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Using Real-Life Events in Writing: What is okay and what isn’t? (1 Viewer)

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Wren9244

Senior Member
I am almost 100% settled on the plot and outline for a romance novel I’m working through and the over-arcing plot involves the main characters working in Formula 1 Racing.

But, I’m curious about plot points that are directly taken from real life—especially someone ELSE’S life. The event will be used as a plot point for my main female character, and will affect the main arc a bit here and there.

So, what’s the consensus here? Is this okay? I think the reason I’m even bothering to question it is because the information came to me in the form of a direct quote from this person. Obviously there will be no reference to him and the meat of this plot point will be presented in the prologue. I will attach an article concerning the event in case that helps answer this question.

Thoughts? Opinions?
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
If you're quoting a friend's oral statement, you should be OK. I'd tell them I'd like to and they'd normally be flattered I wanted to include them in my writing. Using quotes from "famous folks" comes under the concept of Fair Use. You should read about Fair Use to determine how closely your intention matches scenarios described. The short answer is that it's normally OK, if it's a relatively short quote and you attribute it. ANYTHNG oral is fair game with attribution.

If you tell a story directly out of someone's life and it's identifiable and places them in a negative light, or they can claim it's misleading and defamatory, you could have liability. However, anything that makes the news is also fair game ... thus all the "ripped from the headlines" plots on "Law and Order".

This gives you broad strokes, but no one should base their legal future on a comment like this. Study the subject and learn about it from authorities, and they're easy to find.
 

Wren9244

Senior Member
I’ve looked up the various definitions and charts for Fair Use laws, but I’m still just as confused. Maybe confused isn’t the right word.

To clarify, I want to use something someone famous did (that I heard as a direct quote from this person) as inspiration for a plot point in my novel.

Charles Leclerc, a F1 driver for Ferrari, lied to his father about signing onto a F1 team right before he died. He lied to his dying father to give him peace, as his father was his biggest fan and wanted to see his son succeed and make it into F1 and driving for his favorite team. Within how many ever months, after his father’s death, Leclerc did what he set out to do: signed on to be a Ferrari driver.

It’s that particular event that I want my main character to experience—written to fit the story and characters. Would doing that—using an event from his life, be a no-no?
 

robertn51

Friends of WF
I want to use something someone famous did (that I heard as a direct quote from this person) as inspiration for a plot point in my novel.

First: You talk with Charles Leclerc? 😍😍😍. (jk -- that "this person" ambiguity was just too tempting)

Second: Your ticket to ride is that key word, "inspiration." That is, your fictional event will be inspired by -- not merely copy by name and place -- the actual true event.

Besides, the event is no secret, having been publicly reported, Making it common record and ripe for all our poignant "inspirations."

And it's lights out and away we go
 

Wren9244

Senior Member
First: You talk with Charles Leclerc? 😍😍😍. (jk -- that "this person" ambiguity was just too tempting)

Second: Your ticket to ride is that key word, "inspiration." That is, your fictional event will be inspired by -- not merely copy by name and place -- the actual true event.

Besides, the event is no secret, having been publicly reported, Making it common record and ripe for all our poignant "inspirations."

And it's lights out and away we go
Lol! I originally heard him talk about it in an interview. Looking back it certainly reads like I spoke to him myself. I wish!

But, that’s what I was hoping someone would confirm—the inspiration factor. By no means will his name ever be mentioned, I just loved the idea of doing something like that for a dying lived one. Just a little white lie to send them on their way. And for him to have achieved that goal relatively soon afterwards is such an amazing resolution to it all. I knew I wanted to have something similar happen in my story but wasn’t comfortable with my own logical reasoning as to why it would be okay to do.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Normally I'd say write what you want but there's something about this that bothers me. This is a real quote and a dying wish ... Even if no one ever clocked on and it slipped through unseen, I'd feel bad about doing it. To take something so personal from someone else and use it for what is essentially entertainment is 'morally' questionable. I'm not against using real 'events' but when you are talking about 'quotes', then that's different in my opinion. Only when a character talks do they truly live on the page.

I'd take the sentiments conveyed and rewrite them. Everything else is up for grabs.
 

Wren9244

Senior Member
Normally I'd say write what you want but there's something about this that bothers me. This is a real quote and a dying wish ... Even if no one ever clocked on and it slipped through unseen, I'd feel bad about doing it. To take something so personal from someone else and use it for what is essentially entertainment is 'morally' questionable. I'm not against using real 'events' but when you are talking about 'quotes', then that's different in my opinion. Only when a character talks do they truly live on the page.

I'd take the sentiments conveyed and rewrite them. Everything else is up for grabs.
I understand where your coming from, but I merely want to use what he went through and what he did in that moment as inspiration for a character backstory that will be mentioned from time to time.

Is the issue the quote or just using his life experience as inspiration? Because, don’t we do that with nearly everything anyways?
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I understand where your coming from, but I merely want to use what he went through and what he did in that moment as inspiration for a character backstory that will be mentioned from time to time.

Is the issue the quote or just using his life experience as inspiration? Because, don’t we do that with nearly everything anyways?
For me that's fine then. I thought you were going to quote directly what was said.
 

robertn51

Friends of WF
I knew I wanted to have something similar happen in my story

Also, what Leclerc did -- lie to a beloved someone on their death bed -- was so utterly and believably human. And what more do we do but wallow in our humanity, flapping our fingers and flinging our ink about?

Will your character use the guilt of his lie to roar up from F2 into F1 and just spank the then First-Driver for race-monster Ferrari into quitting the hallowed team? And then lose the podium to his nemesis now driving for another team? Or, worse, will his vaunted Ferrari not even start for his hometown race? Oh the humanity.

One needn't make this stuff up!

Romance, indeed.
 

Wren9244

Senior Member
Also, what Leclerc did -- lie to a beloved someone on their death bed -- was so utterly and believably human. And what more do we do but wallow in our humanity, flapping our fingers and flinging our ink about?

Will your character use the guilt of his lie to roar up from F2 into F1 and just spank the then First-Driver for race-monster Ferrari into quitting the hallowed team? And then lose the podium to his nemesis now driving for another team? Or, worse, will his vaunted Ferrari not even start for his hometown race? Oh the humanity.

One needn't make this stuff up!

Romance, indeed.
That poor kid has been through so much. He lost 3 loved ones on 3 separate occasions, the day before a Grand Prix and still went on to demolish them! It’s hard to not be a fan, even if I don’t care for the Ferrari team.

My story arc will obviously not include his other feats and experiences. But I certainly commend him on his abilities, talents and how well he functions under pressure.
 

JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
For what it's worth, Stephen Hunter pretty much built his name on something similar.

If you're at all familiar with the history of military precision rifle work you'll know the name Carlos Hathcock. If not, Hathcock was a sniper in Viet Nam who held the distinction of besting a North Vietnamese sniper sent specifically to kill him - by hitting the enemy through his riflescope. This came in addition to 93 confirmed kills and, by Hathcock's own estimate, as many as 400 probables.

Hunter used a conspicuously similar backstory for a long-running character in a string of books. Although the history diverged considerably between Hathcock and the fictional protag, most of the readership is familiar enough with the events to recognize the events that Hunter dramatized. And again, several years later, when he wrote about a group of mid-20th gunwriters (and gunfighters) teaming up to break up free a man from a remote prison in backwater Mississippi. As written, all of the group are lightly fictionalized versions of flesh and blood men well-enough known in their day.

Edited to add: Hunter also borrowed the general plot of The Magnificent Seven for the latter. I guess if you're going to swipe elements, you might as well go for broke.

Of course you may surmise (correctly) that Hunter tends toward blood-and-thunder crime and adventure fiction moreso than highbrow literature, and that his readership probably falls along fairly predictable lines... but borrowing doesn't seem to have hurt him any.
 
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