Games in Boys’ Books

I’m racing forward with the first draft of my latest middle grade fantasy…and learning things left and right as I go. Is it just me, or do other writers find the writing process a terrific teacher? Since I’m writing middle grade fiction right now, you all get to hear about my middle grade fiction insights <grin>.

****DRUMROLL….Here it comes….BOYS LOVE GAMES!****

boy*Photo courtesy of Jerry on Flickr Creative Commons

Okay, maybe it’s not *that* revolutionary an idea, but I think it’s worth keeping in mind if you write middle grade stories. Games can be a great way to add action, explore theme, develop character, and engage the ever-elusive boy reader.

Games feature prominently in several great books for middle school students.

  • In the Harry Potter series, the sport of Quidditch provides a backdrop against which Harry is challenged both mentally and physically and, ultimately, triumphs. J.K. Rowling uses the Quidditch pitch as a place to develop characters, ramp up conflict, and reveal key plot points, all woven in with the action and tension of a game.
  • In Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief,  Rick Riordan unfolds plot and develops character via a game of capture-the-flag—fought with real swords.
  • Hunger Games revolves around a game gone horribly wrong—a “game” that is a life-and-death challenge for our heroine, but because it’s a game, is filled with an unending stream of creative challenges.
  • Ender’s Game (not really a middle grade book, but still read by many middle schoolers) prominently features a teaching “game” that—SPOILER ALERT—turns out not to be a game at all.

Games don’t fit into every story, but a tool this powerful deserves consideration. I’ll write more about how to use games on Monday. Meanwhile, are you wondering if I put a game in my book? You bet!

What about you: Do you incorporate games, sports, or other types of play into your writing? If so, why?

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  1. Andrea Mack says

    Great post! You've gotten me thinking an early (and abandoned) draft of a story I wrote with a game in it. Hmmm…

  2. Cheryl Reif says

    Yay! That's what I want to hear! (And thanks! )

    Ever since I started thinking about this, I've been noticing kids playing games. Everything can be turned into some sort of make-believe, contest, race, or game with numerous elaborate rules….

  3. Julie Musil says

    You are soooo right! I have three sons, and they turn everything into a game or competition. Oh, and we can't forget weapons. Every stick, pebble, or rope becomes some sort of imaginary sword or grenade.

    My novel features football, so my husband and son had to read through the scenes for accuracy!

  4. Scott Niven says

    Ahhh, Ender's Game, one of my favorite books of all time. And Hunger Games, my favorite book from last year. I don't think any of my stories have games in them. I'm going to have a change that…

  5. Cheryl Reif says

    Hi Julie–that's what I need, expert readers! My boys are happy to read my middle grade fiction, but my YA is too girly :P. I know what you mean about weapons, too. As young parents, we had a "no toy guns" rule. Guess how effective that was? Now my oldest plays Humans vs. Zombies with nerf guns….

  6. Cheryl Reif says

    Hi Scott–I love it when I find people who share my favorite books :). If you add a game somewhere, be sure to let us know!