Thursday, October 17, 2019

Dear O'Abby: Can I use someone's life in my novel?

Dear O'Abby,

A few years back I was working with someone to help write their autobiography.  The project never really came together, but I have tons of awesome notes about their very exciting life and career.  I was wondering if I could use these to write a novel because it's a great story, full of drama and passion and adventure. 

Would there be any ramifications if I was to ficitionalize this person's life?

All the best,


Dear Naughtybiographer,

This is a tricky question to answer because I don't know the circumstances under which you started working on the autobiography project or why you stopped working on it.  I also don't know what kind of contracts you may have signed as part of this deal.  If you signed a non-disclosure agreement, you are legally bound to keep the things the subject told you to yourself, so I would tread very carefully if you want to use their life story in a novel.

If you didn't sign a non-disclosure agreement, I would still tread carefully.  If you are still in contact with the subject of the autobiography and you feel the relationship is still good enough you could get in touch, maybe send them a quick email outlining what your plan is and ask if they are okay for you do it.

If this isn't possible, and you are determined to write this novel, you will need to make sure you change this person's life story enough that it could be just coincidence that the story's plot follows the trajectory of this person's life.  Change the character's profession, name, looks, family structure and anything else you can so that the autobiography subject would struggle to recognize themselves as the inspiration for this character.

If they are a famous sports-person who struggled with addiction only to overcome it and become one of the top performers in their field, change them into a super-model who struggles with a disfiguring injury only to overcome it and walk in Paris Fashion Week. Or something along those lines.  Just make sure you change enough of the detail it can't really be said to mirror this person's real life or any of the side characters could be identified.

Good luck!

X O'Abby

No comments:

Post a Comment

Add your awesome here: