1. Hubardo
    Offline

    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2014
    Messages:
    1,075
    Likes Received:
    566

    Using real places and people in fiction

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Hubardo, May 29, 2014.

    Is there a limit to how much information you can use about real places and people - and by people I mean public figures, not private citizens, obviously - in your fiction?

    In another thread someone was asking about using real or fake cities, but I'm wondering about even smaller scale real places, such as bars and restaurants and parks and so on.

    And maybe this is a question that should go under the publishing sub-forum, but would a publisher have to ask permission to use public figures in fiction? Like, for example, MC becomes best friends with X public figure and I've just written a hundred pages about the conversations they have and things they do together.
     
  2. Poziga
    Online

    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2013
    Messages:
    521
    Likes Received:
    273
    Location:
    Slovenia
    I remember someone saying in another thread that it is ok to use company names as long as you don't talk badly about them. I wouldn't know more than that...
     
  3. Mike Hill
    Offline

    Mike Hill Natural born citizen of republic of Finland.

    Joined:
    May 12, 2014
    Messages:
    260
    Likes Received:
    70
    Location:
    Finland
    I think you can write, really anything about Barack Obama or Angela Merkel. But when you go to lower levels I'm not sure.
     
  4. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,684
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    Okay, your first question is about using "information" but the third posits fictional settings and conversations with real people. Those two are not the same thing. "Information" suggests factual material, and if it is verifiable fact and available to the public, then you can use it. Public figures do forfeit a certain amount of privacy. However, if the facts are negative, you may risk a legal action that would be costly to defend. As for fictional interactions with public figures, you would need to be very careful to keep them benign or else risk a libel suit. Write what you like for now - if this is a first novel, it's not likely to be more than a learning experience and all of this would thus be moot - but if you really do get as far as publication, particularly if you decide to self-pub, do not proceed without consulting a literary attorney. Do not simply rely on comments by unknowns on a writing forum! (Even an obviously brilliant one like me :whistle:)

    As for your second question, public places like parks are not a problem. But if you plan to use real business establishments, be aware that some business names are trademarked, and therefore cannot be used without permission. In addition, anything that you say about them that is negative could be perceived as causing them economic loss, subjecting you to legal action. So, do not proceed without obtaining the owner's written permission, and be prepared to state up front just how you plan to portray them. Also, be prepared to pay them for their permission.

    Finally, a publisher never has to ask permission. The writer does. Usually for a fee.

    Good luck.
     
    Hubardo likes this.
  5. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    JMHO, but I've never seen the reason to use real people or real businesses in my stuff (versus real cities or other public places). Historical novels, sure, or a mention ("Obama was on TV giving a speech") to help build a framework, but otherwise - why? (Serious question btw, not just rhetorical.)
     
  6. Hubardo
    Offline

    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2014
    Messages:
    1,075
    Likes Received:
    566
    i just learned that there's a place where they have a porn star karaoke in burbank california (called sardo's grill and lounge). my MC is a porn addict who wants to meet porn stars and decides to take the train down to burbank to meet some. i thought it would be cool to use the actual place and for him to possibly meet some real porn stars. also, throughout the story he describes his imagined relationships with real porn stars. i don't know why i haven't just made up fictional ones. i guess i think it's kind of funny to use real ones.
     
  7. Hubardo
    Offline

    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2014
    Messages:
    1,075
    Likes Received:
    566
    Oh, also, the MC is a reference librarian at the Santa Barbara Public Library. I like the idea of him working at a real library in a real city. Maybe I'm less imaginative than I could be, because I used to work at this very library, and I live only a few blocks from it. I'd be interested if folks wanted to go over the pros and cons of using a real place like this versus making one up.
     
  8. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    not as long as the info you use has been publicly disclosed fairly widely... it is important to carefully vet the source, however...

    ...if privately owned, you need to be careful not to write anything the owners would object to... if public places, you can write whatever you want...

    ...that depends on the publisher, but it wouldn't be a standard procedure in all cases...

    ...public figures can and often do sue writers for all kinds of reasons, so if they're still alive, or if deceased have family who may sue, you should be careful about what you write...

    ...and when in doubt, consult a literary/libel attorney...
     
  9. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    The problem (as mammamaia notes) is how you portray these real people and the real business. If they take umbrage to your portrayal, you could have big problems.

    A public library is a public place, and as long as your character just works there, I don't see it as a problem. Now, it is possible that the city could come after you if you portray the library in a bad light - not a lawyer, so I couldn't say if they could or not. But as always, if one is concerned about legal ramifications, a call to a literary attorney is necessary for any solid legal advice.

    Personally, I've used real places (cities or areas) in my stories - but only as the setting, not as an integral part of the story itself. For example, I could put the characters at a specific real library or at an imagined one; that doesn't matter - the important thing is that it is a library. Bear in mind, most of your readers are not going to be familiar with specific landmarks anyway. They'll recognize New York, but a specific street or business? Not a big chance unless it's famous in and of itself (like Times Square). So in the end, does it really matter to the reader? No. So why not just make something up and save yourself possible grief?
     
  10. Mike Hill
    Offline

    Mike Hill Natural born citizen of republic of Finland.

    Joined:
    May 12, 2014
    Messages:
    260
    Likes Received:
    70
    Location:
    Finland
    Using real pornstars really depends on how do you portray them. If positively they probably just like it and take it as a commercial. Of course if your book becomes successful they might want some.
     
  11. captain kate
    Offline

    captain kate Active Member

    Joined:
    May 4, 2008
    Messages:
    876
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Cruising through space.
    Public figures like former Presidents, etc and movie stars are not afforded the same protections as normal people when it comes to privacy and satire. However, you cannot go out and say Bill Clinton slept with a goat or something like that or you can be sued for slander. If they are doing their jobs in a normal manner like they do in real life and are within the character of how they lead, etc, then you're not violating their rights to privacy or slandering them.
     

Share This Page