I am a little puzzled. I want to set my story in a real era that happened; like say, the American civil wars during Lincoln's time, and involve the then prominent figures like Lincoln and McClellan as some of my major characters, though portraying them fictitiously; reputation and natures maintained. Has this got to bring me some problem?

Again, my story is historically untrue, but I need to infuse it into a real historical event that might have happened and let it make part of the event; can this work? Please help me know.

  • 1
    Sure, why not? It's not like it's never been done before!
    – GordonM
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 9:44
  • Authors do this all the time. But personally, I hate it. Any time an author trots out a real person, and does anything beyond mention them in passing, I start looking for the exits. But maybe that's just me... Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 15:46

4 Answers 4


Sure you can!

People do it all the time. To use your own example of Abraham Lincoln, there was a film from a few years ago (adapted from some other medium) depicting him as a part-time vampire hunter. It was imaginatively titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, wove fictional events together with real events, and to my knowledge, nobody from Lincoln's estate had a problem with it.

Then there's Futurama, in which Richard Nixon's head is the President of Earth; Doctor Who, which has had Churchill recruiting Daleks and Agatha Christie fighting evil space bees; the obscure but very good anime Nobunagun, in which

Jack the Ripper was actually Florence Nightingale and his her victims had been infected with alien parasites

...you get the picture.

You've said you intend to maintain the "reputation and natures" of the people involved, which is probably the most important part. As I commented on Surtsey's answer, you'll want to be careful of libel. The further back in history you go, the more leeway you have, as people lose connection to their ancestors over time. When Shakespeare wrote his history plays, he had to be careful to portray the then-ruling Tudor dynasty in a positive light, or he would have been locked up. When he wrote Julius Caesar, however, he could do whatever the heck he wanted; Caesar had no direct descendants to rock up and say "No, that's not what happened".

In short: as long as you're not actively demonizing anyone who doesn't deserve it, go crazy! Have fun! Make Abe Lincoln fight alien space bees if you want! (Seriously, I'd buy that book.)

  • Can you put some of the spoilers in tags? Especially the one regarding Nobunagun, that is one of the big reveals. Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 15:29
  • I think the rest should be fine, but I agree with you on the Nobunagun one. Don't know why I didn't in the first place.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 19:00
  • that's fine. Keep doing the awesome. Here's ten internet points for you. Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 12:05

Yes, you may use prominent people in history pretty much any way you choose. Obviously libel laws apply. Generally you cannot libel the dead, however some US states permit lawsuits where the descendants are the plaintiffs.

Avoid people with commercial legacies. e.g. Don't portray Walt Disney as a child molester - The Disney Corporation will bury you, your family, your unborn descendants, anybody who looks like you, and anybody whose name has a similar spelling.

Stick to 'real' people. e'g' "Thor" is a mythological Norse god. You are free to use him. However, "Thor" is also a Marvel character. If your "Thor" is similar to Marvel's Thor you'll be in trouble.

Lincoln - you may portray any way you wish.

Please be aware, I am not a lawyer.

  • 1
    OP specified "reputation and natures maintained", so I don't think he was planning on portraying anyone as a child molester, but that's still an important point. Be careful not to write anything potentially libelous or estates will come after you.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 14:05

Absolutely, and a number of Authors have had great, great success doing so. There's even a genre for it - Historical Fiction (or Alternate History depending on how you want to go)

Bernard Cornwell is the first that springs to mind, he pretty much personifies this genre. Whether it's the Last Kingdom series, or Azincourt; he writes stories based on real and fictional events with real and fictional people, but he does it in a real setting.

The biggest caveat, however, is to make it as realistic as possible, and make your research as thorough as you can. That's why Bernard Cornwell is so good at it, he researches and puts everything as close to accurate as he can. Anachronisms are kept to a minimum. The stories are immersive because of that.

He also makes it clear that his stories are mostly based on historical events with historical and fictional characters, and even goes so far as to list (sometimes) who was real and any major deviations that he is aware of. He also lists his major sources.

Azincourt really is a good example of this, and I suggest you read it (if you haven't already).


Don't do it. You can mention Abraham Lincoln or whoever, but do so in a factual setting and do NOT tarnish his/her image.

For example, you can have Lincoln in the White House doing things he does as a President, but you can't have him walking the streets of China talking Chinese with locals, because that's not in line with the factual Lincoln. You can't have Lincoln getting drunk in a bar, because that tarnishes his image and also is NOT in line with who he was.

If you want to use Lincoln in a negative light, maybe he's a drunk in a parody, you need permission from his family. Maybe Lincoln is dead, but his family lives on and they could be insulted and bring a lawsuit on you.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.