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Writing Books/Using an Encyclopedia and Reference Materials


QUESTION: Can you please tell me when it is necessary to request permission for using an encyclopedia as a reference in fiction? I want to refer to the accomplishments of historical characters in my novel. Thank you!


Easy answer:  Never.

Writers of historical fiction utilize many sources to properly set our tales and provide factual information.  You might choose to list these sources in an afterword, but requesting permission is not necessary.

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QUESTION: I sincerely appreciate your response to my question and would like to make certain that I fully understand what may be required of me. Would it be sufficient to include an afterward which contains a paragraph citing where I obtained facts about the historical people referenced in the novel? I only used an encyclopedia to verify that the knowledge I had about the historical people I wanted to mention in my book was correct.

ANSWER: In all honesty, you don't even need to do that.  This is a novel, not a research paper.

Naturally, keep notes for your own records, in case you're ever asked.  But by no means is it required that you cite sources for a novel.

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QUESTION: Your response is quite comforting and I am very grateful to have your expert opinion. Thanks ever so much.

Regarding a completely different issue: In the event that the characters in the novel make derogatory inferences about public officials of a specific city and state, is it best to change the name of the city and state as well as the names of the characters?

You're quite welcome.

And it depends on what you mean by "derogatory."  If you're referring to the sorts of things that we all say... like, "Senator So-and-So is an asshole," then no...  You don't have to change anything and can go right ahead and do stuff like that.

Public people, whether they be politicians, rock stars, or race car drivers, must accept a certain amount of ridicule simply due to the fact that they ARE public figures.

However, there are lines that should not be crossed.  The statements you make cannot be defamatory or false.  "He's an asshole" is just an opinion.  "He's a cross-dresser" is an accusation, and one that you probably won't want to make, unless you can prove it.  (And even then, still not a good idea.)

No politician is going to sue you if you have him in a novel being called an asshole.  But he/she very well might if you make an accusation that seems factual, but is personally embarrassing or insulting.  

You can even put these real people in your stories and give them lines of dialogue, so long as you're not having them say anything that they'd never say or act in ways they wouldn't.  

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Vincent M. Wales


I am a speculative fiction novelist (fantasy, science fiction, and so on). While I may be able to answer questions on non-fiction, my specialty is fiction. Please keep that in mind when asking questions.


For four years, I taught a series of fiction writing classes in Sacramento, CA.

BA in fiction writing.

Awards and Honors
My 2004 novel, ONE NATION UNDER GOD, won BEST FICTION in Fresh Voices 2006, BEST FICTION and BEST YA FICTION in the NCPA Book Awards, and placed as a finalist in BEST BOOKS 2005. In 2002, my novel WISH YOU WERE HERE won awards for Best Fantasy and Best Fiction/Drama in the 8th Annual SPA Awards. My latest work is a trilogy titled THE MANY DEATHS OF DYNAMISTRESS (a superhero memoir). The first book, RECKONING, was released in 2013 and won the SF category in the 2014 San Francisco Book Festival, took second place in the 2013 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards for the SF/Fantasy/Paranormal category, second place in the SF category of the 2013 Reader Views Reviewers Choice Awards, and was finalist in Foreword's 2013 Book of the Year Awards, Fantasy category. The second book, REDEMPTION, will be released in early 2015 and the final book, RENAISSANCE, is scheduled for release in late 2016.

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