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Stranger than life, larger than fiction

So, having spent close to a month as a sitting juror on a federal trial, I’m slowly recovering from the Stockholm Syndrome my fellow jurors and I experienced while cooped up in a courtroom every day, listening to lawyers drone on interminably, seemingly engaged in a contest to see who could make the most repetitive and tedious presentation of their case.

Sitting there day after day, trying to actively listen, even as my eyelids often felt like tiny weights were dangling from my lashes, gave me a new appreciation for legal dramas from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Firm to The Good Wife.  The fact that book and screen writers have been making trial proceedings as compelling and engrossing as they are (or can be in the right hands) is a testament to imagination and the ability to transform dull reality into if not art then entertainment.

A couple of days after the trial ended (with an acquittal in case you’re interested), Jane and I had dinner with David Morrell, who was shooting ideas for his new novel by us.  What struck me anew that night was that it is an alchemical process that transforms a snippet of a real story—whether historical or present-day—into the basis for a full-blooded work of fiction.  The mind of a gifted author takes that reality and spins a fantastic yarn out of it by picking and choosing elements  that are, in actuality, dramatic and entertaining, goosing action and motivation in the process.  The conclusion I draw is that real-life legal proceedings would benefit greatly from talented writers and skillful editors.  (I’m thinking that my trial would have been done in a week, tops, if it had been properly scripted.)

And, perhaps because I feel my lack of imagination would make for a sad fiction writing career, I always wonder how writers choose elements of real life and translate them into successful fiction.  Look at the current headlines in your local paper and tell me what novel you would write if you could rip one off for your fiction debut.   What are the nuggets that you would mine for a book that is more scintillating than my trial?

 

3 Responses to Stranger than life, larger than fiction

  1. Richard says:

    “Look at the current headlines in your local paper and tell me what novel you would write if you could rip one off for your fiction debut. What are the nuggets that you would mine for a book that is more scintillating than my trial?”

    Texas Death Row is a veritable gold mine of ideas.

    http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/death_row/index.html

  2. Katie Newingham says:

    Local headlines:

    -KKK’s distributing materials for recruitment.
    -Teen African American boy is shot after a cop thought he looked suspicious in his hoodie and baggy clothing. Ruled a suicide after only his finger prints were found on the gun. The cop was also African American.

    Debut:

    Denny, 15, sees his father kill the brother of his secret girlfriend at school after allegedly suspecting him of burglarizing several neighborhood houses. He also knows his father is the leader of the Ku Klux Klan, which is why he keeps his love for Jocee a secret. The problem is no matter what Denny does, he loses. If he turns his father in, he loses his dad who plays ball with him and helps with his homework, and his family of five, loses their provider. If he stays silent he loses himself, betrays his Jocee and turns his back on justice.

  3. Bill says:

    “Look at the current headlines in your local paper and tell me what novel you would write if you could rip one off for your fiction debut.”

    I clip at least one small news article every week from my local paper! As my ma used to say, you can’t make this stuff up!

    I’ll give you (whoever wants it) this idea, because I’m not so good at the whodunit genre.

    True event: During a small town’s 4th of July parade, a horse pulling an antique farm wagon is suddenly spooked by a firecracker. He bolts into the crowd, injuring several people and killing one…who turns out to be the wife of the wagon driver.

    Story: It wasn’t an accident.

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