1. auntiebetty
    Offline

    auntiebetty Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2012
    Messages:
    237
    Likes Received:
    34
    Location:
    Ohio, Arizona, Colorado

    Fictionalized True Crime Novel

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by auntiebetty, Jul 17, 2012.

    I am fictionalizing the 1926 prohibition-era murder of a prominent citizen. I intend to add a fictional character or two in order to spin the story to make it an interesting read rather than an historical accounting of the research. This murder involved a conspiracy of law enforcement, thugs, politicians, bootleggers, pimps, and prostitutes, and other incompetent and unsavory, or greedy characters . Names, dates, and times are extremely well documented. The victim was felled with one-shot to the head from about 100 yards at night. Although several men were tried and convicted, controversy over who actually shot the gun that killed the victim was never resolved.

    Is it alright for me as a novelist, to use the facts, including the names of those involved according to newspaper articles, court records, and a factually-correct full-length book published by a university press and still available on Amazon?

    If you decide to comment, please tell me whether it is your opinion, or you speaking from either some personal or legal experience.
    Thank you in advance for any insight you might provide.
     
  2. marktx
    Offline

    marktx Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2012
    Messages:
    202
    Likes Received:
    8
    Caleb Carr does this to a certain extent in "The Alienist." Theodore Roosevelt is part of the story, which takes place well before TR moved up in New York politics.

    Since you are writing a period piece set 90 years ago, you're probably safe. When I was in college, we covered libel law, and one of the criteria for libel is that the person spoken or written about must still be alive. The concept of libel or defamation is designed to protect a living person from being defamed or libeled; it is not intended to protect an individual's posthumous reputation.

    From Suite 101:

    The tort of defamation involves injury to a person's good name or reputation. Its elements include a false and defamatory communication about the plaintiff to a third party that is harmful to the plaintiff. Defamation protects a person's reputation in the community and is, therefore, a personal tort. A libel or slander on the memory of a deceased person is not deemed to inflict on the deceased person's survivors any legal damage.
     
  3. auntiebetty
    Offline

    auntiebetty Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2012
    Messages:
    237
    Likes Received:
    34
    Location:
    Ohio, Arizona, Colorado
    marktx:
    Thank you for your succinct reply.
    Now I'm looking for an example of how to write the Introduction to say this as a work of fiction based on the lives of real people in a real place with believeable fictional characters, incidents, and dialogue.
    Auntie Betty
     
  4. Morkonan
    Offline

    Morkonan Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2012
    Messages:
    101
    Likes Received:
    7
    Include a disclaimer in your forward that clearly defines your work as fiction and that the events described are fictional, yet are derived from real events. Do not assume more events or motivations took place with the real people involved than is necessary in order to build your story, especially if those actions would cast a bad light on real people. The object is to make it clear that while you are writing about an assassination, you are not trying to assassinate the reputation of a real person. What you want to avoid is not only legal trouble, but damage to your own reputation. If, for instance, you go about writing that Abraham Lincoln had murdered babies and then ate them on Sunday, people may not appreciate it. But, if it was Abraham Lincoln's illegitimate and completely fictional brother, they wouldn't have much of a problem with it. (If your target audience has a culture that reveres Abraham Lincoln, that is.)

    Disclaimer - I am not an attorney nor am I an expert on practices involving the writing of fictionalized histories.
     
  5. auntiebetty
    Offline

    auntiebetty Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2012
    Messages:
    237
    Likes Received:
    34
    Location:
    Ohio, Arizona, Colorado
    Morkonan:
    Thank you for sharing your expertize. You are the reason I joined the forum. My historical fiction is based on an assassination in 1926 by co-conspirators. Five men were were convicted, and are now long dead. Because some of them had known criminal records, there can be speculation that they also committed crimes for which they were never found out. I intend to spice the story with fictional get aways that will add color to the facts. If you see me going down a poor choice, please let me know.
    Auntie Betty
     
  6. Trilby
    Offline

    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,098
    Likes Received:
    69
    Location:
    NE England
    They may be long dead, but their innocent descendants are possibly alive and well - tread cautiously.
     
  7. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,684
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    I can think of a number of examples of this kind of fictionalization of historical events. Lawrence and Lee did it with the Scopes trial in "Inherit the Wind". Gore Vidal's "Lincoln" and "Burr". Michael Shaara's "The Killer Angels". Solid research is the key, as well as an ability to tell a good story. But, to expand on Trilby's point, the fact that there are (very) negative inferences to be drawn to some of your characters means that you will have to have lots of documentation for anything negative that you write about anyone. For this reason, you may want to create fictional characters to be responsible for most of the wrongdoing.
     
  8. auntiebetty
    Offline

    auntiebetty Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2012
    Messages:
    237
    Likes Received:
    34
    Location:
    Ohio, Arizona, Colorado
    lThank you Trilby, and EdFromNY:

    (Name: UPRIGHT CITIZEN), (Employed: CRUSADER AGAINST CRIME), killed instantly by the only bullet that connected with him during an amateurish blast of gunfire originating from the vacant lot across the street from his home shortly after midnight on(xx-xx192x). Five men were convicted of first-degree murder, although no one ever confessed to even being there, no one squealed, and the murder weapon was never found. How many of them were just conspirators and how many were actually at the scene. Did one of the shooters get a lucky shot, or was it an unnamed hired sharpshooter who owned and fired the murder weapon? I intend to introduce suspicion and suspects to link to the five convicted.

    HOW DO I DEVELOP DIALOGUE FOR THESE PEOPLE WHO ARE LONG DEAD, AND WERE LINKED TOGETHER IN A MURDER IN THE LATE 1920'S.

    I don't want to write as a reporter of documentation. That's been done in graduate theses as well as a full-length book. I want to write a fiction history. I know I'm walking a fine line.

    I REALLY APPRECIATE THE COMMENTS I'M RECEIVING.
    Please keep the help coming.

    auntiebetty
     
  9. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,684
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    My advice is to read Lawrence and Lee's "Inherit the Wind", because it's a great example of fictionalizing historical events and several of the characters were based on historical figures who's words have been preserved so that you can compare how they've been adapted into fiction. Matthew Harrison Brady was actually William Jennings Bryan (best known for his "Cross of Gold" speech); Henry Drummond was actually Clarence Darrow; E. K. Hornbeck was actually H. L. Mencken. Bertram Cates was actually John Scopes, but I'm not sure you'd find too much on him. Besides, of the four main characters, his was the least historically accurate.
     
  10. auntiebetty
    Offline

    auntiebetty Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2012
    Messages:
    237
    Likes Received:
    34
    Location:
    Ohio, Arizona, Colorado
    Marcus, please do not post anymore messages to me regarding your personal relationship business. Thank you, auntiebetty.
     

Share This Page