Writing Books/Character Names
I am writing an autobiography of myself with hopes of getting it published. Can I use actual names of family and friends or do I have to use fictitious names?
Please forgive my tardiness in replying; I quite honestly have been ill, over the holidays, at that~!
Thanks for your question, which is a good one and also a very subjective one -- because it's a true story, you will be involving others who may get a little "litigious" when this is published -- but then again, they may not. So, just to be safe, I always suggest that in cases like these, in which real people and places and events will be named, it's best to either get notarized "release forms" just as you would if you were, say, a TV reporter who must ask those for permission to air their stories.
Also, you might want to discuss this with an intellectual property attorney -- you can likely find one here on allexperts.com who will be happy to steer you in the right direction, as this is not a very "black and white" sort of situation. For example, if you are writing about the past, i.e., in which the people have died, you wouldn't need this sort of extra protection, I guess you could call it -- but you're very wise to find the answer to this question before you send it off to a publisher.
In my experience, it's worked both ways: I ghostwrote a true-crime book (non-fiction) for a client who gave me complete access to court records, death certificates, affidavits, court transcripts, photographs, all of it -- but we went ahead with it because the client wanted to proceed with all of the exact detail; she was simply determined to put the story out exactly as it happened from her perspective, lawsuit or not, because she felt very strongly about the subject matter.
Conversely, I also worked with someone who disguised names, dates, places, even street names and things like the makes and models of certain cars, etc., so that he would be 100 percent certain that he could escape any slander issues, and that worked out just as well.
So, again, it's always an individual matter -- if you have the slightest inkling or instinct that someone may not want his or her name in this book, either change it or consult an IP attorney. In the end, your gut instinct will advise you which way is best. Good luck!
Catherine Van Herrin