Writing Books/Legalities


Hi Kenneth,

I'm hoping you can help me. While it is a general question, it's a bit in its own "niche."

Part of my novel (present day fiction) involves flashbacks into 1940's Germany, in which I'd like to involve key (i.e. real) people from that time. I'm just not sure if I can legally do so.

Are there legalities involved in writing about a person already dead? Winston Churchill, for example. Or Adolf Hitler. Is there any paperwork involved to do this? i.e. requesting permissions from the surviving family (if any), or signing your life away in an anti-libel clause. Thanks Kenneth. Any help is greatly appreciated.



I'm reminded of certain books like "The Man in the High Castle," by Phillip K. Dick, who also used a number of key German figures in a society where Nazi Germany won World War II. The real question is who you plan on writing about. Is it a famous historical figure? If it is, then you shouldn't have any problems whatsoever (but make sure they are believable! Don't have Hitler befriend a Jew, or something else that might be unbelievable). If it's simply a person who lived during that time who wasn't in the spotlight (for instance, a name of a person in a Ghetto during the war who otherwise would never have been mentioned anywhere else), then you should just use a different name.

In fiction, it's a lot easier and the burdon of proof (if any) rests solely on the person being represented. If they're dead, they can't prove that what you're writing is libelous, nor can you damage their reputation. From a legal standpoint, you're fine.

Be sure to check out my Web site should you need any help editing your book!


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Kenneth Brosky


I can answer any question related to grammar, English style usage, and elements of fiction in addition to helpful advice on plot, characterization and setting, or any general writing questions.


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