Question about legality of a fiction story based on a true premise


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Thread: Question about legality of a fiction story based on a true premise

  1. #1

    Question about legality of a fiction story based on a true premise

    Hi everyone. I am new to the forums and a very inexperienced writer. It is simply a hobby for me. While I enjoy writing short fiction stories for all genres I never had it in me to write an entire novel. I write outlines, come up with characters, but it always seems to fizzle out in the end. That's until yesterday. I read about a real-life situation that played out a year ago that I feel would make a great fiction novel. My question is about the legality of writing about such a topic since it is based off of a true incident. I do not want to give away too many of my ideas, but I do want to give you enough so that you can give me some feedback on the legality ofwriting about such a topic.

    About a year ago there was a Social Media partnership that went sour. One member of the group made comments that the group as a whole did not approve. They decided to kick the member out which led to a lot of hurt feelings and public name calling and debate. The story died out and then one of the members threatened violence against another member. It never amounted to anything and the entire drama just went away. In reality, the amount of public knowledge that came out about this incident would fill up half a sheet of paper. I think I could; however, turn it in to a 200-page novel by developing my own characters, placing them in a similar situation, and letting the book write itself after that point. Obviously I would not allow the story to just fizzle out, but would create an entire revenge / stalking suspense story out of it. 99% of my story would be my original ideas, but the premise would be based on the actual incident.

    While most people who would read this novel (if anyone at all) would not connect the two stories together, people who were involved in the original drama might. Obviously I would change the names of all involved and create completely new characters so none of the characters in my story are based off of any real persons. I would also not use IP such as any name-brand Social Media service, but I would rename it and create my own fictitious version of it.

    In summary, while the story would be my own ideas and characters, it would be inspired by a real situation. Do I need to get approval for something like this? Of course, this is all considering the fact I finish the novel and get anyone to actually read it. But just in case that dream does come true, could I be held accountable? And no, I do not have any insight on what actually happened. I was not part of it. I just read about it and kept thinking, "Wow, what would happen if this person did this, or that person did that...it would make a great story." And that is where I am now.

    Any thoughts or feedback? Thanks!

  2. #2
    People write stories based on actual events all the time.
    Where you risk legal issues is in slander or libel.
    So, as long as you do the Dragnet thang, and change the names to protect the guilty, you should be okay.
    Keep in mind that public figures have a higher bar for slander (than non-public figures.) So if these people are virtual nobodies, then the bar for slander is very low. But if they are movie stars, politicians, or orange, then you can get away with a lot more.

  3. #3
    RalphRotten nailed it. The TV show Law and Order admitted it ripped its stories from the headlines. It just made small changes to names and events, but everyone who watched it likely knew what was being referenced.
    Author of CIBA 'Clue Awards' Semifinalist The Lone Escapist, published by Read Lips Press, available on Amazon.
    *Voted #4 of Best 'Escapist' Novels by Book Lovin' Geek Mamas, NYC

    Dan Rhys - Author
    Hidden Content

  4. #4
    Agree with Ralph as well. In my novel, I've used real places, names, etc and never had any problems. Unless one specifically disparages a person/institution that is obviously not a story, the writer is fine.

  5. #5
    As Dan Rhys posted, this is what half the Law and Order episodes are about. Dick Wolf has said he could never run out of story ideas because his source is the New York Times. Everyone draws inspiration from somewhere, use it to create something unique.
    K.S. Crooks- Dreamer and Author

  6. #6
    Just some practical ideas, some of which have been touched upon:

    1. Definitely change names. Don't have them sound even remotely alike. If you're talking about a woman named Jennifer Lopez, don't rename her Jenny Martinez, but something altogether different.

    2. Change genders if it works for the story.

    3. Change ethnicities and family backgrounds.

    4. Change professions.

    5. Change physical features.

    6. Mix n' match. In real life, a statement may have been said by one person. In your fiction, split it up to two people or more.

    Good luck!

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