1. CatnipCupid
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    CatnipCupid Member

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    Question

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by CatnipCupid, Mar 18, 2013.

    Hello, all! I have a question or two about writing. I'm not sure if this is the correct thread to post, so I won't be surprised if this is transferred.

    Here goes:

    You know when you have childhood memories that keep pestering you, good or bad? Do you include them in your writing?

    If so, are you afraid of legal ramifications?

    Do you change names and locations?

    How far do you go?


    I just don't want to be sued!!!!
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Goodness, what kind of childhood memories are you having? :eek:
     
  3. CatnipCupid
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    CatnipCupid Member

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    Lol. Some good some bad. It's not just childhood memories. What about the day to day aspects of life?
     
  4. JetBlackGT
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    JetBlackGT Contributing Member

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    Ask the people involved if you can use their name. If not, change it up. Completely. Short names into long ones, American into... something else. Sure my best friend's name might have been John, but I can change it to Sahib, if I want. :)
     
  5. CatnipCupid
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    Thanks! I used to have a friend in high school who used to go into his next classroom, even before the teacher, and would draw these hilarious sexual graphics on the drawing board. I, of course, would be his lookout.

    Now, what if I changed the name, class, drawings, locations and other tidbits?
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It sounds like the polite thing to do.
     
  7. CatnipCupid
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    CatnipCupid Member

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    But the explicitness needs to stay. Just different sexual drawings will be used. Is that still legal?
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Know that if you are sued for libel, the burden of proof is on you to prove your assertions, not on the plaintiff to prove they are false (at least, in the United States).

    In other words, if you can't prove it in a court of law, you had better not write it. Or prove that it was not in any way in reference to the plaintiff.
     
  9. CatnipCupid
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    Thank Cogito. So, I guess what I'm trying to understand is this:

    If I write about a certain incident that happened to me or I had witnessed, even though I made modifications (name, gender, location, etc.), if the person recognized the incident, would they have the right to take legal action?
     
  10. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    You don't need anyone's permission to use the plot/scene idea that a high school kid would draw sexually-explicit graphics on the chalkboard before the teacher arrived. For practical purposes, yes, I'd change certainly the name of the character, and any sort of physical descriptions you might include. I suppose there could potentially (arguably) be something libelous if the fictional story was so obviously not really fiction, but unmistakably depicted a particular person, and this would portray them in a negative light, but when you're writing fiction, you want to be *inspired* by events and people, not a reporter of those events.

    But all kinds of scenes in fiction were inspired by real events. The fictional events themselves can track pretty closely to the actual events.

    Your characters, even if they're inspired by actual people, should have their own attributes, different from the original person, anyway.
     
  11. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    As with almost any legal question, the answer would be highly dependent on the specific facts of the case. Also, anyone can sue for any reason -- that doesn't mean that they have a valid case. But, based on what you've indicated, I'd say it's highly unlikely, and you're probably okay. Go ahead and write it - who's to say that you keep the scene in the final draft of your story, anyway?
     
  12. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Asking for specific legal advice from members here, while it might give some direction, it is no replacement for consulting a literary attorney.

    A lot would also depend on your contract--whether you'd be defended by your publisher (if you had one--and would they just settle at your expense?) or would have to defend yourself? Even if you won in court, if it occurred and went that far, it would certainly be a financially costly experience.
     
  13. CatnipCupid
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    Thank you, Chicagoliz. I've always read in novelist interviews how they are motivated by true events or day to day life, but they never really elaborate.
     
  14. CatnipCupid
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    Yes, TWErvin2, that's what I want to prevent. That's all I need.
     
  15. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    While this is all true, we're putting the cart before the horse, here. The story is not written, and from what I gather, the OP doesn't yet even have an agent, let alone a publisher. Once that stage is reached, he can investigate further on this issue.

    Libel is when there is an attempt to disparage the reputation of another person. If, after this whole thing is written, it appears that this is the case, that would be the time to address it. But the mere occurrence of the event in question is not generally something that would be libelous. There could be additional, unusual circumstances that the OP has not told us. But in general, this is not an issue. The real-life inspirational person doesn't have some sort of right to the retelling of the incident in question, particularly since it is not the sole time in the history of mankind that some similar incident has occurred.

    If, taken as a whole, it is something that could be taken as something that would place the person in question in a bad light, then yes, that would be the time to consult a literary attorney. But it's better to write the darn thing first and then re-assess. Even then, I suspect it's unlikely (although certainly not impossible.)
     
  16. CatnipCupid
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    CatnipCupid Member

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    Um, what's an OP?
     
  17. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi, Catnip -- I just replied to your PM (private message), but in case anyone else is confused -- OP = Original Poster (or sometimes Original Post, depending on context).
     
  18. CatnipCupid
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    Oh, Ok, thank you. I've been itching to know for months.
     
  19. GingerCoffee
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    Deleted redundant answer.
     
  20. SwampDog
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    It was put to me a long time ago: Will you be happy explaining your actions to a judge? :eek:

    If yes, write it, and don't get your knickers in a twist. If no, don't write it.

    Too much time can be wasted procrastinating.

    But if someone takes you task over the matter, then that party will have to prove their case, not you prove your innocence.
     
  21. jannert
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    This may seem obvious, but a lot depends on whether you're writing a 'true' memoir, or a piece of fiction.

    If you're writing fiction, then all the names will be changed, maybe locations too. You're presenting the whole thing as a piece of fiction, and this 'memory' will be just an incident that enhances your story. I would go ahead and write it.

    If you are writing a memoir, on the other hand, go VERY carefully here!
     
  22. CatnipCupid
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    Thanks, Swampdog: love the name.

    Hi, Jannert. Yes, it will be a work of fiction. But on the subject of a true memoir, this has me thinking about Stephen King's On Writing.

    He discussed many incidences that lead him to writing, where he had an abusive babysitter. Maybe he hired a PI and learned she was deceased. I wondered whether this or anything else was true or not. He talked about former teachers, coworkers....
     
  23. CatnipCupid
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    So, unless this person has a time machine, a witness, pictures, documentation, etc., they will have no case?
     
  24. jazzabel
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    I do, all the time. It is the bad memories that make me write. I use semi real names, for example O'Flynn becomes Flynn, etc. When I write I'll often use the semi-real names, so that I make it meaningful to me, but when I publish I change them to something unrecognisable (same goes for places).
    I'd advise against asking people for permission because that will limit you. Just write and change all the details so nobody can sue you.
     
  25. CatnipCupid
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    Thanks, Jazzabel. Cool name.
     

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