1. Matthias King
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    Matthias King New Member

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    Referencing Real Entities

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Matthias King, Mar 30, 2013.

    Hello all. I'm new here, and have never joined a forum such as this one.

    I've been working on a book for some time now. It's coming along, albeit quite slowly, but that's ok with me. I've always tended to work more slowly than most people on creative projects.

    I wanted to seek help because I've been debating with myself about something for a while now, and I wanted to solicit other writer's opinions.

    My question is this. The story I'm writing deals a lot with crime and criminal groups. If I were to involve, for example, a street gang, is it generally ok or not ok to write that gang as Bloods or Crips or any other real-life gang? Or should I just invent a gang or gangs?

    The reason I'm conflicted about this is because the tone I'm going for is gritty and realistic, and I'm aiming to inject as much authenticity as I can wherever I'm able. I see some movies and books with a tone similar to what I'm going for use real-life criminal organizations, and some that used entirely fictional ones, both convincingly.

    Opinions? Are there any written or unwritten rules that I'm not aware of regarding this subject?

    Thanks.
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no one in the bloods or crips is likely to sue you for taking their gang name in vain, so go right ahead!

    just don't mention any real members by name and description, if you don't want to invite a drive-by...
     
  3. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would write the story as if the gang members were members of the bloods or the crips, if that's what you are familiar with and want to convey. However, I'd name them something else, because unless you are very familiar with all of the details of their inner workings, etc., someone who is familiar with them will immediately know that your story rings false. (And there are plenty of people who would be familiar with them who are not gang members -- police officers, reporters, ex-members, etc.)

    Plus, I wouldn't want to inadvertently (or intentionally, for that matter) do anything that would cause members of a gang to be angry with me. They tend not to see a civil lawsuit as their only option for relief.
     
  4. Matthias King
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    Matthias King New Member

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    Thanks for the replies. I've gone round and round with myself about this, trying to decide.

    Aside from the concern of violent reprisal, is there any legal precedent regarding this that anyone knows of off the top of their head?
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, if you were writing a story about criminal activities by members of the SomewhereTown Garden Club, and that club existed, I believe that you would absolutely be vulnerable to a defamation lawsuit. The fact that you're dealing with an entity that presumably doesn't have a legal identity, a checking account, or a mailing address, would presumably make it harder to sue you. But I still don't think that I'd be comfortable attributing specific fictional criminal activities to any specific real-world entity, whether or not that real-world entity already had a criminal reputation--or a mailing address.
     
  6. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    If you have at least 2 real life gangs in your book and at some point one beats the other even temporarily, you run the risk of getting a lot of angry mobsters on your doorstep. Not my cup of tea.
    You would be walking on thin ice with this, but then again it is your choice. It will add a feeling of a battlefront reporter when you are writing it. Like your life is in danger at any given moment :)
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you're not at legal risk unless someone with the same name as one of your fictional criminal characters decides to sue you for defamation of character... so, my best advice would be to not use any last names, to avoid that happening...
     
  8. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's more complicated than this, but the main point is, for various legal and practical reasons, you're better off fictionalizing the gangs. If you're writing fiction, it's much easier to fictionalize people or organizations. Not only can you change details to better suit your story, but you minimize the worry that someone will sue you for some sort of harm to reputation claim. (Even this is unlikely, especially when you're not even anywhere close to being published, so at this point, I'd write the story the way you want.)

    Also, when I write a character who has been inspired by someone I've met, I don't really want that person to realize that he or she inspired that character. Sometimes, not every trait reflected in the character is a positive one. And even if the trait is neutral, that person could argue with whether it is actually "true," and I don't even want to get into that argument, because that's not the point of the story. The character I've created always has additional motivations and other experiences that influences what he or she thinks and does -- he or she is never exactly the same (and often not very much the same at all) as the person who inspired him or her. It's the same with an organization, criminal or otherwise. You can use real-life inspirations, but in most cases, you have a lot more leeway with what you want to do if you've fictionalized them.

    Sometimes, for some stories, authors find it easier or necessary to use a real organization, because they are somehow unique, or they need to use the real world and there isn't a good substitute. An example of this would be the CIA or FBI or MI6, which are real entities, but are used in stories all the time.
     

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