Writing Fiction about a Famous Person: What You Need to Know

Gen. Douglas MacArthur

Gen. Douglas MacArthur

Is it okay to write a novel about a famous person? For me, the answer is yes. French novelist Gregoire Delacourt, who got sued for his novel that paid homage to Scarlett Johansson, might say no.

My historical novel, My MacArthur, is about Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s little-known romantic affair with Isabel Rosario Cooper, a young Filipino actress, in the 1930s. It was published earlier this month by Sand Hill Review Press. Delacourt’s novel, La premiere chose qu'on regarde (The First Thing You See), is about a Scarlett Johansson impostor.

The key difference between the two novels: MacArthur died in 1964, while Johansson is very much alive and at the height of her film career. The American actress sued Delacourt for illegal use of her name and image in his 2013 novel. The French court awarded damages to Johansson, but rejected her demand to ban the novel’s English translation.

If you’re thinking of writing a novel about famous people, I shared a few tips in an article posted on Madeline Sharples Blog. My number one tip: it’s better to write about a famous person long gone because under American law, you can’t defame a dead person.

My other tips:

  • Be sure to do your best research even though you’re writing fiction.

  • Strike a balance between fact and fiction, because in the end, you’re writing a novel, not a biography of your famous character.

Read the full article on Madeline Sharples Blog:

3 Tips on Writing Fiction about a Famous Person