First: I did look for similar questions and this is the closest one I could find, and it's not quite answering the question I'm asking: Legalities about fictionalizing current events

Here's the question: pretty much every fiction title I've read includes a disclaimer to the effect of "all persons, places, incidents and actions in this book are a work of fiction. Any similarity to real persons, places, incidents or actions is coincidental".

OK, but what if your book is not entirely a work of fiction? That is, what if you loosely model the narrative on something from a news story, but fictionalize the names of the people involved and create new plot elements, characters, etc. How should your disclaimer read then? And will publishers accept a work of this nature? Is there any extra friction involved with getting such a book out (assuming it's otherwise publishable)? Any other pitfalls one should be aware of it making a story which models on real world events?

Note that I'm not looking for an answer to the general question of "how do disclaimers work". I'm interested in knowing more about how they work in a specific situation. And not just the strict legal aspects, but the implications as far as how publishers view a work that has this "loosely based on real world events" element to it.

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    You could ask the legal questions on the law.stackexchange.com . But in my experience as a reader, disclaimers of this type are especially common in books that are fairly transparently inspired by reality. It's basically a CYA move... Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 14:24
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    Your question is a duplicate and has been answered here: Legal effect of standard fiction disclaimer
    – user5645
    Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 4:38
  • That's not the same question I'm asking. It's close, and helps some, but I'm interested in knowing how the disclaimer differs in a specific situation, as well as any impact from in terms of how publishers view such a work (vis-a-vis any possible legal issues).
    – mindcrime
    Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 6:01

1 Answer 1


You're essentially talking about historical fiction.

Susan Elia MacNeal writes the Maggie Hope mysteries, about a (fictional) woman who is raised in America but then goes to work for the British government during WWII as a spy. MacNeal's disclaimer runs thus:

Mr Churchill's Secretary is a work of fiction. All incidents and dialogue, and all characters with the exception of some well-known historical figures, are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical figures appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are entirely fictional and are not intended to depict actual events or to change the entirely fictional nature of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

So you specify what's historical and what's not, and disclaim the imaginary part.

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    Agreed - Bernard Cornwell also does this in most of his books (i.e. Azincourt) where he highlights that it's a fictional story based on a mix of fictional and real characters about real events with some elements. There is a difference between Historical Fiction and Alternate History though, so do be aware of that. But basically, +1 what Lauren has said.
    – user18397
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 23:13
  • I'm not actually thinking in terms of using any real people... just the broad brush strokes of events. For example, take the recent story about the Pentagon "losing" 6.5 trillion dollars. I can see that as the seed of an interesting story, but if I tried to write something about it, I would invent all fictional characters. But it would be obvious that the actual events were (partly) real.
    – mindcrime
    Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 6:00

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