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Named to "Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites," this #SharingwithWriters blog is a way to connect with my readers and fellow writers, a way to give the teaching genes that populate my DNA free rein. Please feel free to add to the conversation using the very tiny "comment" link. For those interested in editing and grammar, go to http://thefrugaleditor.blogspot.com.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Staying Out Of Hot Water While Improving Your Craft

Valerie Allen is a writer who does much for other writers, including guest posts like this one.  Details in writing, rather than the general, is so important. Having said that, we both suggest that you take your concerns about trademarks and other legal issues to a copyright attorney.


Facts in Fiction


Valerie Allen

All fiction is not fictitious. To write good fiction, you must get your facts right and add interesting details to lure your reader further into your story. Below are some of the most common questions about facts in fiction, and although this is not legal advice, it is common information within the publishing industry. When in doubt, it may be best to check with a lawyer with specific questions.

Names of Real People

Can you use the names of real people? The answer is of course, yes and no. Yes, if it is a public figure with a known and accepted reputation. This would include: Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bill Gates, Princess Diana, Mother Theresa, and similar persons living or dead. The answer is no, if it is your mother, brother, neighbor, coworker, or classmate. You can reference the names of those in public office, entertainment, and sports. Still, you must be cautious. Just because a person is well known, doesn’t mean it is open season to use his or her name.

Names of Places

Again, if it is well known or a generic place, you are probably safe to use the exact name. Such places as Las Vegas, New York City, Disney World, The Rocky Mountains, and so on. Be careful of using trademarked or copyrighted names.

If the place named is specific or you are using it in a negative sense, better to create an entirely different name. For example, you may use Miami in your murder mystery, depicting it as a high crime city. However, the citizens, Chamber of Commerce, local and state governing bodies may take offense. They may discourage readership with boycotts, ban or limit it from their libraries, protest to the publisher, or bring a lawsuit. Likewise, do not use the name of your hometown if it has a population under 50,000. The people in small towns may claim your story is libelous, your fictionalized characters are too similar to real people, and your plot too close to reality in a small town. Create a new name for your small town, perhaps, Pintsville.

Names of Companies or Agencies

If you are going to write a story about insider trading, do not use the name of a real financial planning firm. If you are going to write about deliberate medical malpractice, do not use the name a real hospital, medical company, or physician.

If you create a new name, be sure it is significantly different from the original. The words, spelling, and phonics must not be confused with the actual name. For example, do not use American Air Lines, America Air Line, or American Aero Lines. Do not use Raymond James Stadium, Ray James Stadium, R. James Stadium, or Raymond James Sports Arena.

There are specific names, which are so common they have become generic, and are usually safe to use. For example, there are likely hundreds of George Washington High Schools throughout the United States. The same is true of Main Street, Riverfront Park, the First Christian Fellowship, and The National Bank.

Names of things

Careful here. Most objects are trademarked and/or have copyrights. You are safe to use a general descriptor instead of the brand name.  Here are some common items we know by brand name, but should describe as follows:  cotton ear swabs, facial tissue, inline skates, copy machine, an American made motor cycle, and cola soft drinks. When writing fiction, you can use the actual name, but must identify it as the brand name by capitalizing it, such as, Kleenex, Xerox, Harley Davidson, Coke, and so on.

Check your Facts

When including directions, landmarks, distance or time check for accuracy. New Hampshire is West of Maine and East of Vermont. Palm Beach is about 50 miles north of Ft. Lauderdale. Disney World and Disney Land are two different places, in two different states.

Use exact street names or specific places to add interest to your writing. When your characters are traveling to and from locations, some things you could include are a landmark, waterway, annual festival, or product that might draw their attention or create a plot point.

Facts in fiction can add intrigue, enrich the scene, move the story forward, and/or reveal character. A geographic location or topography can ease or complicate the story line. Research is done quickly and easily via computer.  Find details that are correct and will add richness to your writing—without getting you into a legal dispute.

~Valerie Allen, psychologist and author, has published novels, short stories, and mid-grade children’s books. She teaches writing workshops using her book, Write, Publish, Sell! Quick, Easy, Inexpensive Ideas for the Marketing Challenged. She also sponsors two book fairs each year in Brevard County, Florida. Her self-help book, Beyond the Inkblots: Confusion to Harmony is pending publication. Valerie is founder of Authors for Authors, and is member of the Space Coast Writers’ Guild and the National League of American PEN Woman. Valerie can be reached at www.ValerieAllenWriter.com  or VAllenWriter@cs.com. You can follow her at  www.Facebook.com/Valerie.Allen.520

Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second ediction of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor . If your followers at Twitter would benefit from this blog post, please use the little Green widget to let them know about this blog:

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