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  1. LadyJustin
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    LadyJustin New Member

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    Using Real People

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by LadyJustin, Feb 28, 2008.

    My novel is fiction, but some of the situations were real things that happened to me. So as I write I keep using my ex-boyfriends name, then have to go back and change to the fictional name. What are the implications of just using his name (first only)? If he or his family ever read this book, they would KNOW I was writing about him, even though the story is fiction. It would be so much easier for me to just use his name as I develop the events, since I'm having a tendency to do that anyway.:confused:
     
  2. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    LadyJustin,

    If you're writing something as fiction, it should be fiction. Yes, it can be based some on real events, but writing about an event or series of events to make up a story, and simply replacing the name of one of the characters (real person) with a fake name, isn't enough.

    Sure, you could write it using your real ex-boyfriend's name (say it's Freddie) and then use a find and replace, and change it to Jason (for example), but beyond the fact that the story is so tied to real individuals and events that you keep putting the real person's name in the story instead of the ficticious name, simply using a different name to represent the real-life individual is not enough. This is especially the case since, as you indicated, anybody who knew your ex-boyfriend and read the story would know it is him being portrayed. And that is a problem.

    That's the short answer to your question.

    Terry
     
  3. LadyJustin
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    LadyJustin New Member

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    Terry,
    What a great idea ... using search to change the names later! The events of the story are entirely fabricated, but the mannerisms and descriptions are that of my ex. How he thinks, what he says, etc. I had him in mind for this role. So I can't help but use his name when that character does something. Perfect reply! Thanks for helping me move forward faster.
    Chris
     
  4. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    LadyJustin,

    I think you missed part of my point. The fact that anybody who knows your ex-boyfriend and reads the story--and can say, "Hey, that's ___________", means there is a problem even if the name is different.

    If you look at the front pages of many novels (where the copyright info is) you will see a statement that says something to the effect:
    As you described it, the use of your ex-boyfriend is not coincidental, and it does more than strongly resemble him.

    Publishing contracts contain clauses that protect the publisher from, among other things, using real people, who if for example, someone is wrongly shown to have done something, or an action is in dispute, or in this case, someone --a real person-- who can clearly be identified in a work of fiction does something in that work that would hurt their reputation, could be a problem. I guess you could use the term 'libel'. An example of such a clause might be:
    Okay, I am not an expert in contract law, or publishing law, and someone else may pop in here and say that I am in error on this...but from my perspective, it is a concern and there is no reason to base the character in the story/novel specifically on an ex-boyfriend, such that he is recognizable as that individual in that novel. It can only lead to grief on the author's part.

    Does the character have to resemble the ex-boyfriend in such a close and exacting manner? People draw from personality quirks, habits, manners of speech, and all sorts of similar items in creating characters...but they create a character, kind of like Frankenstein—parts from many to make a whole, not a carbon-copy/clone of a single individual.

    Terry
     
  5. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    LadyJustin, I don't think you should write at all.

    That's called plagiarism. Listen to Ervin.
     
  6. adamant
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    adamant Contributing Member Contributor

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    Seriously, Ervin... Kruger and Voorhees?
     
  7. (Mark)
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    (Mark) Contributing Member

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    Come on, it's a little harsh to say that somebody shouldn't write at all. You mean to say that they shouldn't write this, right?

    No, it's not. Plagiarism is knowingly copying someone else's work, ideas etc. What LadyJustin is doing is writing about someone she knows.

    I think she's fine to write about them, as long as she changes around details surrounding the person, so there isn't a direct copy.

    My general feeling here is that this person wants to write about what happened with the ex-boyfriend and how it effected her, not necessarily focusing on the ex-boyfriend himself. There's really nothing wrong with that, as long as you don't name the boyfriend.

    It would be best if you created a character that could still do what the ex-boyfriend did, but was entirely different. That way, you can still use those events that you wanted to write about, but you wouldn't have to worry about any possible consequences of using that person.
     
  8. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    If you want to get sued, by all means, go ahead.

    But, for your safety, LadyJustin--do not write this.

    You don't want death threats, do you?
     
  9. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am not sure what this exactly means...Freddie and Jason?

    Connolly, my concern is with what was stated in the original post is that someone who knew the ex-boyfriend (ie family) could immediately or easily identify the fictional character (even with a different name) as that individual.

    Just changing the details surrounding the person but keeping the same person, when others clearly know who it is anyway? I don't think that makes it fiction with respect to the individual.

    Terry
     
  10. (Mark)
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    (Mark) Contributing Member

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    Terry, that's why I suggested inventing someone entirely new, and placing them into the plot. That way, the writer can still say what she wants to say, but she doesn't have to worry about alienating friends and family.
     
  11. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Below is a good article to review with respect to this thread. While the definition and history of libel is interesting, the article focuses more on the question at hand near the middle and bottom of the article.

    Defining Libel in Fiction

    Terry
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, it's libel you have to worry about, not plagiarism... terry is giving you good advice... mine is to take it!
     
  13. Cyprienne
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    Cyprienne New Member

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    I think that assuming she'd get death threats is a bit extreme... I doubt that the family of a guy she dated would threaten her.

    But that aside, the way I see it, change everything about it that you can while still leaving the character with the right feel. And, of course, writing it with his name initially and then replacing it later could work for you. It would probably help to put the character in rather unlikely situations or changing the physical description and some aspects of the personality. You don't want anybody to be offended by this, but you also don't want to entirely sacrifice how you envision the character. Good luck. :)
     
  14. LadyJustin
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    LadyJustin New Member

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    So some of you think I should NOT write because my character development involves the mannerisms of somebody I used to know? The setting and events aren't "real". I was INSPIRED by a past ex for a particular character. He would fit this role perfectly.
    Are you telling me that the characters in your stories absolutely do not resemble ANYBODY you've ever known? There must be very few people under that rock with you.
    :rolleyes:
     
  15. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    JustinLady,

    Then you say:
    If people who know the individual were to read the book would KNOW you were writing about the ex-boyfriend, that is more than being inspired. He fits the role perfectly means it is more than inspired.

    I would urge you again to read this article, Defining Libel in Fiction (linked to in an earlier post), written by a professional who knows the potential ramifications.

    There is a choice, JustinLady. You can continue on the present path with blinders on, or you can do what is necessary to make the novel a true work of fiction.

    If you're writing the novel to get the story out of your system, that is one thing. But if not, look further down the road. If you intend to submit it, and if it is picked up, what can of worms do you risk opening? Are you going to go through the editing and publication process, telling yourself that the character based on the ex-boyfriend, who fit the part perfectly, and anybody who knows him will identify the character as him, won't matter? Maybe keep your fingers crossed?

    Or are you going to take off the blinders at that point and tell the editor you're working with, "Wait, I've got a potential issue here and I have to rewrite one of the main characters because..." How will that go over? Will it alter the publisher's view of the project and the professionalism of the author, and question other parts and characters? Certainly it will delay publication by months or longer, but could it also torpedo the deal?

    A well written novel where the author goes in and alters one of the main characters in such a substantial way as to make them 'unrecognizeable' as someone else, is bound to have a ripple effect on the plot, how other characters respond to the character and his actions, and the flavor of his dialogue, as well as the now altered character's reactions to situations, actions and dialogue. It's more than just changing eye color, or if he is a Notre Dame fan vs. a University of Michigan fan.

    The fact that you keep typing the ex's name in the text says volumes about who the character really is, doesn't it?

    I urge you to think this through to the end before continuing the project as it now stands. Will it be a bit harder creating a true fictional character? Yes, but how many people who know the writing process proclaim that, "Writing is easy"?

    Terry
     
  16. LadyJustin
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    LadyJustin New Member

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    Emotional bluntness aside, I AM hearing the advice being given. And there's ALOT of advice/opinions.
    I still think I can pull off this story without plagiarism, although you've given me very good reasons to rework some of it.
     
  17. TWErvin2
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    LadyJustin,
    Plagerism is not the concern at issue, libel is. Again, I'd urge you to read this article, especially the middle and end sections, as it is most relevant to what is happening in your current project:
    Defining Libel in Fiction.

    I realize that what I and most others in this thread have said is not necessarily what you expected or wanted to hear when you originally posted about this project. In the end, changing the core meaning, theme, or heart of the story is not at issue. Rather, just writing it such that, in this case, the characters are truly fictional is.

    Good luck.

    Terry
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    again, all i can do is urge you to follow terry's good, sound advice... and stop thinking 'plagiarism' which has nothing to do with your situation... it's LIBEL you have to worry about... and getting sued!
     
  19. BluePaladin
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    BluePaladin Member

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    I know most forums tend to frown upon reviving old threads, but I have a very important question significant to this discussion.

    My situation:
    >real people

    >the characterization of the "real people" characters focuses only on the most prominent one or two aspects of their personality (cocky, introverted, etc)

    >fake events and situations - the character's responses to these situations are unknown, so it is unlikely the character will be recognized. EXAMPLE: I'm pretty sure marine biologists don't know how they would act in a situation where they have flaming wings and are battling a giant robot.

    Would this be okay? Because if not, that's thirteen years of work down the drain.
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    are you using real people who are well-known in the world, or ordinary people you know personally?... and are you using their real names, or otherwise making them recognizable to any readers?...

    are you making real people into fantasy creatures, or what?...

    no one can answer your question effectively, till you answer those...
     
  21. BluePaladin
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    BluePaladin Member

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    Oops, sorry.

    Well, the characters are based on friends of mine, including one character based on myself. I was planning on using the real first name of each person, knowing that I would then be able to easily substitute new names if necessary. The physical description of each person would be decidedly vague (for example, there are thousands of people named Ryan with brown hair and brown eyes).

    No, I'm not making them into fantasy creatures. The wings are just an example of one of the characters' powers (in this case, a friend of mine who is planning to become a marine biologist, though of course that detail would be left out of the story).

    Does that help?
     
  22. edens garden
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    edens garden Senior Member

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    I wouldn't think it would be too much of a problem, as long as everyone based in the story is alright with you using them. I suppose if you felt it would ever be a problem you could get a signed and dated statement from they agreeing that you can use them in your book and that they won't sue. Like that movie from forever ago, riding in cars with boys (but hopefully less hostile).
     
  23. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You also put yourself in fetters by using real people. You as a writer will feel even more inhibited about inflecting terrible plights and worse personality flaws on your characters out of respect for their real counterparts.

    As a writer, you need to intensify conflict. Holding back weakens the plot.
     
  24. Aurora_Black
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    Agreed on that note cog.
     
  25. BluePaladin
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    BluePaladin Member

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    I dunno, I'm pretty ruthless. I have a lot of experience with storylines that are basically a series of unfortunate events :rolleyes: for the main characters. While I admit my story will be a little more flowers-and-sunshine as far as whether the characters succeed or fail in their quests, I certainly don't intend to make it easy for them. Ambushes, moral dilemmas, "drop your weapon or she dies", a cliched betrayal, it's all there.

    Also, I'm putting strong emphasis on the word "based". As I develop the characters, they're going to develop themselves, to the point where my friends might not even be able to recognize their "new" self. So I'm fine with giving a character's personality more flaws than swiss cheese has holes. Not that I will; one or two flaws per character (ones that will have some affect on the plot) will work better.
     

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