How Do I Not End Up In Court With My Novel?

I want to know how I can make sure that my fiction writing cannot be construed as libellous. I am writing two novels currently and both of them are based on real life experience of a kind, one certainly more than the other, and I want to make sure that I don’t run the risk of being sued.

I would have thought that it’s impossible to write fiction that’s set in real-life places without being influenced in some way by your own experience. I’m sure you’re okay if you set your stories in Narnia or Middle Earth and have trolls chasing each other around dragons, but I don’t. My stories are plausible yet funny, and some of the characters therefore are sketched in a comical light. What happens if a real-life person thinks I’m talking about them?

Names

There are two types of person involved; 1) people in the public eye, and 2)  private people that you know. I have chosen to change the names of the people that I know and have kept in the names of the celebrities. People in the public eye have less claim on their name just being printed. I’m not too worried about the celebrities that I name because they are mentioned in factual references to what they are known for, and I ‘m not defaming any of them.

However, one of the books I am writing is loosely an auto-biographical tale of me breaking out of the corporate career that I was in. So obviously the story has real people dotted all over it. If one of them decides that a character is such a close reflection of the real person that anyone would be able to tell by role, description, or name, then they may be able to sue, if they claim to be portrayed in a negative way.

This worries me and I’m not really sure what to do about it given that the whole purpose of the story is to highlight some of the ridiculous characters that exist in the corporate world. I may need to dress the characters up even more but then I run the risk of making them in to caricatures and losing the realism.

Places and Organisations

It’s the same deal with places where you set your action or indeed companies that you name, or are identifiable. Again you have to portray them in a negative light for it to be a problem so mentioning real towns etc should be alright as long as you don’t comment on the traditionally poor sewerage of the said place. But I worked for one company and anyone that knows me will know who that company is, so I’ll have to be very careful not to disparage the company while taking potshots at the activities that go on within it.

An author I know ran into some trouble with a very famous coffee outlet because he mentioned in his book that there was always a queue. They claimed that there was never a queue in one of their franchises and wished for it to be removed. He was a self-published author that just put his book out there and they still found him.

The whole thing is a bit of a minefield to be honest and I’m not particularly confident about it all. I feel as though I may need to take legal advice on The Great Corporate Escape so that I can be sure it’s bullet proof. There are disclaimers that you can put in the front stating that it’s all based on imagination etc, etc, but that won’t cover you at all if someone thinks it real.

Any help in this matter would be greatly appreciated, perhaps you’ve had similar issues and found an easy way to resolve them?

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2 responses to “How Do I Not End Up In Court With My Novel?

  1. I’ve been thinking about this with a project I want to work on next year. It is fiction, but based on real people with distinct personalities. Do I need to be worried?

    • From what I’ve read about it, if the real people can identify themselves from the characters then you could be in trouble, IF they’re shown in a negative light. It’s a minefield. If I were you I’d get proper legal advice before you start. I’ve written 100,000 words of a novel before I thought I’d have a look. Doh!!!

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