Do you write Historical Fiction? Writing historically accurate fiction starts with RESEARCH.
Well, duh! I know that!
What most writers forget is that they take for granted a great many aspects which can lend more credence to their works, as well as a better experience of the story they want to put forward to readers. Additionally, if you want to be considered historically accurate, you must behave as a historian–do you due diligence. Can it always be done? Some things might slip past you. No human is perfect. Try your best. This series is going to help by presenting articles of interest from around the internet and get you started on the research necessary to complete an amazing manuscript.
Welcome back! I hope that the series has been teaching you a great deal about writing historical fiction that you may have taken for granted in times past. The point of the series has been to enlighten you about aspects of writing that are not always apparent. The most ignored point which I can imagine is getting the permission of the person or persons which you’ll be covering in your work.
But, I’m writing about a 15th century monk! Of course there is not always a need to gather permission waivers from actual people. However, you might want to be sure that there isn’t some entity (corporation or some other business group, estates and other legal hurdles) who controls the rights to the story of that 15th century monk. You’d be surprised.
Take for instance, The Hobbit. Yes, I know Tolkien wasn’t writing a historical work. My point is that if someone wished to write about J.R.R. they’d need to seek the permission of his son. Christopher Tolkien would be within his rights to sue if you didn’t get a release from him. He is the executor of the estate. Tolkien’s work and life is under his permission. This will likely slide down to the grandson upon his passing.
Biographers are especially at risk, as they can be sued at several points along their project. They can be sued to be gagged. They can be sued for not gaining rights permission. They can be sued over defamation.
Historical writers stand no less a risk when they plan to use actual people in their work. So, be sure to check that the rights on a historical figure or even subject isn’t copy written or trademarked in some manner that prevents you from free use. It’s just like using images or music in your work. Not everything is public domain.
While overseeing an arts fellowship at a college that I worked for, I downloaded a release form and tweaked it for my purposes from googling it. You can review several and get an idea of what you’ll need for the topic you’re covering. Make sure you have it notarized, in order to further protect yourself from later blow back. Lawyers can make them moot by saying that the signed didn’t sign or that they were under duress or unclear. Here’s a tip for live interviews: record them accepting the interview at the outset of the taping, AND giving their permission to use the conversation you will have, AND get a signed release. That is all necessary by ethics of interviews.
If you’re still in doubt, consult a lawyer about the proper procedure. If you’re unsure about a topic/person requiring permission, you can usually find out by looking at other works written on the topic. This is part of the research you’ll undertake on the topic. Have faith in yourself. Most topics/persons you might be considering will not need a thing.
This book about the ethics of biography writing can help to clarify: http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=80140100295290
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