Better to model a character after the principal; as a writer, you can improve on his character to better suit your story, and no one will be humiliated or prevent your child from graduating elementary school. Hey Dave, it seems you have a lot to express and tell to the world. I would like to hear your breathtaking story and contribute. Kindly contact me if the offer still stands. Great article, I want to write a book about my life.
Please contact me if interested—my story is like nothing else. Thanks for this article I really apprciated this article. Thx guys I am currently writing a book loosely based off of people I know and what I wish would happen.
You know, the little scenarios we all come up with and this really helped. I recently completed a word, true crime short story. The story was told from my perspective as a beat cop 15 years ago who responded to a tragic incident where an eleven year old boy shot and killed his younger brother in my presence.
All names and locations were changed to protect the identity of surviving family members. No one was ever charged due to age and other factors. Does that sound like a story that will invite legal problems when published? Great article esp since I just started a true crime and while I have rights from the victim and the family, I do not have rights from the person whom we believe is the killer or the police who fouled the investigation with their tunnel vision.
I am in discussions with my publisher and agent if we should change the names or not. They were sent and received on a cell phone that was owned and paid for by our business, in which my ex-husband and myself were and still are partners. The business will not be harmed by this memoir; on the contrary, there will most likely be some useful publicity created by it.
I consulted a lawyer informally, who told me that if I am an owner of the business, I also own the phone and the text messages. My only obligation is to use them verbatim, and not modify them in any way which I will gladly do!
Would you agree with this assessment? And would you recommend that I change the names of the main characters in the story? Everyone in our community will know who the players are even if I do. Charlotte, Your situation sounds quite painful and, unfortunately, legally complex. There are no simple answers, and no get-out-of-a-lawsuit-free advice I can give. From what you have written, I see many legal questions. Does one business partner have the right to use business assets to harm another partner?
Does the business have any ownership right to the texts written by the mistress? What about her privacy rights?
Yes, she can sue you. And how will your book affect your divorce settlement? I could go on and on. I do business transactions, not litigation. Sorry I can not be of more help.
Thanks so much for your reply Helen. These are excellent points, and I will definitely hire an attorney to do litigation risk analysis as you suggest. My ex best friend has written a book about her experiences as a victim of many incredulous life events.
What can I do about this? Mel, There is little you can do about it, effectively. If she wrote a memoir, then she may be misleading her publisher or her readers, but then they might have a claim against her, not you. You can ask her about it and she what she says. But you may be better off staying far away from someone who would do such a thing.
Thank you for your guidance, Helen. This website is a gem. I am writing a memoir really, but fictionalizing liberally certainly not completely , so I consider it a novel. However, the story essentially recounts my life events and therefore includes people that have been a part of it.
Some of these individuals, no matter how I fictionalize their personal traits and names, will be arguably identifiable based on their ROLE in my life and our shared experiences, e. The public interest may lie ultimately in what can be gained by sharing in my journey and end point message, i. What does writing under a pen name accomplish? What are the advantages, the limiting factors and the disadvantages? What protection does it offer? Does one have to maintain relative secrecy about having written under a pen name?
Is it at all protective to fictionalize personal characteristics and names, while remaining true to the events including potentially embarrassing revelations when the parallel of my life story will be at once recognizable and litigious individuals could simply assert that they are identified by their known role in my life e. Given what I have disclosed, could that be asserted at all safely? I truly appreciate your consideration.
Dawn, You are describing a very real tension faced by many writers. You want to tell the truth because your narrative arc, message, themes, insights, and personal growth are based upon the truth.
But you want to protect yourself and others from pain, embarrassment, and litigation. You may not want to give a toxic person a reason to step back into your life and cause you more pain.
I have no bullet-proof answer for you, because the decision on whether a work is defamatory or an invasion of privacy would be up to a judge or jury. And I cannot predict anyone will react. All I can say is write your story and search for the internal and external truths. After you have the first draft, read through your work and identify information that may be potentially damaging to others, including the small players.
Take extra steps to verify and support the truth of damaging statements, to identify what information is private, and most importantly to determine what information is essential to your story. Also do what you can to mask identifying features. And consider using a pen name. One of the benefits of using a pen name is that it may add one additional factor that reduces how recognizable real people are in your writing.
All the characters are real but I have changed the names. I do not plan to write anything bad about the characters but they do some illegal things. Do you believe there could be any legal problems with the story? Since these are your friends, you might want to let them know what you are working on and see how they respond. I need some advice. I am writing about a true event that took place over a hundred years ago.
These people have all passed away, and I was planning on using the real name of the event along with the real names of the individuals involved.
I am not speaking of anyone in a bad way, and although the story is purely fictional with an added paranormal twist, the story will include key factual evidence about this incident that I have found from online newspaper articles from during that time frame. Am I better off to change the names of the people anyway? I was going to add a disclaimer noting that the story is purely fictional with the exception of a few facts — and list them.
Any information you could give would be appreciated. Writers may write about historical events from years ago without legal risk. Hi I would like to write a screenplay about a client I had in the past and their very interesting story. I no longer work in the industry of drug and alcohol where I met this person and would love to have a go at this. I would use different name location and change certain aspects of the movie including the ending as this person is still living.
Am I at risk if they recognise their story as there will be parts that they will probably? Jennifer, Generally, the legal risk is triggered if other people recognize a character in your work as a real person. If someone recognizes themselves, that is not enough. However, you mention that the person you want to write about was a client. You should consider whether you have any professional or ethical duty not to disclose any person information about your clients.
As an attorney, I certainly do. Hi Helen, thanks very much for this post — and for all of the follow-up discussion! I am in the final stages of writing a memoir about my wife, who died of cancer after being told by a very famous international healer that he would cure her. Still, I wonder…am I setting myself up for trouble? If you are looking to have your memoir traditionally published, then your publisher should take care of any legal review of your manuscript.
If you decide to self-publish, then you may want to have an attorney check your manuscript for potential problems.
Thank You very much. But my dad, being a money-vampire is always asking if any of my main characters is based on him, none of them is fortunately. But one of them had a dad who could be identified by my very close family as someone based on my own father. The man is a bad person, alcoholic and neglecting, that is true. But has a completely different backstory and physical appearance and lately I was thinking of naming him after my father, just first name.
Should I do this? Also, would he be able to sue me for anything? Ah and another question, what if tricked him into signing a release form?
Thank you very much Helen. Nupao, I would not name the character after your father. It sounds as if your father is already attuned to the possibility that he will be portrayed in your book in a negative light, so why make it easier for him to make that accusation. Unfortunately, someone can always sue you, even if their case is very weak. Comes with the territory. Tricking him into signing a release is not likely to work. I am almost finished a first draft of a book about adopting a child who had severe difficulties mental, physical and emotional and is now adult.
I see it as necessary as a public service to share the struggle to get services and help that were needed through the years, and the ignorance and indifference of many people in authority that made things much harder. I am writing the truth and it is not defamatory in the sense that anything criminal is revealed but I know that the adult child would not want the struggle revealed and would consider it an invasion of privacy.
It does discuss cognitive and behavior problems that most people would not want to have aired in public, but in order to write about this at all I need to show what the problems were, and are.
I am confused about the invasion of privacy law. If embarassing but non-criminal details are revealed lets just pretend I describe a teenage boy who peed on the rug in the living room when stressed , would that be considered a threat to his reputation and could I be sued for that? But a privacy claim is not limited to the disclosure of criminal acts. Yes, it would be safer, legally speaking, to change names and characteristics whether you write the story as fiction or non-fiction. When it comes to disclosure of potentially damaging, private information, you should make enough changes that your characters are not recognizable to third parties.
Hi Helen, I stumbled upon an incredible true story that happen back in the s. It was headline news and involved a highly visible public figure. Only one of the three individuals is still alive. I have googled searched possible relatives with no success. Could the fact that it was such a highly visible news story, be considered public domain? Also, how can I find out if a book has already been published about this story? Tom, True events that happened in public, or were widely reported in the news, are fair game.
You should also be sensitive to right of publicity claims. For now, you should write the story with these issues in mind, then have the manuscript reviewed by a lawyer before you publish it. To find out whether others have written about these events, I suggest an internet search.
Even if others have written about the events, that does not stop you from telling the story your way. No one has a copyright interest in actual names and events. The copyright interest applies to how they told the story. I have started on an autobiography which I intend to present in a fictionalized manner. I intend to self-publish under a fictional name. However, there are famous people I knew from my childhood and have worked with since entertainment industry family , such as Elvis Presley.
My experiences were generally positive or, at least, insightful. I do plan to include an introductory blurb pointing out that these stories are about experiences from my perspective, at the age and state of consciousness I was in at the time, and that other people who were there might have different perspectives. But generally courts permit writers, film directors, photographers, etc.
So the mention of a celebrity that is a small part of a novel should be protected by the First Amendment. In contrast, selling a t-shirt with the image of that celebrity is not because there is no expressive content other than the image. Great article, thank you!! One of the comments you left above made me think of a question. She mentions it and talks about it briefly, and how the kids pull on her tail, etc. I know I can mention the title of books, but can I mention her dressing up in the costume?
Linda S, This sounds like an incidental mention of a copyrighted and trademarked character. If you wanted to eliminate any concern, just remove the Spot name and have the costume be any dog. Helen, First off, what an awesome and very detailed post! This is exactly what I needed to read because I am currently writing a 3-part series about real life events that happened to me.
For years, I went on many dates with women. Some were just dates, others we got drunk and fooled around, and then others ended in sex. Ultimately after leading this lifestyle for quite a while, I ended up depressed, left with a terrible view on women and dating, and ultimately I knew I needed to make huge changes to get my life back on track. Is this a bad idea? Should I avoid using those text messages? Adam, You raise several issues. Defamation, privacy and copyright.
Regarding possible defamation and privacy risks, you should certainly do all you can to make the women unrecognizable to others. From your comment, you seem aware of this risk. However, the women could claim that you have no right to use their text messages and that they own a copyright in those writings. If would be better if you rewrote those text messages in your own words and not use their words.
Most likely, no one will care, but in a few instances, celebrities have gone after people who use their name, particularly in a negative light. But it has also happened when a celebrity felt someone was piggy-backing on their fame to sell books. I am being extra cautious here. Being a lawyer, we come to expect the worst. Helen, thank you so much for this informative post and responses. I have certainly learned a lot but am now unsure as to how I should frame the book I am writing. I worked for a very eclectic attorney who unsurprisingly turned out to be insane and a major drug addict.
After many dramatic misadventures we parted ways and he was eventually murdered by the employee he hired to replace me. From what I am seeing on your site, it seems smarter to write as a fictionalized novel rather than a series of essays, and change the names of all involved to avoid any identifying characteristics, including the deceased main character.
Besides the people, all events are either my own memories or public record — of his murder and other crimes committed. Should I even be overly concerned about liability? Since the lawyer is deceased, he cannot be defamed. And it sounds as if you are relying on public records or information of public interest, so I suspect there is little privacy risk with respect to info about the lawyer.
But writers often get in legal tangles because of their treatment of small characters. They gloss over the truth or reveal private information. The info that may not be private about the main character, your lawyer, may be private for another person.
Be conscious of what you say and reveal about them. If in doubt, have the worrisome parts of your manuscript reviewed by a publishing attorney. Dear Helen, I am writing a short fiction story and have a famous rocker making a cameo appearance. Once when my character accidentally opens the door to her room and once again when they meet in a cemetery. A smile and a nod are exchanged, but no words.
The character speaks only of her respect for the rocker. I am researching and writing a piece about a dramatic, real-life situation that occurred over 50 years ago involving a famous ex-pat artist X and a fan Y. So can I make up what I think might have been in the letters? What if they still exist? And if Z died tragically, am I permitted legally to write speculatively about the details of the death?
And whose names do I have to change? Ami, Legally speaking, you have a lot of leeway in using real names and real events, so long as the information is true and even better, verifiable and not private. Writers also have a lot of leeway in dramatizing events by creating dialogue and correspondence, as long as they make it clear by disclaimers and in the text that they are speculating or dramatizing events.
Even if you win, it would cost you many thousands of dollars, not to mention sleep and stress. There is no easy answer here, sorry to say. I want to use a real life character that was accused of murder some years ago in America. The person in question escaped from jail in the early seventies and was on the run for approximately thirty years, in which time they were able to marry and have children. Can I base a story around the alleged crime if I change her name? And would I be able to include extracts from newspaper articles about them?
Although they are currently behind bars at present, they claim to be innocent and wish to appeal. My story would not say whether they were responsible for the crime, only that they deny that they committed the crime.
Thank you for any advice. Kelly, Yes, you may base a story on a real event and real people either as the basis of a fictional work or in a non-fictional work, so long as the information is true and even better, verifiable and not private. In this case, sounds both verifiable and public. Hi Helen — so happy I found this site. I have written a piece of literary fiction that uses much of my own personal life as a backdrop.
The story is about a woman who relocates with her family from a large metro area to her husbands small hometown — something that took place in my own life. These are all things that happened to me. I have created a fictionalization version of events in which the woman loses her mind and starts exacting elaborate revenge plots against the mistress and others she feels have done her wrong… I essentially took a set of real life events and used them as a jumping off point for the story. For example, my father in laws outrageous behavior at my sons sporting events, my MIL coming into my home and rearranging furniture, and the fact that the grandmother has an insistence on everyone in the family sleeping at her house on Christmas Eve… The mistress is portrayed much as she is, though in exaggerated terms.
Some characters are compilations of traits of other people I have known. In short, there is a good chance people could recognize elements of themselves, if only because of their relationship to the main character, who shares my real life back story.
The bulk of the piece is the main characters ongoing therapy session punctuated by journal entries and vengeful actions. I am considering a pen name because my intent is not to out or embarrass or hurt anyone, but I wonder if I am opening myself to potential liabiliity?
Maria, Sorry, but I can give only general legal information, not particular advice about your situation. In most situations, writers may use real people in their writing with little risk, particularly in fiction. Defamation risk arises when all of the following are present: Usually the false statement involves something extreme, not just embarrassing. Truth is a defense. So changing names and attributes, using a pen name, etc.
Of course, anyone can sue anyone. The case might not survive early rounds in court, but they can still try to intimidate. As you move along the publishing process, discuss your concerns with your publisher. They will be able to take a close look at your manuscript and advise you in more detail. I had a feeling that would be your advice. I thought the name would be cute, and it definitely would be used in a positive manner, but I can see how it might be construed as piggy-backing on a famous name.
I wanted to write for the first time about my life starting in my teens and leading up to the present. How could I do this book without being sued?
I get told all the time for many yeas now you should write a book even my Dr. We wanted to retire and travel, get some fun out of life but our lives are on hold while raising Grandchildren, which is ok but, not fair to my husband or myself.
Could you give me some advice on this? My life has been very hard when I married my ex, ever since my kids have sided with their father, they have never heard the truth from me nor will listen because they think I was in the wrong to leave him in the first place, but being beaten, shoved, punched, cheated on I had to run for my life, he stalked me while I worked and the nightmares I had of him I could actually feel the knife going into my chest.
I want to write this so if there is another person out there that has a life like me maybe, just maybe I could help them with my experience since I survived it, broken hearted but survived. And my life will probably be on hold for awhile until our 7 yr old is grown up and by then we will probably be close to death. Sharon, I am sorry to hear about all your struggles. For now, I suggest that you separate the writing process from the publication process.
It sounds as if this is a book you need to write for purposes of understanding and personal growth. If that is the case, then you should write the book. The legal risks arise if you decide to publish it. As I commented before, I can give only general legal information, not particular advice about your situation. So before you decide to publish the book, you should consult with an attorney, with your manuscript in hand, to see what if anything should be changed in order to reduce your legal risks.
I have experienced surreal events with both students and coworkers. I want to write a book that provides insight into what its like to be a teacher, but with a comical, but truthful touch. I know though, that with education and confidentiality, I have to be prudent when writing information about real events. Also, could I discuss disabilities if there is no factual way of proving its one person or another? Angela, Sorry, but I can give only general legal information, not particular advice about your situation.
If you look at my last replies, you will see my summary of the risks. As a teacher of minors, particularly those with disabilities, you may have subject to more strict confidentiality obligations. Those would be specific to your state.
So you should go further than most writers to protect the privacy of your students and their families. I have heard that she plans to include me and I just know she is gonna say things about me that are not true for the sake of making her book more interesting.
I know that she plans on not using my name but referring to me as the photographer. She will most likely speak about cocaine use and who knows what else. Can I write a letter to her publisher saying I will sue and let them know that she plans to exaggerate and lie?
Guy, This does sound stressful, particularly because you feel helpless in the situation. I can give only general legal information, not particular advice about your situation.
There may be a letter you can write, particular if you feel false statements will be made. But if you want to write such a letter, you should consult with an attorney first. The most recent death has been over 12 yrs. One more than the other was especially mean.
The pranks he played and examples of his mischievous ways. He was a bully and I was always his target. And they have been for quite awhile, the most recent is over 12 yrs. It would be a biography written by their only other sibling: Since all is true the content is personal to me. If you could answer those questions, I would be most appreciative. Robin, Defamation and privacy claims die with the person.
If the wrongdoers are deceased, you should be just fine on the legal side. I received an email that someone want to make a movie about my Grandfather and Grandmother from articles that appeared on the internet.
Both Grandparents are deceased, and we are the grandchildren and we do not want any movie or book written about them because we want to write our Grandparent history.
Also certain things in the articles on the internet are not not TRUE. What are are rights trying to stop this action of a movie. Olene, Your rights to stop the move are very limited.
No one has an exclusive copyright to factual information. You might be able to make a misappropriation of the right of publicity claim, depending on the state where your grandparents lived. Thank you for this resource and information..
If I have fictional characters discussing their opinions of published quotes by real people and identifying the people , is this permissible? Hello, I wrote a fictional novel where one of the characters was heavily based on a famous singer. I have had some interest in publishing and am wondering if there will be any legal ramifications if I do. The character in question has the same general look, job and ethnicity, but a different name.
Piper, Basing a fictional character on a real person is a common practice. If your book is clearly a work of fiction, there is little legal risk. I am writing a fictional novel and using real locations. I have an eccentric at times a bully, but for the most part harmless character that is supposed to be a descendant of a historical royal family. The character is completely fictional, but the name of the once house of —- is an actual family name.
All but one actually still has this name. All other descendants do not carry this name or lineage. Wondering what the legal rule is for this particular use. With exception to my fictional character telling him to kiss his A. Or is my mystery plot—without spelling out specifics—enough to qualify as a parody, could I still use his actual name without risking legal harm? As of this post, although I have emailed Mr. Legally speaking, you should be able to use his real name as long as you make it clear through context and disclaimers that your work is fiction, albeit based upon real people and real events.
You should add a disclaimer such as this: Although portions of this novel are derived from real events and some characters represent real people, this is a work of fiction. Dialogue, scenes, interactions, and settings are products of my imagination and should not be taken as statements of facts. Many are quite creative. I spent much time reading the comments and responses.
Many of my questions have been answered about writing my own narrative autobiography. Aside from readily accessible public knowledge, could i tell a story about being threatened by that same person, including a quote from them if it happened in a public place? Do what you can to make your character difficult to tie to the real person and keep a file of evidence supporting your statements.
However, my real concern is that the person you describe will not use the court system to seek retribution. Instead he will use violence. So please be very very careful. I wrote a short story and one of my exes have found out about the book.
He says he is going to sue me if I get on the best sellers list. How can I go about making sure he cant. I did base a character in the book off him however. I changed name, physical features, occupation. Where the story takes places and none of the events ever happened in life between us. The self-publisher of Part One released and Part Two released of my trilogy has, apparently, finally read my work!
The character Julie really owns the VHS tape and actually does watch it over and over while she drinks herself into a stupor and mourns the loss of her Muslim lover, who of course looks just like the little street urchin. They have also boo-hood the use of celebrity names, when in fact such interaction between Julie and the celebrity actually occurred. They have even suggested that I move the venue of the novel from Hollywood to another town!? With satire and parody, I write with love for even the cruelest character.
Poor Julie is a total mess. Which company is sending you this letter? Are you sure you want to work with them? Most self-publishing authors are better off acting as their own publisher. I want to write either a novel or screenplay based off of a story that my mother told me. I know the main things that happened, but many, many details I would have to fictionalize. If I change his name and fictionalize most of the story but keep some key details true, could this lead to a potential lawsuit?
An event is like an idea, and copyright law does not protect ideas alone. It protects the execution and articulation of that idea into a story. I became very sick after participating in a clinical drug trial; a litany of diagnosed ailments that include drug induced lupus. I want to include names of people and companies involved. In this context, is it considered defamatory just by having the story on a website that puts clinical trials in a bad light?
Anyway, if I did have to go to court, I have proof of everything I plan on outlining, as well as medical records. Tamara, This sounds like an important story to tell and one you should be able to tell if you stick to verifiable facts. However, before you disclose names and companies, check whether you signed a non-disclosure agreement when you agreed to enter into the drug trials.
A non-disclosure agreement would strengthen their claim. You should consult with an attorney about your specific situation. I am writing a memoir and using the given names of people I have known who are important to my story. I have not used their surname. It would up to a judge or jury. Writers are generally given leeway if they are telling their own stories and the information is integral to the story. And it depends whether your ex is likely to file a lawsuit calling attention to this statement.
It would help if the statement was key to your story and you phrase it as an opinion or a question you ask yourself. I would like to preface this with the fact that I read your whole article and about half of the questions asked.
However, there is a great many of them and it would take far too long to actually read them all. So if a similar question was asked, I apologize. I am writing a fictional book where the protagonist is a tall, athletically built man who constantly changes the color of his hair. In some contexts, it can be assumed that I am basing him off of a public figure.
In my story, incest is implied but never proven. In your opinion, do you think I have anything to worry about? Thank you for your time, consideration, and your answer. To prove defamation, the wrestler and the singer would have to prove that i readers thought the characters were them, ii readers believed the incest was real, and iii this false statement damaged their reputations.
All these elements are difficult to prove, not to mention expensive in terms of legal fees. And who wants to call that kind of attention to oneself? Ridiculous lawsuits happen all the time, but less often than people fear. Excellent advice for your readers Miss Sedwick. Glad I found your site and will purchase your guide, a must have for writers. I have penned 22 poems about 22 celebrity sports figures, all complimentary to each person.
Waiting for consent is bothersome to me. How long does it take? I understand if I profit from the poems, they may accept the compliments but still go after the money.
That being said I look forward to using your guide as I have two novels, memoir, fiction ready to release. Thank you for your time and effort and have a great weekend.
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That one story from childhood? That song that always takes you back? Join renowned writer, editor, and speaker Ashley C. Ford for an inspiring, half-hour class. Writing fiction from real-life experiences isn’t as easy as it sounds. Fiction writers—writers of short stories and novels—must know when to use real-life details and when those details don’t work well in prose. Putting your real life in writing can be inspiring, but it can be dangerous too. Creating Fiction From Personal Experiences: Life is [ ].
Apr 04, · Need help writing a real estate agent bio? Tips and 10 outstanding examples for crafting a welcoming and professional bio. How to Write an Agent Bio & 10 Knockout Examples. By Molly Moriarity. About Agent Basics. Advertising is great for attracting business, but the place to make a personal connection to your customers is in your Phone: () Memoirists and nonfiction writers identify people by name. How can writers use real people in their work without risking a lawsuit? First, a simple rule. responses to “How to Use Real People in Your Writing Without Ending Up in Court” Is it at all protective to fictionalize personal characteristics and names, while remaining.