historical fiction

by Sara Hammond
(Southern Oregon,US)

Question: If I use real people from 1806 in my historical fiction, do I need to be ready to footnote it? How can I avoid doing so? Change names? Put a disclosure at the beginning? Call them Lord G. or Sir Joseph B-?


Answer: So far as I understand it, historical figures are pretty much fair game, especially when they lived two centuries ago, which guarantees they will have no surviving children. This is one reason figures like Abraham Lincoln appear in fiction quite regularly.

If they are famous, and their fame is something that makes the book interesting, then leave the names alone. It might be a good idea to put in a note (especially if this is a book for children) about the actual history the book is based on.

While I personally prefer if historical figures are portrayed accurately, I don't think there's a legal requirement, which is why Lincoln can be portrayed in film as a vampire hunter, of all things.

It is remotely possible that some of these people may have descendents who are concerned about how their ancestors are portrayed. However, if their ancestors were public figures, there's little they can do about it.

If the people you have in mind are not so famous, you may just want to base a character on them, in which case you can change the names.

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