writing romantic subplots is difficult. Good luck!
Making Your Writing Realistic
Keeping your writing realistic and relatable is a challenge all writers face. We want our readers to connect with our characters and we want our stories to feel as real as possible. If you’re having trouble making your writing realistic, try following these simple tips:
Strengths and weaknesses
All of your characters need both strengths and weaknesses to be relatable. Your protagonist definitely cannot be a “perfect” character; otherwise you run the risk of alienating your audience. No one wants to see a character doing everything perfectly all the time because that’s just not how it works in real life. We want to see them making mistakes and learning from those mistakes to become a better person. All of your characters need to have weaknesses and flaws.
Focus on world building
A world that hasn’t been fully developed will not come across as very realistic. Your readers want to understand how your world works and how your characters engage/connect with your world. Take the time to develop your world and figure out how each character would live on a daily basis. If you don’t have an understanding of how your world works, your readers won’t either.
Listen to real conversations
Writing realistic dialogue is super important if you want readers to relate to your writing. Listening to real conversations will help you form your own dialogue. How do people really talk to each other? How can you put that into your writing? I know dialogue is stylized in books and film, but realistic dialogue goes a long way. Do your best to avoid clichés.
Humanize your characters
You need to take it a step further than just developing strengths and weaknesses. Focus on character quirks, hobbies, accents, etc. Filling out character sheets will really help you develop your characters properly. The more the audience knows about them, the more realistic your characters will be. Humanize your characters by focusing on what makes who they are. Take those character archetypes to the next level.