I was watching the Star Wars Prequels the other day with a friend, and while I watched young Anakin Skywalker in the pod race, I had an epiphany: sports are a large part of culture, and are often neglected in world building practices.
So I figured I would go about studying some different fictional sports and pulling the main tenants of creating a sport in order to help you in your fictional endeavors.
There are a few things you'll need to create a sport:
1. How do you win?
2. How do you score (if you score)?
3. How is it organized?
4. (Optional) Why do people play?
Some of the sports that come to mind immediately are Quidditch (from Harry Potter) and, of course, the pod racing from Star Wars. These will be my main examples, as they're two very different sports and provide some variety for our purposes here.
1. How do you win?
In any racing sport, this tenant is pretty simple. You're the first person across the finish line. Or, in some cases, the only person across the finish line.
In a game like Quidditch, however, there are some important rules that determine who wins. Your goal is to end the game with the highest number of points, gained by scoring goals—throwing a quaffle through one of the three hoops at the opposite end of the field—and by catching the snitch, an automatic point bonus of 30 points.
Catching the snitch also ends the match, so there are ideal times to catch the snitch and unideal times to catch the snitch, because if you catch it too early, you could cause the other team to win depending on how bad your team is at scoring.
2. How do you score?
In racing, there isn't really a way to score, unless you count laps. So we'll move on to a slightly less straightforward sport.
In Quidditch, as mentioned before, you have to get the ball through the hoops without getting knocked off your broom.
Other models to look at are soccer, where you're trying to kick the ball into the goal, volleyball, where you're trying to force the ball to hit the ground on the other side of the net, or football, where you're trying to get the ball into the end zone for a touch down or trying to kick it through the field goal for fewer points.
However you choose to determine how the player(s) score, keep in mind that there can be multiple ways for them to score.
3. How is it organized?
Is this a team sport (Quidditch)? Is this individuals against one another (racing)? Is this a timed success sport (whoever lasts the longest, i.e. arm wrestling or boxing)? Where do coaches fit into this mix? Is it followed by the general population or is it more of an underground sport? Do people bet on it, like horse racing?
You have options here. Explore them. Have fun with them. Have fun creating team pride merchandise. (This will also be helpful if your book ever becomes a big hit. Because who of us doesn't know our Hogwarts house? That could be you with your book. Just imagine that feeling.)
4. Why do people play?
While this isn't required for the creation of the sport, it could impact the attitude toward the sport in the culture as a whole.
For example, in The Hunger Games, the Games could be looked at as a sport with the tributes the players. Why do the tributes play? They're forced to. For some Districts, this means they train from birth to be prepared for it. For others, this means they make the most of it by getting all they can out of putting their name in more times—such as gaining more food portions as we see in District 12.
Quidditch is a school and professional sport, so people tend to play for the potential fame, as we see with Ginny.
Anakin Skywalker was a slave when he started pod racing, and he began racing because his owner made him. This impacted how his mother felt about the sport and how the competitors he raced against felt about competing. Many of them were in the same position he was in, and losing or doing poorly could mean harsh consequences.
Like I said, this isn't necessary for the creation of a sport, but it does impact how the general public feels about the sport and that can be a major factor in the writing of the sport.
I hope this helps you as you go about deciding whether you want to put a new sport in your books. I'd love to see more fictional sports and games of any kind in the books I read.
Make sure to check out the rest of the Creating Culture series on my blog for more world building help, or check out the How to Write a Suspense Novel series for tricks and tips on how to keep your readers turning pages, no matter your genre.
J. J. Hanna graduated from Taylor University with a degree in Professional Writing. She's currently working with literary agent Cyle Young as a literary scout. In what free time she has left, she also works as a freelance writer and editor. To hire her for editing, writing, speaking, or consulting, see the services tab. She can often be found cuddling with a cat, reading the latest suspense novel, or filming YouTube videos about the publishing industry.
Follow her on most social media @authorjjhanna