1. Aurin
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    Aurin Member

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    Memoirs

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Aurin, Nov 24, 2013.

    For those out there who have written memoirs or even fictional stories in which the characters are heavily based on people you know in real life...

    How have you explained to those people that they're characters in your stories?

    The main three characters in my novel are based on myself (the MC), my husband (the MC's brother) and a man whom I recently had an emotionally abusive relationship with (the antagonist). In the novel, the MC and the antagonist have a lot of romantic tension and get themselves involved in a relationship which is unhealthy for both of them.

    My husband has found he can't read the novel - after two chapters - because he knows who the characters are based on and finds the situations in the novel way too awkward as a result, which I understand. So I was wondering how everyone else has approached explaining to people they're based characters on?
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i've done rewrites of clients' memoirs and once wrote a novel in which i used people from my life and set it in a beachside cottage belonging to friends... plus, i've done a lot of paralegal work for mentees and clients, so i'm speaking from that base of knowledge...

    steerpike can either confirm what i say below, or set us straight, as he's an actual attorney who has most likely dealt with such cases...

    so...
    it's not a matter of 'explaining'... what you really mean is 'telling' people you've depicted in your fiction that you've done so, after the fact... and that can get you in a lot of legal trouble, if anyone objects and you go ahead and have it published anyway...

    people can and do sue each other for all kinds of reasons and the suees can be out piles of dough they can't afford, spent on lawyers to defend them, even if they end up on the winning side...

    if anyone you base a character on in a work of fiction is depicted in such detail that they or anyone who knows them can tell who it is, you can be sued... it's especially likely to happen, if you're using a character who has done you wrong, as with your antagonist/abuser... if they're not public figures whose behavior has been exposed in the press and proven in court, you can be sued for libel... 'ordinary' folks can bring suit for invasion of privacy, as well... and anything else their attorneys can throw at you...

    which is why it's best to get signed releases from anyone you write about in a memoir and from anyone who's identifiable in your fiction, to be on the 'better safe than sorry' side...

    and the risk doesn't just arise from the characters' end of things, either... in my case, the husband of the couple who lent me their beach cottage in puerto vallarta [a famous political correspondent] loved my novel, wished me well with it, but his mexican wife, who was the sole owner of the property, was upset by my well-disguised villain she thought had been modeled on my psychologically/economically [though not physically] abusive husband [as, of course i had done], who she feared might see her as a conspirator, since it was her property where the fictional misdeeds took place... so she threatened to get an injunction against the book and sue if i published it... the legal risk to me was slight, my attorney felt, but still there... so retreat was the wisest course to take and the book was never published, though my agent was sure it would have done very well... especially with the glowing review my renowned journalist pal said he'd give it...

    bottom line?... be very careful about using real people in your writings... and, when in doubt, consult a literary attorney, not well-meaning members of writing sites who aren't literary attorneys...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  3. Aurin
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    Aurin Member

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    Uh, thanks Maia. I do eventually plan on speaking to a literary attorney, I was more after the emotional side of things rather than the legal side because I do already know about that but thanks.
     
  4. Laze
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    Laze Active Member

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    I don't see the point in the question? The only way to tell someone you've based a character on them in your novel is to go up to them and say, "Hey, I've based a character on you in my novel."

    Your husbands finds it difficult to read because it's about you—the person he loves—getting her head smashed in by some wife beater.
     
  5. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I've not written a memoir before, nor do I feel I have anything worth a memoir anyway. However, if I ever I did write one, I guess my first question would actually be: Do I even have to tell them?

    But I guess when it comes to it, you'll just tell them, right? Like how you'd tell someone you liked them or ask them to marry you - you just have to say it. The more interesting aspect would be how the people would react, and if they'd read the book, if they *should* read the book.
     
  6. graphospasm
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    graphospasm Senior Member

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    Well, I've published creative nonfiction--meaning I've published what might seem to some like memoir excerpts, accounts of stories from my life that heavily feature members of my own family and social circle. No names changed or anything. Yay, personal essay.

    Anyway. I more or less presented my stories to the involved parties without overlong preamble. "You're in this story. This is how I remember things." Didn't even tell them I hoped they liked it or similar--just presented it as it was and let them draw their own conclusions. So far no one has reacted too badly, even when my depictions were more honest than flattering.

    Like Laze said, just telling people that you based something on them is all you really can do. If they take issue with it, that's on them, not you (barring they take legal action, naturally).

    "If people wanted you to write warmly about them they should've behaved better." Something like that.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    only if you want to avoid being sued for all you've got and ever will have... :rolleyes:
     
  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That seems reasonable! I guess I'm just wondering - if you've fictionalised it, how would people find out? Or maybe I'm getting "based on real people" confused with it actually being "about" the real people in fiction form...
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    by the name being similar and/or the actions/appearance of the character, the setting, etc. being close enough that the person the character was based on, or anyone who knows him/her can tell who it is...
     

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