Setting Thesaurus Entry: Courtroom

Sight

Gleaming polished wood (paneled walls, the bench, witness stand, chairs, tables, doors, lectern), small desk for the court reporter next to the Judge's bench (enclosed) & Court clerk, the bar (wooden railing or barrier separating the proceedings from the gallery (benches or theatre seats for the public), jury box off to the side, jury members headed by the foreperson, black-robed judge, bailiff standing at attention at one wall or near front to keep order, microphones, reporters, camera crews (in high profile cases unless closed proceedings), gavel, some courtrooms have bulletproof glass protecting the gallery or encasing the witness box, federal and state flags, clock, tagged bags of evidence, posters/slide shows/reenactments, crime scene photos, closed circuit television, desks for the plaintiff & Defendant, handcuffs, door leading to judge's chamber, wide central corridor in the gallery seating area for the witnesses to be brought down, windows are highly secure or there are no windows, files, paperwork, computers, monitors/projector/screen/ELMO/easel for presenting evidence, remotes, audio equipment, lawyers, witnesses for the defense or prosecution, family, friends, and the public seated in the gallery (wringing hands, clutching hands tight in front of themselves, holding tight to purses like a shield, taking notes, wiping at tears, covering mouth, nervously fingering jewelry at wrist and neck, arms crossed, stoic & tense postures, listening intently)

Sounds

Fans, whooshing air conditioning, gurgling pipes in the walls, traffic outside, sirens outside, shifting in seats, wooden chairs creaking, the rustle of papers, testimony being given, footsteps across the polished floor as the prosecutor/defence attorney addresses the court or questions the witness, throat clearing, coughing, sniffing, quiet sobbing, the clink of chains if the defendant is secured by handcuffs or ankle cuffs, feedback from the microphones, a creaky gate in the bar, the rustle of fabric, audio evidence (taped phone calls, sound for a security video, etc), whispering, the Judge's pounding gavel, lawyers speaking to the court, gentle tapping from the court reporter's box, reactive gasps at evidence or testimony, doors opening and closing

Smells

Light scent of treated wood (lacquer, polishes, varnish, etc), pine or lemon cleaner, air conditioned air, sweat, perfume, hair products & cologne all mingling in the air, stale or coffee breath from the people you sit near, paper, warm electronics (acrid plastic, metallic tang from projectors, etc)

Tastes

Water, tears, gum/mints/cough drops, dry mouth

Touch

Hard wooden seat, arms brushing against spectators next to you, gripping onto a crumpled Kleenex in one tight fist, fiddling with a key fob, zipper tab, watch, piece of jewelry, hands clenched tight, fingernails biting into pads of palms, rubbing at face, pinching the bridge of the nose, wiping at tears and nose, biting down on a lip, shaking hands, tense, rigid posture causing tight muscles and neck, walking down the aisle toward the witness stand, heat prickling against skin at feeling all eyes upon you, raising right hand to swear in, sorting through papers, files, etc. the cool touch of a plastic evidence bag, standing up and sitting down, clicking a remote to change an evidence slide or start a video feed, rolling a pen with fingers, jotting down a quick note on a legal pad, passing a note to a client or coworker, leaning over to whisper in another's ear, reaching out to cover the microphone to prevent being overheard, cold glass against palm as you take a sip of water, sweat dripping down back and sides in a stifling hot, airless courtroom, crossing/uncrossing legs, shifting in seat, crossing feet, putting hands in pocket to hold a cherished item to draw strength from, squeezing a loved one's hands as the verdict is read, head hanging in defeat, heaviness in shoulders for the convicted, a lightness in chest, breath and shoulders if exonerated.

Helpful hints:


--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

The court clerk called my name and I stood, swaying a little as the humid air caused a moment oflightheadednesss. One deep breath and I steadied enough to head to the witness stand, my heels making loud tocks against the gleaming floor. Lord above, why hadn't I chosen more sensible shoes? Were the jurors wincing as I was, praying I'd hurry up and cross this ocean of  tile? Poor Tom must be cursing the moment he asked me to come in and testify as his character witness.

Example 2:

The prisoner sauntered in, his orange jumper and the chains at his ankles doing nothing to dampen the bright smile on his face. The room froze and every eye was upon him: this monster, this horror of a man. In the gallery, women covered their lips with their hands and the men shook their heads. You could practically see the same thought run through each person's mind: how could he, or anyone, poison the drinking supply of a school?


--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

After three witnesses in a row were found in contempt of court, Judge Gilmore pounded his gavel against the sound block as erratically as a contestant on Canada's Worst Handyman.

Example 2: (Metaphor)

Damning evidence aside, the accused's shoulders bowed under an anvil of guilt, and he refused to make eye contact with anyone. The jury had probably already convicted him on his body language alone.

16 comments:

Karen Lange said...

Good stuff. Particularly like the simile and metaphor examples. Such good imagery, thanks!
Happy weekend,
Karen :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Have I told you lately that you're brilliant?! ha ha.

Have you ever done an entry on jails or wardens or anything like that?

Desiree said...

Oh bless you. I was going to need this in an upcoming part of story i'm working on and i dreaded it. Now that i see this...i feel much better. Wonderful!

Susanne Drazic said...

Always have such great posts! Thanks for sharing!

Angela Ackerman said...

Glad this one helps! If anyone notices anything I got wrong though, be it terminology or process, please let me know!

Shannon, there is a jail cell one listed, but not a prison in general..yet. :)

Too, I have asked author PJ Hoover if she will write an entry for a Juvenile detention center as she's been to one several times as a guest speaker, so look for that one down the road. :)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Hmmm. So is this from personal experience, Angela? ;)

Great job as usual. Can't wait for the juvenile center one. Not that I need it. But you never know.

Angela Ackerman said...

Nope, all in my head. The Jail Cell entry, however...muahahahaa, well there's an innocent story behind that, honest!

Anne (aka "stormie") said...

Excellent! And to think most of it is from your digging deep into your imagination. (Now spill about the jail cell.... :D )

Shannon said...

Very cool. I'm wondering, do you spend any time on location with these ones to come up with synonyms? It all sounds very authentic.

Catherine A. Winn said...

This entry is perfect timing for me! It dropped me right into the court room where one of my characters is about find herself! Thank you!!

Julie Musil said...

Angela, your posts always make me feel like I'm 'there.' Great job!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Awesome post, Angela! We should all carry notebooks everywhere we go and write down descriptions using all of our senses. Great exercise!

Mary Witzl said...

Great post, again. I felt like I was there too -- and I was so glad I wasn't!

Heather said...

These are great! I'm going to send my thriller writer friends over to check this out. I think they'd love it!

Laura Pauling said...

Perfect timing. I have a short courtroom scene I need to revise! Thanks for all your hard work!

SugarScribes said...

Angela, I have no idea if you will read this or not I just now saw that you are in Africa, but I had to comment. This is perfect. I am so sorry i was not around when you sent it to me to look at before you posted. Long story but I have been away from my computer for a couple of months. I just now got back on while my kids are at summer camp and found your message. I read the courtroom scene and it is brillant. You have decribed it perfectly and while using every sensory detail. i have been in a courtroom almost every day for the past 20 years and i could not have described it nearly as accurate as you have. You did Justice with this one!
You are amazing. Have a safe and fun trip.

Melissa Sugar

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