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Archived Author Help > Non-Fiction Question

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M. Ray Holloway Jr.   (mrayhollowayjr) | 180 comments I have a question about a non-fiction short story that I planning to write soon. When I was in my twenties, a friend of mine was murdered. The story of the events have been on my heart for a very long time, and it feels like the right time to tell that story. It was an event that helped shape the person that I would become.

My question is this: I lost contact with most of the people that were involved at that time. Some are no longer alive. I could tell the story using real names and places, but I have no way to obtain permission to use any real names. My inclination is to tell the true story, but change the names of the individuals. I would appreciate hearing any insights that this group might be able to offer me on this matter.


message 2: by Charles (last edited Mar 02, 2016 04:26AM) (new)

Charles | 148 comments Ray, I think you should make an outline of what happened, and take it to an attorney for legal advice. Without permission from the parties involved, you could get into a lot of trouble and cause much unwanted pain. If you want to tell the real non-fiction tale, you will need to obtain certain permissions. The attorney should be able to tell you what you need from whom.
If you want to tell it as fiction, is there a way you can tell the tale that clearly avoids anyone connecting it to what really happened? You may still need some permissions. You might start by asking who the local newspaper uses for an attorney, or ask the local bar association whom you should call.
Hope this helps.
edit: Of course, you can just write it for yourself any way you want to and not publish it.


message 3: by G.G. (last edited Mar 02, 2016 04:24AM) (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) | 2491 comments I've seen this many times: the names of the individuals have been change to protect the innocent.

I don't know much about non fiction so I can't help but I know if it were me, I'd change the names. I think the family would appreciate it.

edit: now I know nothing about the law side.


message 4: by Martin (new)

Martin Wilsey | 447 comments Based on actual events.

Then names and places have been changed to protect their privacy.


message 5: by Ken (last edited Mar 02, 2016 05:43AM) (new)

Ken Doggett (kendoggett) I think it originated with the '50s TV series Dragnet, starring Jack Webb as Joe Friday. "This is a true story. The names have been changed to protect the innocent." So be careful that the disclaimer doesn't harken back to that, and give the impression that it's a parody.


message 6: by Dwayne, Head of Lettuce (new)

Dwayne Fry | 4270 comments Mod
I vote for changing the names.


message 7: by Owen (last edited Mar 02, 2016 06:51AM) (new)

Owen O'Neill (owen_r_oneill) | 1509 comments Ray, I agree with what's being said here. Writing non-fiction about something like this is dicey, because as you say, of the permission issues and also because other people involved will probably have different perspectives and feelings and that can create issues if a non-fiction rendition of events strays from purely "objective" and "just the fact, ma'am."

My suggestion would be a fictionalize the narrative be changing names, dates, locations etc so you can tell the story you want and protect the privacy of those involved. As mentioned, you can say "based on a real events" or "inspired by real events" and perhaps even include an afterword discussing why you are writing this story.


Angela(demonsangel) Fitzgerald (demonsangel) | 3 comments I went to college for law and as others have mentioned you can get in serious trouble. My advice and in reality it's really you're only option is not only change all the names but to make it a fiction story.
I understand that you would really like to tell this story but since people are dead and you can't reach people you can't use their real names. That's not even the end of it. You would need to make it fiction because people might put things together and you could get sued. You can mention in the story about certain details that was in the news or papers but you will have to put where certain information came from. I would write it as a type of thriller, using some real events. Its like a movie based on true or actual events. I know this wasn't the answer you were looking for but you can't write this story as non-fiction even if you change names. You can list it as fiction and put some events are true, but make sure you get the documentation to add in your book. You don't have to put the date from the papers and news but you could throw it off for the readers by writing these events happened from(example) 2006-2012. I hope this helps and feel free to contact an attorney. I am about 97% sure that I'm right as are other members here. This is serious and no one would want to see you end up paying people for the rest of your life. Also, if they were all alive then they would most likely get part of your sells and you would end up not making anything from it. So think of it like a movie that has true events but they've made it to be nothing like the real story. Make sense?


message 9: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 333 comments I go along with what is said above. Write it as fiction, use imaginary names and places, and make sure that you write it so it cannot easily be correlated with the events.

I will give you another reason. A very similar situation arose in my youth, and I have some idea why the person concerned became a victim. This might appear to make a very good novel, BUT it would make bad non-fiction because first, I would be putting my interpretation on things, and I may be wrong. Second, with the best will in the world, I only know a very limited amount of what really happened, so it would be near impossible to write it without speculating on some of the aspects of the series of events, and in getting this wrong, it would inevitably unfairly cause pain to a number of other people. Even apart from the issues of legal liability, do you really want to hurt people unnecessarily for no better reason than to sell books? Write it as fiction, and good luck.


message 10: by Mimi (new)

Mimi Marten | 54 comments I agree with majority. Give the victims voice, hide the villains. It's not up to us to bring the judgment, we are just storytellers.
Leave the judgment day for God, Karma or Universe... :-))


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