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Writing Books/Fiction vs. Nonfiction

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Question
Hello, I am writing a book of stories based on my travels.  I wish to include experiences I have had with other people on the road.

Are there any legal issues involved with writing about other people?

Which leads to my next question.

If I am primarily writing about real events that occurred, is this considered nonfiction if I were to change only a few things, such as the names of people?

Is there any other advice you can offer regarding writing a book of stories based on my travels including experiences I have had with other people on the road?

Thank you very much!


Answer
Hello Allen:

Many non-fiction works have been written in which many details have been changed: names, locations, characters (two merged into one, etc.). If you make up events, however, or too many conversations, you are drifting into creative non-fiction.

You are free to write (publish/make available to public) anything about anyone you want, as it pleases you, with little or no risk of being sued SO LONG AS IT IS TRUE. In order to prevail in court, the plaintiff must prove (1) that you lied; (2) that he has a reputation to protect, and (3) the lie(s) you told have injured his reputation to the tune of X dollars.

It is not likely that the strangers you met on the road have reputations (read "income") that could be grieviously harmed by what you write about them, truth or untruth. Just don't tell any lies that might insult them. You are also allowed to state your own opinions ("The guy was pug-ugly") but to say the person was elected the Ugliest Person Who Ever Lived would be slanderous, if untrue.

You may be tempted to change/create events to make the encounter more interesting than it actually was, but too much of this may cause your publisher to insist the book be put on the fiction list. If you keep to the truth you must find a way to make the mundane (if it's there) it as interesting as possible.

I have many tips to offer on writing stories, but I need specific questions. Feel free to come back!

I hope this has helped. If it has, a nice rating would be greatly appreciated. I am proud of my high score over 360+ questions.

And good luck with your writing!

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Susan Rand

Expertise

I can answer questions about the elements of fiction and non-fiction writing: how to get started, writing techniques, re-writing, etc. I will NOT write for you, do critiques except from my website at http://pygmypress.com, or give you ideas. I will not answer home-or-schoolwork questions in any category. If English is your second language, please say so, and I will make an exception. Please submit no more than one or two questions at once, as I tend to go into detail in my answers.

Experience

I wrote my first book in 1957 and have been writing and studying writing since. I have a BA in Written Communications, and have taught writing both privately and through adult education for 15 years. Have also edited (fiction books) for an online publisher and edited/wrote more than 100 articles for a teen sex education site. Currently writing web content and mentoring beginning writers.

Education/Credentials
BA degree in Written Communication

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