Jury Summons and Character Details


jurors lounge

Two weeks ago the letter came. “Official Jury Summons Enclosed.” I didn’t think I had lived in California long enough to make it on the list, but I guess it’s one of the rewards I get for being a registered voter. Actually, I don’t mind fulfilling my civic duty. Fulfilling it while my kids are on Spring Break makes it a little inconvenient, but I would have been working anyway, so what’s a few hours of lost pay?

I could complain and try to make an excuse, but I figured it was a great chance to people watch. After all, I am in “observation mode” as I begin to create the characters for my next book project. What better place to people watch than during a jury summons?

I had to check in at 10am this morning. Not too bad. At least it wasn’t 8am. I filled up my tote bag with a magazine, a notebook, snacks, water, and of course, my Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint text and lecture notes. As I was choosing my juror’s attire, I considered sweats and a high ponytail, with no make-up. Or, since I actually had time to blow dry my hair, I could wear nice slacks, heels, and a button up blouse. Yet, I went with my emerald-green cotton shirt, skinny jeans, and white cardigan. I wanted to be myself and be comfortable. If I didn’t wear makeup, I would feel icky all day. If I dressed too nicely, I would feel I had to be serious.

Yah, I know. Nobody puts this much thought into what they wear when reporting to jury duty. But I do have a point!

I was also prepared to wait and wait. The last time I had a jury summons in Idaho, it was about a 2 1/2 hour process before they eventually let us go since the defendant plead guilty as soon as he found out a jury was waiting in the hall.

I settled into the surprisingly comfortable chair (cushioned compared to the metal folding chairs in ID), and pulled out my Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint, chapter 2.

I was already mid-way through the chapter. The heading on the section was titled “Appearance: What’s That Your Wearing?”. I am not kidding, and I didn’t even put it together until I had been reading for several minutes. The process I went through to determine what I would wear to jury duty, was the exact process Nancy Kress was describing I use to dress my characters! I was also finding myself coming to certain conclusions about all the jurors around me– Deciding what kind of people they were based on how they were dressed.

The woman to my left in polyester solid pants with coordinating floral print shirt, and thinning strawberry blond hair had probably lived in this town her whole life and hadn’t seen her grand kids in years, if she had any. Then a woman came in late, tripping over the man to my left, while still wearing over-sized sunglasses, sliding down her nose to reveal a thick layer of silvery eye shadow. She toted a jumbo-sized faux alligator skin bag she placed at my feet. Instantly, I thought of her small one-bedroom house and the small dog she probably left yelping at her screen door; a dog smaller than my cat that would likely nip at my heels and yelp if I came near his domain.

One of the men, sitting a row over, had eyes that sagged like a bull dog’s and the figure to match. Another, behind me, slouched as he crossed his tattooed  upper arms and didn’t hesitate sharing with everyone how he had gotten out of jury duty in the past.

Well, I was satisfied. Even if I didn’t get to sit on the jury, I was making the most of it. By 12:30, the judge walked in thanking us for our service but letting us know the two parties in the civil suit we were going to decide on, had come to an agreement. Since my husband and I had experienced a similar situation (though it did not go to court,) I would have probably been dismissed anyhow.

Cheers to making the most out of a random, unexpected duty. How do you take the unexpected, and often boring moments of life and use them to bring life to your characters or stories? I would love to know if other writers experience or embrace circumstances as possible “material” for their books.

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