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Bringing Your Bookish Event to Life with Themed Activities

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

The most important element of a book-inspired event is not the theme, the decorations, or even the cute food. When you are hosting an event that is meant to take place in another world – like a Harry Potter party or an Alice in Wonderland tea – the REAL reason your guests will feel like they’ve actually traveled into a story is the things that you DO during the party.

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Imagine that you’re the guest, and you arrive at this hypothetical Harry Potter party in your house robes, clutching your wand. In that moment between when you ring the doorbell and your host opens the door, you will have a moment of panic/hope, where your brain says, “ooh, I hope this is good! But what if it isn’t?” That Potterhead fan deep inside you really wants that door to open onto Hogwarts.

If this event turns out to be just a normal get-together at a friend’s house, where everyone stands around eating, drinking and chatting, that’s … fine … but it’s certainly not the enchanted evening your secret internal book nerd was hoping for.

But … if you have to give a password to the Fat Lady to enter the house, then you sit on a stool in the front hall with the Sorting Hat on your head and hear someone call out your house, then they hand you a Marauder’s Map of the house and you see that “classes” are set up in each room, so you go to the dungeon and make potions, then you go to Divination and have your tea leaves read, then you go to Charms and make a fancy wand with a dowel and hot glue and paint, then you go to History of Magic which is actually a Harry Potter trivia game with all the other guests … you will have a spectacular time, and you’ll remember that party forever.

The secret to hosting a really thrilling immersive event is to plan some themed activities throughout the party. Getting your guests up out of their seats and interacting with each other in a fun way that references back to the original book or story is the key.

Now, some books/movies/stories don’t have specific activities written into them, while others are FULL of potential activities that you can use – I mean seriously, I can go on for ten more minutes just listing off more Harry Potter activities, like playing Quidditch, learning martial arts “defense against the dark arts”, having a spell duel, having a triwizard tournament – honestly, it’s endless. But let’s say I sit down to plan a Twilight themed event …. Well, the ideas don’t really come cascading out.

But, never fear … there are some easy basic activities that you can customize for any theme or fandom, and I’m going to explain to you how it’s done.

This list I’m going to give you will be a sort of template, or fill-in-the-blank for you to use to plan engaging activities for any themed event.

The three basic activities that are always a hit at parties are:

  1. A themed game

  2. A hands-on craft

  3. A trivia contest

You can do one, two or all three, depending on the ages of your guests and how much space and time you have. You know, if you’re throwing a Downton Abbey tea party for your grandmothers and great aunts, they may prefer to skip the game, or if your group is made up of all small children, then the trivia contest might not be right for them … but this is a solid place to start. Think about what your guests would enjoy doing, then just customize these basic ideas to your favorite theme, and your immersive event is ready to impress your guests. And of course, you can add any additional activities beyond these three that sound fun to you.

Let’s take a Jane Austen book as an example. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility … any of her books will do since the settings are so similar. Start to think about the Regency-era atmosphere of the books, and the sort of quintessential, often-repeated situations that her characters find themselves in, and your brain will start to percolate with ideas to tailor those three basic activities to feel like they’re taking place in a Jane Austen novel.

For example, for a craft, you and your guests could make a little floral nosegay, where you wrap a paper doily into a cone and add some flowers and ribbon. That’s feminine and dainty, totally something you can imagine characters from these novels carrying around, and it’s easy to find the materials, simple to create, and they can take it home with them as a favor.

Then, to continue with the Jane Austen example, for your game you could adjust the goal of some “common game” to become something Jane-related like, Pin the Hankie on the Fainting Spinster or Spin the Bottle of Homemade Cordial and Find A Husband, or Hide from the Unwanted Suitor and Seek a Way to Become and Independent Woman…. Or anything else you can think of! Obviously I’m exaggerating for effect, but you see what I mean, right? Let your imagination roam. And if you have trouble getting started, you can look up online some lists of games for summer campers or icebreaker games for adults to start the brainstorming process, then just sort of sit with your story, let that marinate, close your eyes and think about the classic, characteristic parts of your story and see where you can match them up with your game ideas.

The third activity, the trivia contest, is super easy to plan - just write up some questions and answers ahead of time, and use the internet if you need a refresher on some of the more obscure details. Then you can gather everyone together, let them make teams or play individually, and the winner can receive a crown or a medal or even a little prize like a copy of the book that inspired your party, or some little licensed merchandise item, or you can even make a run to the thrift store and grab something like a teacup for a dollar, or a journal that you can wrap with ribbons in Hogwarts house colors … whatever you can find that works with your theme. And the contest works well as a final activity, since once someone wins, it sort of brings closure to the event.

You will need to sit down and do a little thinking to come up with just the right activities, but it’s not brain surgery. You’re creative, you can do it!

Here’s a little inspiration for you from some of the events I hosted at The Storyteller’s Cottage before the pandemic.

At our Escape to Narnia day we started by learning how to play classic children’s games like marbles, just like the Pevensie kids did, then we went through the wardrobe where it was snowing cotton balls on thread hung from the ceiling, to meet the White Witch where she asked the trivia questions and we had to answer them correctly to be allowed to leave her castle,, then we ended up in the dining room for Tea with Tumnus that of course included Turkish delight.

At our Outlander Night, we had a fortune teller upstairs in The Chapel who read people’s runes, then down in the Laird’s Leg Pub we played an Scottish game called Blethers where players had to guess who said a particular quote from the show, then in the Cottage Cloister we made bookmarks and cards using paper scraps with Scottish themed prints, and we ended the night with a singalong where everyone sung that beautiful Outlander theme song.

At our Last Night on the Titanic party, we welcomed everyone with drinks on a tray as they checked in for their voyage. Then we had a Morse Code challenge game, and a photo booth set up with luggage and nautical flags, and each person found a message in a bottle at their plate when they sat down for dinner that contained an era-specific topic for discussion, then we had a live harpist and fiddle player wearing life jackets playing music that people could dance to after dinner, and after dessert the Unsinkable Molly Brown came around yelling that the ship was sinking and as everyone left out the back door we gave them each a survival kit containing arm floaties, a whistle and white lifesaver candies.

And we even had a really fun Leap Into the Unknown party on Leap Day, where the theme was discovering new things and trying new things. We had a scavenger hunt and a blind taste testing of really weird foods, and our craft was to make evil eye keychains to ward off bad fortune in the future, and our resident storyteller made up tales about Leap Day William, who is a character from 30 Rock, and then we all learned this weird Victorian parlor game that no one had ever heard of called Reverend Crowley’s game and as you can see from the pictures, a fantastic time was had by all :)

So, good luck planning some fun activities for your immersive event, and let me know in the comments what you came up with!

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