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Can I legally use real names, locations and situations (victim, victim's family, friends, perpetrators, investigators) when writing a true crime story?

Since many of the key players are deceased or unwilling to be interviewed, would I be better off making if half fiction? In that case, what would I need to change in the story?

I welcome any suggestions.

Thank you.


When including real people in your work, there are only a couple key things to keep in mind.  

On the one hand, you need to portray them accurately, i.e., don't portray someone as, for example, an alcoholic if they aren't. That would constitute libel and you could be sued. This would also apply to the deceased, as their families could go after you, and to those who refuse to be interviewed.

On the other hand, if you can prove your assertions, you can pretty much say anything you like.

Whether you feel you'd need to fictionalize things is up to you. But if this is a case with public information available to you, I don't see why you'd need to do that.  

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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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