How to Write About Real People Without Getting Sued – Guide by

We all have them in our lives: the excellent fodder for characters in our fiction. Maybe it’s your Aunt Sheila who is flat broke and still charges designer shoes by the ton or your high school boyfriend who tragically broke your heart after the big game, or your father who abandoned you and now hits you up for money. I was reading this article and thought that I should write my own guide.

Maybe you’re worried about putting these people in your fiction because they would recognize themselves. Maybe they would get mad at the not-so-pretty picture you paint of them. Maybe your relationship would be ruined, or at the very least, strained and awkward. Maybe you’re afraid they’d go so far as to sue you for defamation. So far, you’ve held back.

If there’s an intriguing character sitting in your living room just screaming to be let out, then go for it. Here’s how.

Fictionalize The People

There are ways to hide real people so that they (or at the very least, their neighbours) won’t recognize the character as a portrayal of themselves. Change details about the person. Keep in mind that you aren’t required to change every single little thing in this list. You’ll find what works and what doesn’t as you build your character.

  • Gender. If your mom is a loon, then make the loon of the book be the father.
  • Relationship. If the real-life story involves your sister, then make the character be the brother, or even better, a cousin. Make your best friend your sister or brother.
  • Physical characteristics. Make that blonde in your life a fictional redhead. Add physical deformities, scars, etc., or take them away if the real person is afflicted with such. Add glasses or a big nose. Make the skinny fat. Write the health nut as a chain-smoker.
  • Jobs and hobbies. Make the birdwatcher a hunter, the hunter an antique. Write the lawyer as a stewardess, the stewardess as a teacher. Change the favourite TV show from American Idol to Maude. Every little detail helps you distance the real from the fictional.

Fictionalize The Events

If the story you really want to tell us what your sister did to her ex-boyfriend’s car after he broke up with her, then that’s great. But don’t follow every detail of the true-life story.

  1. Real-life: Your sister’s boyfriend started cheating on her with her best friend. She found out, and he had the nerve to get mad at her and break up with her. In a fit of rage, she keyed and egged his car, got busted, and spent the night in jail (a horrible fall from grace from her previous goody-two-shoes life). Could you respect their privacy?
  2. Fiction: The main character’s male friend got cheated on by his girlfriend with one of his close friends. He found out, and the girlfriend dumped him. In a fit of rage, he hacked her MySpace account and posted compromising photos and crazy bulletins proclaiming that she’d found her true sexuality. He got busted for cyber-harassing.

Fictionalize The Life Story

If your novel is entirely based on your life story, then you have some extra tweaking to do. Follow the tips above for transforming your family and friends, but then go a little deeper, especially if you don’t want to reveal to Mom and Dad all the ways they ruined your life.

  • Change the family. Don’t make the novel family be a mirror image of your own. If you have one sister, then make the character have two brothers. Make the family dog a cat or three birds. Make babies be older children. Fiddle with the marital details of your parents. (Obviously, if your story is that your parents’ divorce ruined your life, then you can’t make the fictional parents be married. But change the way they met, how they treated each other, the things they fought about, who was right, who was wrong, who got punished, etc.)
  • Change the circumstances. If you lived in a house, then the fictional family could live in an apartment. Change the street, city, even the state. Change the reasons why you and your family were unhappy. Modify the things you did together or the things you said to each other. Tweak them as you see fit. If you have a story to tell, tell it; try to distance yourself from it.

If All Else Fails, Hide!

If you can’t work it any other way, write under a pseudonym. Those people you’re writing about may not be as angry when they realize that no one else will know the character is them —because they won’t know the author is you.

Author bio:

I am one of the writers at EssayCanadaWriter, and I decided to write one article for our new blog section. As a ghostwriter, I do not want to mention my name, but in the real world, I’m just a simple guy from Canada with a simple life. Writing essays and articles is what I do for a living. Here I have a team of fellow writers, and our main goal is to help students. This is my short guide for you, and I hope it’ll be useful and come in handy.

1 thought on “How to Write About Real People Without Getting Sued – Guide by

  1. Justin

    Thanks for useful info, as for me it has very useful tips for my writings.
    Keep up the good work and hope you all take care of yourself during the coronavirus outbreak!


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