1. Gottagocit
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    Gottagocit Member

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    Using names of historical figures in a fiction?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Gottagocit, Mar 20, 2011.

    Can someone freely use the actual name of historical figures such as Lincoln in a fiction? Does this present any particular issue or problem?
     
  2. Ion
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    Ion Senior Member

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    Of course it doesn't cause a problem, that would be ridiculous.

    If you want to write about the people themselves, go ahead. If you want to talk about them, that's great. If you have a character named for one, excellent.

    There's so many examples in anything you might read that it's not worth pointing out where some famous author referred to a real person in a story. Not mentioning influential people would be like not setting your story in New York, or not mentioning any real countries in Europe, or avoiding stating the name of any planet in the solar system. If you want to mention Abraham Lincoln, do it. He's not the intellectual property of the United States government. No one's going to sue you.
     
  3. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    I have a character who is the great-great-great grandson of Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth .I am using the event, the play Abe was at when he took a bullet and The Shakespeare line Booth recites after he pulls the trigger.
     
  4. Gottagocit
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    Gottagocit Member

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    I thought that was the case. One particular general from the same period is used in rather unfavorable way which makes him out to be a brutal and ruthless character. The thought occurred to me that his decendents may not particularly like the idea. I suppose that's just not an issue with a fiction.
     
  5. TheIllustratedMan
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    TheIllustratedMan Active Member

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    Public figures' likenesses are (generally) not subject to copyright. Depending on how you use the likeness, someone might try to call it defamation or libel. As far as I know, you're fine if it's either A) satire or B) disclaimed with something to the effect of "any actual persons, names, places, or events are used in a fictitious way".
    Seeing as how the person you'll be writing about has been dead for 200 years, there is no claim whatsoever over his likeness. Again, you *might* hit a defamation thing, but that would really be more if you were writing a non-fiction and had him doing awful things with no references to back up your claims.
    I'm no lawyer, so check with one if you're concerned, but I don't think you have anything at all to worry about.
     
  6. Gottagocit
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    Gottagocit Member

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    Is it possible that a publisher would stir clear of the work of a new author it portrayed a known figure in a poor light? IE: The general I mentioned above.
     
  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Gore Vidal wrote an entire novel about Lincoln. Herman Wouk wrote about numerous historical figures in "The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance". More recently, Philip Roth wrote a novel of speculative historical fiction in which he portrayed what might have happened if instead of Wendell Willkie, the Republican Party had decided to nominate Charles Lindbergh, a notorious isolationist and Nazi sympathizer, to run against FDR in 1940 ("The Plot Against America").

    My advice: forget what a publisher might think. Just write it. If it's good enough, the publisher will love it. BTW, the general wouldn't happen to be "Butcher" Grant, would it?
     
  8. TheIllustratedMan
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    TheIllustratedMan Active Member

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    What he said.

    Don't write for a publisher; write for you. If it gets published, good for you. If not, on to the next.

    Of course, that's coming from someone who will probably never actually finish a story, let alone shop it around to publishers. :p
     
  9. Ion
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    Ion Senior Member

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    Treat historic figures however makes sense for the story. No one will fault you for the opinions presented in a work of fiction.
     
  10. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    As two others have already said, don't worry about the publisher.

    To actually answer your question, sure, a publisher could steer clear of it because of that, or be attracted to it due to it being edgy or controversial. But again, it's possible a publisher steers away from your book because your protagonist's eyes are green, and the editor doesn't like the color green. Okay, that's not extremely likely (though certainly possible), but the point is that you should never write to the whims of a publisher in hopes of getting them to take up your novel.
     
  11. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Absolutely it's okay! If I had placed my colonial detective in Philly instead, he'd be meeting Thomas Jefferson and co countless times, even helping Mr. Jefferson solve a murder mystery himself!

    Another detective series is set in Elizabethian Britain/England and the protagonist is a member of Queen Elizabeth I's court (He's the son of an earl) and meets the queen herself countless times.

    There's nothing wrong with writing stories about historical figures. One mystery I'm reading has the protagonist be...*drumroll* Abigail Adams herself!

    The only thing I could think of that might make the publisher turn away is if the historical figure in question was clearly evil, like writing about Hitler or Stalin in a good light.
     
  12. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Don Delillo's Libra is a fictional account of Lee Oswald's life leading up to the JFK assassination. It's worth reading, even if you are not interested in that sort of thing.
     
  13. Gottagocit
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    Gottagocit Member

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    Thanks for the opinion. No, it's actually Sherman and I finished the book in January and am editing at the moment. The question came up last week after someone read it and asked he question. They thought the story was awesome but did give excellent feedback that I'm working my way through at the moment.

    Thanks again
    Chris
     
  14. Gottagocit
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    Gottagocit Member

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    It was more of an after thought since I've finished the novel and editing at this point. The question came, along with others, from someone who read it and gave some excellent feedback. I asked it here just to make sure I hadn't overlooked such a basic problem. It's my first novel and I didn't want to take anything for granted. Btw, he loved the story!
    Thanks.
     
  15. Gottagocit
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    Gottagocit Member

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    I am probably as unique as the letter "O" in feeling this way but I feel very confident that I'll get it punlished. And I'm referring to a traditional publisher and not the diy route.
    I suspect every writer may feel this way but I believe I have a great plot and a story that flows well. It's still in the editing phase and I think there is still room to improve it before submitting it. Once I have cleaned it up a bit I think it'll sell itself but only time will tell.
    Thanks
    Chris
     
  16. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Dead men can't sue and sadly (in the cases of the recently deceased) neither can their families.
     
  17. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I agree. Freedom of press and all that.

    If I were to write about a historical figure like Custer, I'd try to treat them with the dignity they deserve, but mostly because I'm a stickler for historical detail and won't write something outlandish like Custer walking around in his underwear after one too any bottles of whiskey. 'Cause that never happened.

    Though, speaking of dear Custer, it's interesting to see how the preception of him had changed through the years. In 1942, when the movie They Died With Their Boots On was released, Custer was depicted as a noble hero that gave his life in battle. However, more recent movies of the man depicts him as a stupid buffoon that got himself and his men killed.

    Personally, I see Custer as a stupid, arrogant ape. Others will disagree with me, of course and that's fine. I respect their opinions.

    EDIT: Interestingly enough, the movies about Custer as stupid and arrogant came after the death of his wife, Libby Custer in 1933. So maybe they only started making those movies when they were sure Libby and any descendants she had weren't gonna climb up their backs abut it.

    EDIT II: As for the 1941-42 Custer movie, I think this was made to inspire patriotism for a country that just got dragged into WWII, sort of a "We can be heroes just like Custer! We can beat the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese! Hurrah!!" thing. (Though it's debatable since the guy kinda...er...died in the final battle. I suppose the movie was trying to say, "We may be mercilessly slaughtered by the Axis powers; but it's better to die fighting on our feet than begging on our knees. We'll fight to the last man.")

    Wow, look at me ramble. :p Shows you what happens when you spark my historical curiosity.
     
  18. Gottagocit
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    Gottagocit Member

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    I'm not too rough on those in my novel either, really. Although there are a few instancecs where he is seen as an especially brutal leader which from some accounts isn't far from the truth.
    Thanks
     
  19. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Given Sherman's scorched Earth campaign against Georgia, I think it's easy to paint him negatively. I wish you the very best of success, and if it is published, I will definitely read it.
     
  20. Gottagocit
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    Gottagocit Member

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    I think you are right about the general and appreciate you words of encouragement. If I am able to get the story published I'll be sure to let you and others who have helped a newbie know it's in print.
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...it's done all the time!... and doesn't present any particular problem... writers such as e. l. doctorow and caleb carr have even written some into their novels, having them do things they never did in real life...
     
  22. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    One book I remember loving as a child was titled Ben and I. Basically, it was about a talking mouse named Amos and his pal Benjamin Franklin. He even goes to France with the man and stages a mice revolution in the French court to rescue a young female mice from captivity. Literally! The entire chapter is about mices swarming around the French nobility and pretty much scaring the crap out of them.

    Hell, he tries to rewrite Benjamin's Poor Richard's Almanac, helps Jefferson with his Declaration of Independence, and flat out says he's the one who made all the decisions that we've "wrongly attributed to Dr. Franklin". No one else in the story had any problem with the fact that they were talking to a mouse.

    So you see, there's nothing wrong with that.

    Also, read what Rei said in my sig: You're free to do whatever the heck you want with historical characters. The story is not real. I can write a story about Thomas Jefferson hackng up zombies with an axe in his spare time if I so chose. (Not really, no. Zombies are too overdone in my opinion...)
     
  23. TheIllustratedMan
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    TheIllustratedMan Active Member

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    Oh yeah, how could I forget about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter? I should have mentioned that right off the bat.
     

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