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?