I was considering writing a novel on the corrupt county I live in. I am wondering if it would be wise to change the name of the county as well as the county seat (town) but leave the other surrounding towns the same?

Obviously all persons names would be changed to protect the innoncent (or shall I say not so innocent.)

Deirdre

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As was mentioned somewhere else in the forum... JK Rowling was sued because someone thought she stole their idea for muggles. Anyone, can be sued for anything the person suing for thinks is worth while.

I'm just curious about the venue. They would have to prove I was really talking about them. Unfortunately the corruption is even in the federal group that is here, supposedly helping our state troopers...

I take it, I should make a fictional county and town seat as well as surrounding towns, and change the state - maybe make it futuristic or something.

Deirdre
I'd change all the names. The story will still be the story. My concern would be a libel suit because you wrote something that might be common knowledge but could not be proven. Using real place names could make it too easy for people to figure out who's who, and could aid in proving malice, a key component for proving libel. If you change the names, physical descriptions, locations, it will be harder to prove these are the exact people you're talking about.

Libel is hard to prove, but I don't suppose it's any fun to defend, and your publisher may well cut you loose from a legal perspective if they're named as co-defendents, as they probaby would be.
Thought so. Already have started plotting my fictional areas.

Thanks for the feed back.

Deirdre
You mean Chemung County? No, it's got a great name!
Actually, it isn't chemung county, although that is where Elmira is. There, all of the agencies work together and appear to be on the up and up. In fact I know some of the Judges and they are horrified with what occurs on other side of the line.

I, on the other hand actually reside 5 miles south on the PA side. Our county, including judges, and state police are so crooked our attorney's are quite beside themselves.

In fact, two years ago two attorneys (of the same family) met with mysterious deaths, after a row with one of the Judges.
I think a more important reason than the legal issue is the creative one. If you use a real location, then your imagination is constrained by that location. You'll need to have the streets run correctly, buildings be in the right spot, etc. If you need a restaurant near the police station for your plot to work, and there isn't one, then you need to change your plot. if you used a fictitious town, even one based on a real town, you'll be free to shape the geography to fit your plot. Need a lake dump a body? No problem. Just make one up.

The same is true of people in the town. You'll be asking yourself if the police chief, the mayor, and all the other important figures would think or act the way you want your characters to think and act.

You also have to worry about some features changing that could quickly date the book. A friend of mine spent several years working on a story, the central part of which, was an actual location on an actual university campus and an annual event surrounding the location. Before she finished the book, that location was demolished and the event cancelled as a result of some unfortunate circumstances. My friend never finished her book because it was too tied to the geography. Had she fictionalized it--changed the university name, the location and the event--she could have continued the book.

I don't believe using a real place gets you more readers. Most of your readers will not have visited the real location so it won't matter if the place was fictionalized or not. Those who do know the real location and recognize it will think you are a clever author for disguising it the way you did and they are clever readers for figuring it out. They'll be your solid fans.

The situation is different if your location is a major area such as New York or Los Angeles. You really can't change the name of New York and hope to maintain credibility. However, big cities are so big no one can possibly know the entire geography, so it's easy to create a street or neighborhood to fit your plot.
I have seen books with a map in the beginning showing say, Dallas and then another true town, with a fictionalized one in between. So I see your point. Thanks.
Deirdre

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