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Writing Books/The use of historical characters in fiction


QUESTION: My book is in production with a publisher. Since this is my first novel, I want to make certain that I have followed appropriate guidelines for citing information about historical persons. If my fictional character makes favorable comments about the accomplishments of our founding fathers, for example, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson is it necessary to cite a particular encyclopedia an author may have used to verify his understanding of their history? I suppose I would like to know if information contained in reference materials considered information that is in the public domain. If not, is it necessary to ask permission to use historical information or is citing the source sufficient?

ANSWER: Your publisher's editors advise on these things and ask you, the author, to make changes.

Have they not contacted you?

Yes, you need to list your references in the back of the book.

Otherwise, ascendant families of the historical people can sue you for liable.

Make a listing in the rear of the book with all references of research and citings.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks so much for your thoughtful response. I am self publishing through an independent publishing house. Consequently, the publisher will not provide guidance related to such matters. Understandably, I am truly grateful for any advice you might provide.

To clarify, while citing all references of research in the rear of the book is required, there is no such requirement to obtain permission to use information found in the resource materials. Is this correct?

If the information is history-- then it belongs to anyone to source and use.

It's our own heritage.

You do not need permission to write about our history-- just be sure to reference all your sources in the rear of the book about all the information you write about.

That way, you info is correct and reflected on the source and not you.

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Jannie Balliett


I am a published writer, Chief Editor and own A1 Editorial Service. I teach writing, specializing in novel writing, and creative writing. I can answer most any question concerning writing a book, plot and characterization, tighten the prose, and the editing process, and help advise with publishing and the requirements of obtaining a literary agent.


I'm a published writer, freelancer, and Chief Editor and own A1 Editorial Service. I teach writing for my two Online writer workshops.

Sisters In Crime Internet Chapter, The Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Brazos Writers Group.

Writers Post Journal magazine, May 2006 issue, Augusr 2006 issue, Nov/December 2006 issue and soon in 2008, On A Whim, flash fiction anthology, offered in Barnes & Nobles and Amazon.

Some college, creative writing, fiction writing

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