In one scene in my YA fantasy my characters are at a party on a beach. One piece of the setting is a group of teenagers playing a game, which my main characters later join. The game itself is not the focus of the scene, and if this were in a modern story I would label it as volleyball or frisbee and leave it as that. Since this is fantasy in a world that is not ours, I do not have that option.

My question is should I briefly describe a game that is common to readers, or should I take the time to develop a new one? My concern is either boring the reader or taking away from the flow of the story.

  • Not really worthy of an answer, but if you're looking at ideas of how real(ish) sports can be done in a fantasy environment - check out the game Blood Bowl (which is essentially American Gridiron in Fantasy), or Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals, which revolves around Football (soccer for you uneducated Americans ;p) coming to Discworld.
    – user18397
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 8:18

4 Answers 4


If the game isn't the focus of your scene, I would just name it, say it was a game and get on with the story. The reader doesn't need to know the rules, how you play, strategy, etc. unless they are important to the story. If you want your character to cheat, just describe what he/she does and say 'knowing that stuffing the flangle into his boot was cheating' or something similar. In Harry Potter, the game is important and so is described in detail at various points.

  • 3
    Agreed, essentially my answer. I would add that if elements of the game involve skill, like throwing or acrobatic dives or other athleticism, admiration or derision for those can be included in the description, and may provide clues to the reader about characters. Joe can't throw, Karen caught a ball left handed while diving through the air and still threw it for a score, to the raucous, shouting astonishment of everyone. I would make up some game, not the rules and all but invent something you can put to good use in character development.
    – Amadeus
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 14:36
  • 3
    Agreed. Aside from a name, I might include what the game entails or is played with, just to give the reader something to fill in. Is it played with a ball? A disc? Perhaps it involves running. Or jumping. Or snoring peacefully. Beyond that though, not much description is needed. Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 18:53

The other option is to go the Calvinball route (the sport played by Calvin and Hobbs in the comic series of the same name. The one consistent rule was "Never use the same rule set twice)... describe the actions, but the rules are never constantly apparent to the reader. You can allude to great players and maneuvers and they are so inconsistent as to give the reader no understanding other than "it's a sport". Consider the type of people who read fantasy stories: Most really aren't sports fanatics and to many, discussing the real rules of a real world sport make as much sense as the current ruleset of Calvinball.


The general answer to questions of this type, is that you should know all the details of the sport, but only the ones that serve the story should make it onto the page (advice adapted from Sturgeon, via Delany).

If you don't know all the details, your world will feel thinly imagined, and the reader will read the scene and think "wow, elf volleyball, lame" But if you stuff all the details into the story, it will ruin the story's flow and feel self-indulgent.

If you know all the details, you can drop the relevant ones in as needed, and it will give the sense of a larger, more fully realized world off camera. This also raises the possiblity that something you might not have thought of as important when it was just elf volleyball becomes signficant when it's actually the ancient sport of Ken' Da-rah.


Many games have names that say exactly what the game is.



Skipping stones.

--- I would name the game with a generic descriptor in capital letters (capitol letters?) such that the reader knows that is the title of the game and the basic idea.

Sword fight. ? If this is appropriate!

Basket Ball - Could be called Hoop Ball, or Ball-in-Ring, etc.

You could call Volley Ball "Net Ball." The reader will 'get it.'

  • Apart from the Net Ball bit as netball is actually a sport and completely different to volleyball, and would be more likely to increase confusion and disassociate the reader
    – user18397
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 23:13

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