View Full Version : Kinda sorta based on a person

05-28-2016, 06:48 AM
My novel is loosely based on a person, some of the events are true, well most, though the time line is off and a few key details were changed to make for a more linear, easier to follow, story. There was some addition of details to emphasize characteristics without boring the reader. The true aspects are there though, and the person is very aware of the novel and ok with it. I'm wondering if I should consider mentioning this detail in a query letter or to devulge at all? I would ask permission of the person first, but wondering if I should go there as at this point I consider it more fictionalized than non. Using details to inspire the story etc, does that make sense? Any thoughts?

05-28-2016, 07:23 AM
Maybe get written permission from the person, and their okay again after they've read a copy of it. But no, I don't think you'd need to mention it in a query. If it's a non-issue to the inspiration, then a literary agent would need to know the details once she's trying to find a publisher for the book, but not up-front.

05-28-2016, 07:59 AM
Scares me and I am fearless. If the person doesn't like where you put one comma you can be sued. Depending on where you live, that person may not win but it might put your book in the deep freeze for a long time. Methinks you need to talk to an attorney.
Any members of the Shakespeare Was Right Society out there? In one of his plays he had a plotter say "the first thing we do is, we kill all the lawyers."
There's a kicker to this because the lawyers in question were the good guys, counselors to the king.

05-28-2016, 08:11 AM
I think this is asking for trouble. Sure, this person is okay with it, until they read something in it that they don't like. Or it starts making money and this person then decides they should get some of it. Or the two of you have a falling out. Etc.

We all get our inspiration from the world around us and since you say it is more fictionalized than not, I would disguise the rest of the remaining true parts to be able to honestly tell the person you've decided to write a different book instead, and tell them that. Get that person out of the equation, then query.

05-28-2016, 08:07 PM
My concern is not with the person themselves, but if along the publishing route (if i get that far) it is something that i should devulge. I wasn't considering mentioning it but i noticed in another book they did mention that MC was based on a real person though some of the events were fictionalized.

05-28-2016, 09:00 PM
Are you selling a novel or a memoir? Seriously, if it's in fact a novel and that's how you want to sell it why does it even matter where your inspiration came from? If you are selling it as fiction, it has to be believable as fiction which isn't always the same as "but it really happened." Like Fruitbat and others have said, I would worry about giving anyone so much claim over your work and being able to say "that's all about me."

05-28-2016, 09:20 PM
My concern is not with the person themselves, but if along the publishing route (if i get that far) it is something that i should devulge. I wasn't considering mentioning it but i noticed in another book they did mention that MC was based on a real person though some of the events were fictionalized.You would want to divulge this to your literary agent and to your publisher. They will be very, very interested in making sure they have the person's legal consent to do this.

I just don't think it needs to go in the query letter, if you do have this person's permission. At that point, the literary agent is just trying to judge whether they like your book and could sell it.

05-28-2016, 09:30 PM
Thanks for the input! I appreciate it :)

Fuchsia Groan
05-30-2016, 08:08 AM
Fiction takes inspiration from real people and events all the time. Think of the book/movie To Die For, or the many tell-all romans a clef, or the "ripped from the headlines" episodes of Law & Order. Remember when Nicole Richie wrote a novel that was supposedly ripping on Paris Hilton? (Or so the tabloids claimed, anyway.) Etc., etc.

Common as it is, authors do occasionally get in trouble for this, especially when the inspiration is not a public figure, is easy to identify, and might have a damaged reputation as a result of the book. I read about one case where the author fictionalized her experience with an unconventional therapist. Before undergoing therapy, she had made some sort of non-disclosure agreement. Even though she changed the practitioner's name, this resulted in a successful (I think) lawsuit. (I found this account on a publishing lawyer's blog, which might be a source to start with, and then consider consulting a lawyer.)

The best defense is fictionalizing as many incidental details as possible, so that the story is distinctly yours and does not come across as an invasion of the person's privacy. Writers turn their real friends, family members, and acquaintances into fiction all the time. Hard feelings result, but actual lawsuits seem much rarer.

As for agents, I wouldn't volunteer the info unless they ask what inspired the story, and even then, be vague and avoid naming names, unless the person is famous enough to be considered a public figure.

It's always weird seeing the standard disclaimer ("any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental") on works of fiction that were obviously inspired by real events. But I think the key is plausible deniability and a strong creative component. I'm far from an expert on this, though.

05-31-2016, 05:41 AM
Thanks, many aspects are fictionalized. I will discuss the relation with the agent when(if) I land one. I wasn't sure if there was an obligation to divulge this information. While the person approved the concept and has read it (and approved, and also noted how much was fiction), I was unsure on how to approach it within the publishing industry. Due to my relationship with this person I know a lawyer is not required and I am not fearful of their disdain for the topic etc etc. I just don't want to plaster their name all over it, incidentally anyone else who may have been identifiable in the work is either passed or removed from the story altogether.

I appreciate the feedback here. It has both terrified me and soothed me ;) I will make sure I have my bases covered and discuss the possibility of said person signing some paperwork should the book be picked up to except agent and publishing house.

Carrie in PA
05-31-2016, 04:50 PM
Something to put in the back of the mind... what happens if your book becomes a hit and you start making a crapload of money from it? Money does crazy things to people, even those you'd least expect, so make sure you have your behind covered in that aspect as well.

05-31-2016, 07:05 PM
you are right money makes people crazy so better safe than sorry! I will consult a lawyer friend and make sure to discuss all of this before I go on querying.