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  1. #1
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    Changing names of characters in autobio

    I am about two thirds finished writing my autobiography and I am wondering what are the parameters in terms of changing character names. It is just a given that I need to change all the character names? Or if a character wants to keep their real name in the book, then I keep that name and change the others? Etc. this kind of questions, I'm not sure how to relate with the character names changes.



  2. #2
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    Hmm, interesting. Never given this one much thought, but offhand I'd say put a disclaimer up front (i.e., "Certain names have been changed to protect privacy," or some such), and then do what seems best. I don't think you'd want to change the names of your momma or your daddy or people who helped you out along the way, but that bully you cold-cocked in the ninth grade?... Give him an alias.

    (My opinion, not grounded in experience.)

  3. #3
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    You can't very well write a real autobiography and include real people and give them false names. If there's going to be a problem with sensitivity, you really shouldn't include them at all. They will recognize themselves and others will recognize them too if you are truly writing nonfiction, and a name change won't mean anything.

  4. #4
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    One writer I know handled it like this: they used real names for everyone except the one person they knew wouldn't like it. Famous person. So, the writer called that person "Him." That section was important to include, but the writer didn't want to piss Him off.

    I'm not recommending this approach. Just telling you.

    You can change the names if you want to. Like Dragnet.

    "Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent."

    I don't recommend that either.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Herman Munster's Avatar
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    I think Jayce and Gary are right.
    IF real people have been petty or jealous, committed crims and done time, that is a fact, especially in the local community. You can't be sued for telling the truth. But then there are ways you can sensitively step around the brutalness of their actions.
    Altering events slightly and changing a name where you percive hurt would seem like the sensitive approach. Of course all the locals know who dunnit but then they know that anyway.

    MY RULE:
    If it is good, 100% real and honest, real names. Glorification when it is due is very cool.
    IF it is bad, do you really need it? If it is a pedophile, then John Brown's name is Alan Smith, the six foot tall five foot man who is bald but wears a rug. Make his crime cat and dog abuse or neglect. Swap out the crime, the personal description and make it hard for the readers to ring them up and abuse them. If you can't do that sort of thing, then leave all reference out of it altogether.

    My answer is simplistic but honest, from my POV. I don't see me writing that book, so I can but guess and try to help.
    I think as writers we have a duty to spread the good and the bad news. That is not just NF writers either.
    In my own case, I picked spec ops. I kill a lot of people, many supposedly 100% guilty and genuine. Still, if I blow the house or the car, then the wife, the kids and the pet dog and cat get killed as well. My heartless MC turns, walks away, considers if it was a good bombing or not. Too much or too little explosives.
    PERSONALLY, I hate covert ops 'collateral damage". Here I try to make it really bite, be worse than it fist appears since I don't believe any of our govts should be doing this in our names DAILY in our best interests.

    Craig I have given you what I think is a valid set of guidelines but as the other two suggest, there is no rule or industry best practice. I suggest you have to weigh your feelings in this. Also, be absolutely 100% accurate, research, research, research and research some more so you know what you write is PERFECT!

    My MC HATES assume and luck. There is no such thing as luck.

  6. #6
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    Thanks everyone for your advice and experience. I'm glad to hear there isn't a strict rule about this. In my own case all the stories and characters are mostly complimentary so I probably won't need to change the names. One friend asked that his name not be in the book so I can change that no problem, making a note of it somehow. He might also agree if I only use his first name, but I'll have to run that by him. But I was just wondering how people handle this question, and it sounds like it's individual, and using one's best judgement. Thanks again to all.

  7. #7
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    You can't be sued for telling the truth.
    Oh, absolutely you most certainly can be sued for telling the truth. Truth may be your defense, but you could very well wind up paying legal fees, missing work, and slogging through do-do to win the case. Think long and hard about spouting off something defamatory just because you hold it to be true.

  8. #8
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    Jayce is right.

    A writer can certainly be sued for telling their truth. The person you write about has their own truth.

    You can absolutely be sued. Anybody can be sued. That doesn't mean the person suing you will prevail, but they sure can make you uncomfortable while they try.

    Many an editor at a publishing house has chopped sections out of books because the publisher feared they would be sued if it was published as written.
    Last edited by leslee; 03-22-2012 at 04:55 PM.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Craig CPM View Post
    Thanks everyone for your advice and experience. I'm glad to hear there isn't a strict rule about this. In my own case all the stories and characters are mostly complimentary so I probably won't need to change the names. One friend asked that his name not be in the book so I can change that no problem, making a note of it somehow. He might also agree if I only use his first name, but I'll have to run that by him. But I was just wondering how people handle this question, and it sounds like it's individual, and using one's best judgement. Thanks again to all.
    I think you didn't quite read between the lines on what I responded. If you consider not wanting your butt successfully sued and half of your former friends spitting at you and cutting you dead when you look at them as a pretty good indication of a "strict" reason not to do it, then you probably should see that as a rule. Because you ain't fooling anyone, including a judge, just by changing a name or a few characteristics/mannerisms. And it's neigh impossible to hide real people in a real autobiography.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Kessler View Post
    I think you didn't quite read between the lines on what I responded. If you consider not wanting your butt successfully sued and half of your former friends spitting at you and cutting you dead when you look at them as a pretty good indication of a "strict" reason not to do it, then you probably should see that as a rule. Because you ain't fooling anyone, including a judge, just by changing a name or a few characteristics/mannerisms. And it's neigh impossible to hide real people in a real autobiography.
    Thanks Gary for going further and clarifying your meaning. So then going along with this logic, how do you reconcile the existence of countless autobiographies and biographies, and so many authors going ahead and publishing...?
    Last edited by Craig CPM; 03-25-2012 at 09:26 AM.

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