1. RLJ
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    RLJ Member

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    Using real people, but changing names?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by RLJ, Oct 1, 2012.

    I'm writing a novel. Although right now it's nothing but family trees, characters profiles, and tepid plot ideas. I'm a big Gilded Age/Victorian Era fan. That's the period I'm writing in. I was wondering if it's wrong to use real people, but change their names, and dates. Say I wanted to use Caroline Astor in my book, but I changed her name to Minerva Hartley, but I used events where the reader new who the character was based on. Or, if it's not the main character, and I allowed to use real people for support?
     
  2. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Not a smart move, because people can figure out if it's them, and you can get sued. Before doing anything like that, consult a literary lawyer and find out how to cover your backside from lawsuits. No one here are legally knowledgeable enough to tell you for sure what you can and can't do.
     
  3. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    If the OP means Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor, then she's been dead for over one hundred years. And I don't think she's going to be suing anybody.
     
  4. RLJ
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    RLJ Member

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    @DefinitelyMaybe that's exactly who I was referring to. All the people I'd be using are dead, so are their children, and most of their grandchildren. I wouldn't be using anyone who is alive today, has been alive within the past 50 years, or born within the last 100.
     
  5. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. But I did read somewhere that incorporating dead people into your books is OK. You should of course check this with someone who actually understands the law. Says he in a typical modern avoid-lawsuits-at-any-cost way.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Definitely consult a literary attorney. There still could be living relatives who could and would raise a stink, especially if there is the chance of collecting money to "ease their pain".
     
  7. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've read several novels where real historical people were included as part of the cast. I don't think there would be a problem in that regard. But it seems that you actually just intend to base your characters on real people, and I would think you're on even more solid ground there. But, as always with legal concerns, consult an attorney if you're really concerned. (And if you go with a trade publisher/agent, they'll also let you know if there's a problem with some part of it.)
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    doctorow and carr have both used real public figures very successfully, in their historical fiction... as have others... i seem to recall even some more current time novels having real people in them, though titles and author names escape me at the moment... do some googling on the subject for more info, before you set off on that path...

    Google famous real people appearing in fiction
     

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