My first two novels have been accepted and I'm about to deliver the first manuscript to the publisher. I would like some feedback on the the legality of using real place names, public buildings, business, locations, etc., versus changing the names to fictional ones. Help!

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This has always seemed to me to be a matter of stylistic preference. Some writers like working entirely with ficitonal places. Others want everything just as it is in life, right down to the dogs in the yard. There are strong literary references for both schools of thought and supporters of either school could give you strong reasons to go either way.

Now, me? I think the story lets you know early on which way you need to go on this, that and your own personality. It seems to me that if we, as writers, can learn to trust our hearts in these matters, we're much farther ahead.

All that said, as Jon already posted, you're cool with real place names and buildings. I personally would never use a real business -- except for obliquely -- because it just doesn't feel right to me. And (again as Jon said) no matter how it feels to you, it's best not to have fictional people hitting the pavement in real places of business.
I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but you can't get sued for using the names of real places names or buildings. You *can* get sued for using the names of real people, but even that is dicey. It depends on how you use the name and in what context: does it fall under defamation of character?
When it comes to locations, I like to use as many real places as I can, especially those that contribute something essential about the character of the setting.

But with my first book, my editor actually wanted to check to make sure that a motel I referred to as "seedy" wasn't where I said it was, particularly with the name I gave it. It wasn't in this case, though it was based on a real motel a few blocks a way for which the term seedy would have been generous. He just didn't want to invite trouble for something that was mentioned once in the entire book. Who knows, though? A different editor might have not even thought twice about it.
Using real ,ocations can create a great feel for the setting. I have received excellent feedback that reading my stories is like a tour of Chicago. It can also be limiting. Creating a fictional location (a la McBain's Isola or Turow's Kindle) provides a great deal of flexibility, as landmarks and geography can be added to suit your purposes. Doing so when using a real place, even with a disclaimer in the front of the book, will prompt complaints from some who have decided that a work of fiction, once set in a real place, may not deviate from that place, even in the location of a traffic signal. They're out there.

Of course, real establishments can only be used as backdrops. Having the owner of a real business be your drug-selling, pedophile killer is guaranteed not to go over well.
I don't worry about the law. I'm usually more concerned with reader reaction. I'll include real places if I'm 100% sure about the facts. If I'm unsure, or if my research pulls up conflicting info, I'll just make someplace up.
That is one of the dangers of using real places - if you mess it up, you will get letters and emails. You'll also pull folks who know the area out of the story since it won't ring true. For example, if you put a metro station in Georgetown (ala the movie No Way Out).
True, but you'll get those letters and emails anyway. I've gotten four emails pointing out geographical "errors" in LD. One of them was a legit error. One was a case where the emailer complained that she had walked all around the neighborhood where I'd set a fictional coffee shop, but "there isn't a coffee shop anywhere near there." Hrmm.

Two emails were about the same "error," and both were wrong. Not only did I have extensive personal knowledge of the location in question, but I had photographs to back me up! So I didn't mess it up, but I still got emails! Pretty funny, really.

In the end, use as much reality as you feel you need to establish a proper sense of place, create as much fictional geography as you need for the story you're writing, and live content in the knowledge that you'll get some things wrong and other things right. No matter what, you'll probably tick off someone, but if you endeavor to be genuine, if not always accurate down to the millimeter, most readers, I think, will be fine.

Thanks for your pov on this. I found it most helpful. I have resolved to keep a mixture of both, real and fictional locations. I have composed a disclaimer that may score with some--and leave those determined to grouse, to their grousing.
What if you wanted your character to investigate a murder inside a famous place like Disneyland? I imagine they would come knocking if you tried...


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