I'm working on my first novel. I want to partially base my fictional villain on a serial rapist who was active in the local area for 14 years, then ~5 years ago was put away for >200 years.
My question is: How much do I need to change facts or can I use any of them. A couple examples. The press called him the "Blue Eyed Rapist." Can I use that? I was thinking of my villain putting in blue contact lenses as a distracting characteristic. Can I my villain use a MO close to what he did? Et cetera?
I have no desire to write true crime, but I think I can build a pretty good story with what I've found out about this scum with a bunch of stuff I make up added in.
I guess you'd have to talk to a lawyer to be sure, but as far as I'm concerned it's not that much of an issue.
I figure it like this: if you can do "true crime" stories, why not "fiction crime stories" with a lot of roman a clef references?
I'm dealing with something similar, but scarier, in my border series. They guy who a character is pretty obviously based on has had writers killed for offending him.
My thinking is that you kind of mix things up, maybe deliberately include some details that are wildly different from real life. The short black guy is now a tall Latino guy, etc.
Unless they are major public figures, you want to keep real people (real names) out of your fiction. Any real person who feels they've been named and/or made fun of in your book might want to sue you, especially if you've made some money. If "Blue Eyed Rapist" was a term the media used a lot, than it's possible the guy or his family made a deal with another writer to produce some kind of non-fiction work with that title, and they might sue you for not having the official permissions. Like Linton, says: Change things a little.
This is what other novelists have told me.
That's a point I hadn't thought of: that the nickname might have been commercialized.
Would make an interesting court case. "You honor, this author had defamed my client's reputation as a rapist."
I don't see any advantage in "blue eyed" over "green eyed" or perhaps "cockeyed"
A lawyer once told me you need two things to sue; 1) a good case and, 2) a lot of money. Then he said the first was really optional.
I use real people all the time but so far I've been fortunate enough not to sell enough books to attract any lawsuits... ;)
Oh, and remember what George Lucas said, "I've been sued for every movie I've made. Except Howard the Duck, it didn't make any money."