Author Kelly Jones on Stories & Our Senses (and an audio game!)

Listen to Kelly Jones, author of Sauerkraut and Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, read her guest blog post! Or continue scrolling to read it.

When I started my career in making things up, I didn’t realize how much research I’d have to do.

Perhaps others who write fantasy novels don’t agree. But, my stories are grounded in everyday experiences – taking care of chickens and goats, kitchen projects, going to the hardware store, building stuff. I believe that what brings readers into stories and helps them feel like they’re there are sensory details: the funky smell of sauerkraut as it ages, the sound of tap dancing, the smell of chicken poop, the feel of RAM clicking into the slot on a motherboard.

I can find some of the details that make my stories feel real in books, or in articles, or reputable web sites. But, sometimes I need to go beyond that. I talk to experts and beginners, I watch videos explaining how to do things – but often I’m watching for what’s not being discussed. What are the presenters worried about? What looks heavy? What goes wrong?

And, sometimes I need to research things by trying them myself. That’s how I know how exciting it is to find the first egg in your nestbox. That’s how I know what cabbage mixed with salt feels like in your hands as you mix it. That’s how I know what makes your heart race when you try to fit delicate, expensive computer components together, and how terrible it feels when, after all that effort, it doesn’t work. And then how great it feels when you finally do get it right.

See, stories aren’t just made up of words on a page, or pictures in a book. They’re how those pieces make you feel. Every piece is like a puzzle, and adds something new – the words I write, the pictures the illustrators create, and the life experience that you, the reader, bring too. A great narrator adds a piece you might not even really notice at first – they step into a character’s shoes, and they use that character’s voice to tell the story.

The characters in my books aren’t real. I know, because I made them up.

But, my heart believes that Sophie and HD exist, because I’ve heard their voices from narrators Kyla García and Ron Butler. Just like my heart believes in magic.

Maybe you might want to build your own story someday, and make it feel so real that a reader’s heart believes in it too. Maybe you’re already thinking about how.

So, let’s talk about just one of our senses: hearing. I’ve recorded some of the sounds in my life that inspired parts of two of my stories: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer (about a girl named Sophie who’s taking care of chickens with superpowers), and Sauerkraut (about a boy named HD who wants to build his own computer – only, his ghostly great-great-grandmother needs his help with her sauerkraut project too.)

Can you guess what these sounds are, and which story they might fit into?

Play the clip to reveal the answer:

Play the clip to reveal the answer:

Play the clip to reveal the answer:

Play the clip to reveal the answer:

Now, here’s a challenge for you: listen for one sound in your world. It could be something everyday, or something unexpected. Describe that sound in a story, and hear how it brings your story to life.