When you hear the words “jury duty” what comes to mind? I know for a lot of people it means having to take time from work, losing money, schlepping into the city to your local courthouse for a week or sometimes more, and re-arranging your life for a short time.
True, jury duty is supposed to be an honor. It’s your civic duty. You may even start to think, if I were on trial, how would I feel knowing no one wants to be there?
I had the opportunity to roll these things around in my head because my number came up. For the past week I’ve been serving my time in the box here in Vegas.
At first I was annoyed, like so many people are. Then I started thinking about it. In addition to that question above, I thought about what was really bothering me?
Well, for one, whether I’m at home or not, I still get paid. My clients would understand. Our book fans? Maybe not so much. Although as of this writing I still have one more day to go and I’ve been “warned” by one fan I’d better be home by Friday to work on Uncivil Wars.
I suppose if she gave me a note to give the judge, he’d fully understand.
I’m kidding, of course. About the note…not the fan.
So, anyway, during my breaks I had a lot of time to think about how this time away could help a writer. Here’s what I came up with.
- Storytelling. When you get right down to it, what else is testimony other than another form of storytelling? Sitting in the jury box, you get an opportunity to see how people tell stories. Watch how they express themselves, what their body language shows. Do they use their hands? Do they stutter? Do they totally draw you in with their words or bore you to tears? Think about the witnesses and lawyers you found the most interesting. What made them appeal to you?
- Character Concepts. Jury duty is People Watching 101. You’ve got loads of people all around you from all walks of life. You’ve got your fellow jurors, each with a story of their own. You’ve got the witnesses, the plaintiff and defendant. If you are in the city, you’ve got even more people to watch on your break. Character concepts are everywhere. All you have to do is cast your net and pull it in.
- Technical Details. Sometimes a court case needs to call in an expert to testify. Experts on any given subject offer you a glimpse into a world you may not normally be able to experience. If you don’t have a need for that information now, take notes anyway. You never know when inspiration will hit.
- Description. If you were on the stand and had to describe to the jury what you witnessed, how well would you be able to do this? You’re a writer, description is your bread and butter. Watch how the various witnesses describe what they’ve seen or done. Can you see it vividly or does it fall flat?
- Mood & Setting. During the opening arguments, both lawyers present their sides of the case. They’re not only getting the jury up to speed on current events, they’re creating a mood. They want to evoke a strong emotion in the jury and hopefully sway them to their side. They’re setting the stage for everything that follows. They’ll introduce you to the players, tell you the plot, and even tell you how the story ends.
But how the overall story ends is totally up to you, the jury. It’s not over until a verdict is rendered and it all depends on who told the facts the best. Have any of you ever sat on jury duty? Tell us about it. Did it spark your inspiration?