Between what I’ve written prior to your class and all the new stories cascading from your memory triggers, I need some advice. I’m writing to ask a question about naming real characters in stories.
Since this is a memoir, I figured it’s appropriate to keep honest and name names. It’s certainly easier to keep track of everyone this way.
However, some of the people I have written about are not likely to appreciate this. For example, I had a fourth grade teacher who went around the bend one day. I’m quite sure she’s dead, but who knows? Then, there was the bully at school. Although his crime was nothing to alert the S.W.A.T. team over, it had a huge impact on me.
Oh, and my family? I had 41 first cousins, 35 on my Mother’s side. They couldn’t agree on a memory if they were there. HELP!
How do you suggest I handle this?
The sad fact is most people assume all authors and publishers are rich. They may sue you just in the hopes you’ll pay them money to go away. If I were you, I’d change names, physical appearances, and even locations of events to protect yourself from gold diggers.
And, yes, your family members can sue you, too, if they don’t like what you say about them. While the truth is the best defense against a libel accusation, a trial would end up being a he said/she said situation, would be very costly, and could turn against you very quickly (people thinking you said something juicy just to make a buck).
Basically, using someone’s real name and other identifying facts usually doesn’t add anything to the quality of your story so you should leave those details out, or change them to such an extent that nobody will ever be able to identify the real culprit from your past with your story.