Monday, June 20, 2011

Relating to Chickens (and other experiences)

While racking my brain over a topic to blog on, my chickens sidetracked me. Anyone who has had any sort of conversation with me knows I can always bring the topic around to chickens. Imagine my delight when it dawned on me I could combine two of my favorite things in the world (chickens and reading) into a blog. So what do chickens have to do with reading? Read on and find out.

I read. A lot. I am the proverbial girl with her nose stuck in a book. I walk through the house at bedtime to let the dog out and in, feed the fish one last time, give the cat a treat—all with a book in my face. I can’t help it. My husband doesn’t get it. My parents are not readers. It’s just the way I am.

So, those chickens. You don’t often come across books with chickens. Everytime I read a book with chickens in it, I can tell whether the author has real experience with chickens. The details of the sounds they make, their movements, and their personalities—if you have spent any time with chickens, you will learn their idiosyncracies (taptaptap—don’t worry it’s just the hens begging at the back door), just as you would with any other pet. What? You don’t have pet chickens? I highly recommend them. What other pet lays your breakfast?

I have recently read two books where chickens had some sort of role. One has a single hen who is favored by a goddess. The hen makes little chirrups and I can hear her when I read those passages. My hens make the same noise. The other story’s climax and resolution take place in and around a henhouse, and the hens pop up throughout the story, usually in trees (ever seen a chicken in a tree? Ridiculous sight!). The hens put up an unholy racket during the big scene, and I laugh every time I think of that scene (usually at 6:22 am when my hens start demanding their daily release into the back yard).

Both of these stories will always stick with me. I will enjoy them again and again, as well as recommend them to others because I identified with story elements. I always find I relate to a book and identify with a story’s characters if we have something in common. It could be the smallest detail (the hero has a chipped tooth? So does my husband!) to something important (the heroine dislikes conflict and acts as a mediator in hot situations? So do I!). These details are what round out a character and give them lifelike qualities. I delight in authors who pull on real life experiences and inject those experiences into their story. Those details are what pulls the reader into the book. It’s why I avoid non-fiction. I want to be in the book. I want to know the characters and escape to their world.

My advice? Write down all those funny stories and memorable experiences. Draw on your life’s experiences for ideas and inspiration. Better yet, go get a chicken.


Susan Yates said...

Great post, Sarah! I totally agree--it's the details that make the difference between a memorable book and one that's just OK.

Kelly McCrady said...

And if you throw in details you have not yourself experienced--and get it wrong--better get an editor who has or can look it up for you or who can point out "That doesn't sound right--are you sure about that?"

And if you're right, stick to your guns!

Diana Coyle said...

I loved your post! You had me laughing out loud that you wrapped it around chickens. I agree with you that a writer needs to make their writing as close as possible to the real thing when they describe something or otherwise they'll just lose their reader's trust along the way. Great job!

Lelani Black said...

I'm late chiming in but I have a coop and the best little hen-friends in the world. Every morning they squawk to be let out, and occasionally they'll find their way into the house and onto my lap when I'm writing. And yes, they've shaken their tail feathers and earned themselves a cameo in one of my books.

I totally relate to the believability of a story, and I've also run into a scenario where someone questioned the believability of the heroine in one of my stories wearing a Hawaii. I wore sweaters all the time as a secretary in downtown Honolulu's business district. We have cool season rain-weather in the islands, and air-conditioned buildings. Women also wear pantyhose and high heels. Lawyers wear three piece suits :) Sometimes it's nice to surprise readers with something they might not have realized until they read your book.