Facts in Fiction

Contributed by Valerie Allen

Not all fiction is fictitious.

There will be readers who know more than you do about a person, place, object or procedure. Criticism will be quick and negative if you get factual information wrong in your writing.

Using the Names of Real People

The answer is both, 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, classmate, etc. You need written permission to use names of these private people in your writing.

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, The Big Apple, The Grand Canyon, The Rocky Mountains, and so on. Be careful when using trademarked or copyrighted names.

If the place named is specific or you are using it in a negative sense, it may be better to create a totally different name.

For example, you may use Ft. Lauderdale in your murder mystery, depicting it as a high crime city. However, the citizens, Chamber of Commerce, local media, and state governing bodies may take offense. They may discourage readership with boycotts, 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.

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 of 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 Lines, 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 Baptist Church, and The First National Bank.

Names of Things

Careful here. Most objects and brands are trademarked and you must use a general descriptor instead of the band name.

We all know the following items have specific brand names: cola soft drinks, cotton ear swabs, facial tissue, inline skates, copy machine, an American made motor cycle, and so on. Check all of the logos and trademarks before using their specific names in your work.

Check your Facts

When including directions, landmarks, distance or time check for accuracy.

New Hampshire is west of Maine. Palm Beach is about 50 miles north of Ft. Lauderdale. Disney World and Disney Land are two different places, in two different states.

To write good fiction, you must have your facts right. This will educate your reader and give credibility to your work.

Valerie Allen writes fiction, nonfiction, short stories and children's books. She assists writers with marketing via Authors For Authors  with two major annual events in warm and sunny Florida. Meet the Authors Book Fair in the Fall and the Writers' Conference: Write, Publish, Sell! in the Spring. Vendor tables and presentations encourage networking and marketing to increase book sales. Book Display options are available for authors throughout the USA. Valerie loves to hear from readers and writers! Contact her at: VAllenWriter@gmail.com  and AuthorsForAuthors.com


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