Writing Books/libel questions- fiction or nonfiction
My novel is based on a true story. Like many authors, I have extreme concerns with libel issues. I know for a fact, that this particular situation has never presented itself in print. If the facts were known, It would have been the ruin of the hospital in which I worked. The facts were hushed.
The novel starts out with some suspense in which the main character is faced with a dilemma of knowing how to handle some extremely disturbing information that could potentially affect the health and well-being of a number of people’s lives. The information is so damaging that, if revealed, many people closest to the main character will potentially lose their jobs, their medical careers, and be legally prosecuted for medical confidentiality issues.
The protagonist has been plagued for several months with ruminating thoughts, not cognizant how to handle the situation. These secrets involve the unethical and illegal practices of her colleague. Morally and ethically, she knows she needs to inform someone about this information that is known only to her. If revealed, she will lose the friendship of her best friend, and her best friend’s husband would lose his medical license. The information would be headline news across the nation if ever revealed to the press.
The story starts out in the present time, then goes back in time about twenty years revealing the beginning of the friendship of the two main characters and their families. As the personalities of the main characters are exposed, the reader begins to understand how the psychology within their family backgrounds has complicated their lives.
It is a story about how a sequence of personal crisis changed her life. Instead of allowing these hardships to defeat her, she learned to grow from the experience, taking a journey to a new path in life.
I originally wrote in a narrative nonfiction style. However, after several years of contemplation, I knew I had to change all the characters’ names, the settings etc., in order to protect everyone. The information concerns medical confidentiality and the unethical practices of this physician that led to the eventual loss of his medical license and to his demise.
Two questions: 1) since I had to change the names etc., does this now have to be considered “fiction” rather than a “narrative nonfiction” or a “memoir?” 2) Even if I had to change the names, settings etc., given all facts are true, what about all the legal issues? I am far removed from this hospital setting, live in another state, but this would be nationwide news if the reality were discovered.
Thank you for your consideration in this matter
This is a common question. The bottom line is, if you are going use factual characters, places and events that could lead to you being questioned about how you know these things, make sure you have documental facts to back up your allegations. Otherwise it will be your word against theirs, and more than likely you will be the one who loses.
If you change the names, etc., then you are writing fiction based on a true story and should be written as such.
If you write this story in a memoir setting, then you can get away with many things as long as you title it up as "based on a true story as remembered by..." But still be prepared to answer questions.
I always recommend getting a lawyer to go over things in detail, just to be safe. Good luck,