You are here:

Writing Books/fiction based on real people


QUESTION: Is there a legal problem if I write a parody of a real event, and use the names of the real characters involved in that event?

ANSWER: Hi Jim - thank you for your question. You can of course parody a real event.
You can consider using the real names, but whatever you do, beware that if you present scandalous or libelous material, it could very well get you in trouble.
There is some allowance for public figures, because through our rights of free speech, we have the right to make fun of public figures. However, the laws are much more strict for private people.
Even with public figures, you have to be careful what you say.
Like, don't repeat out and out lies about them. Even if it's not exactly illegal, it is unethical.
All writers make up their stories based on people they've known, or situations they're familiar with. That's a given. But when you write about people you know, you have to write it knowing they might find and read your story about them. Be sure to portray the characters in full realization that the real people might read it. So say what you want to say about them, knowing they will probably get the message.
I've written a few stories that have fictionalized versions of people I know, and some of the characters are composites.
Along with the stories I've completed, I have a folder of incomplete stories I call the slush pile.
In that slush pile is one story I call "Pols in Purgatory." It involves former VP Dick Cheney and some of his colleagues in a waiting room, and their conversations as they await whatever comes after the waiting room. It's not written, but if I did write it, I would use their real names. But even then, I would stick to facts and scenarios that could be documented. Because it takes place in the future, in purgatory, after they're all dead, I can obviously make up whatever I want it to say. However, I wouldn't go overboard.
If you feel you've crossed a line in your story, have an entertainment attorney read it for you before you publish it.
Does that help? If you want to discuss further, please write back.

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

QUESTION: Thank you for the extensive and informative reply.

The story I'm thinking about is based on a real event - a movie production involving an eccentric actor and an obsessed director. It was a difficult production and some crazy and wacky things happened. I'm just thinking of writing a fictitious and exaggerated account of that event, intended to be funny.

Some of the people involved are still alive, including the director.

Jim - sounds like a good premise for a story. You might want to do a literature review, which means dig up every other thing written on the subject. Also read up on movies that had complications, and there are lots of true stories about that. After you study what's already been written, then write your story. It will includes some of the same mishaps you experienced, but you can draw on your research to bring in interesting situations that reference famous mishaps. Thus, your story is well researched and pays homage to several famous incidents, as well as the ones you personally witnessed. A tip of the hat to famous movies, too.
It's like writing non-fiction. If you draw all your information from one source, it's plagiarism. If you draw from multiple sources it's research.
Write back if you want to discuss further.

Writing Books

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Nori J. Muster


Writing and publishing books, including e-books.


I have been writing for publication since 1981, including years as a staff writer, associate editor, editorial writer, and freelance reporter. At this time, I have eight Kindle books for sale at

Lakes of Tempe Authors, Tempe, Arizona

Betrayal of the Spirit: My Life behind the Headlines of the Hare Krishna Movement
Dreaming Peace: Your Thoughts Can Change the World
Cult Recovery Handbook: Seven Paths to an Authentic Life
Child of the Cult
Learning to Flow with the Tao: The 64 Hexagrams of the I Ching
Positive Quotations: Wisdom from the Master Mind
Collected Writings: Five Books by Nori Muster
Noriland Art Gallery: Secrets from the Vault
Spiritual Summer and Other Short Stories

UCLA Extension Writer's Program, 1988 - 1994
Master's Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, Western Oregon University, 1991

Awards and Honors
USA Today, Los Angeles Times, BBC World Services Focus on Faith, BBC Sunday Programme,, Glamour Magazine, Portland Mercury News, W-Five TV (Toronto), Publisher's Weekly, Boston Phoenix, San Francisco Chronicle, ABC TV News - 20/20, ABC radio, Associated Press, The Age (Melbourne),, The New York Times, Religious News Service, Dallas Morning News, Columbia Journalism School, Whole Life Times (Los Angeles), Toronto Sun, the John Dayle Show (KFYI AM, Phoenix), the Eliot Stein Show (syndicated radio and Internet broadcast), Discovery with Josh Wagner (KKUP, 91.5 FM, Santa Clara, California), KOGO (News Radio 600, San Diego), Jupiterís Girl syndicated radio show, Lakes Log.

Book Reviews:
Publisherís Weekly, Feminist Bookstore News, Yoga Journal, New York Post, Choice Magazine, Boston Herald, Nexus (Colorado), Gentle Strength Times, Coastlines (UCSB alumni), Theology Digest, Nova Religio, Rapport, India West,,

Book Signings:
Prescott College reunion; Gentle Strength Co-op, Tempe; Different Drummer Bookshop, Laguna Beach; L.A. Times Toastmasters; Biltmore Plaza Border's Books, Phoenix; Bodhi Tree Bookstore, Los Angeles; Health & Life Enrichment Expo, Pasadena; Sacramento Reads book festival, and others.

ISKCON World Review, Van Dhal Publications, Gentle Strength Times, Arizona Woman, Lakes Log, ICSA Today, Cultic Studies Review, University of Illinois Press, Kindle,,, Apple Books, and others.

©2017 All rights reserved.