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The Art of Fictionalizing

  • When people read my work, a lot of times I get asked the same question. “How did you come up with this? How do you make it seem so real?” Well, that's because it is. Depending on what I'm writing, the item can be either something real, or something I've tweaked.

    Today, I'll discuss both, and why sometimes tweaking is the best thing to do.

    When you're writing and you use something “real” that is trademarked, a lot of times you can sneak it by and no one will say anything. That is only if you talk about the item in a positive light, and aren't trying to sell something. Some examples-

    Naming a paper company “Glad” would be an issue, as readers could be confused and associate that Glad with the company that manufactures plastic wrap and trash bags. This is called “trademark infringement" and is the unauthorized use of a name in a way that creates a likelihood of confusion as to the origin of the goods or services.

    Trademark dilution is common now, and occasionally writers will receive a letter urging them not to genericize a company's brand names. Things like calling all cotton swabs Q-Tips or all tissues Kleenex come under this banner. The simplest way to avoid this is to do as I did, and capitalize the brand name to show it's a brand, not a product only.

    The problem we run into as authors is trademark defamation or tarnishment. Writing about a zombie virus that starts after drinking tainted water at Disney World is a huge no-no. Same with something like someone getting sick after ingesting an over the counter medication. These companions have an army of lawyers to make sure their names aren't dragged into unsavory stories, whether that be journalism, movies, or novels.

    As long as you do not write falsely and disparagingly about real brands and company, you are unlikely ever to run into a problem. Most times, the names being mentioned in a positive light is seen as free publicity, so long as it's done with respect. However, let's say you aren't sure if what you're writing could be looked at unfavorably by the company. What do you do then? You make it up! While many go the route of making up completely random companies and projects, I prefer to fictionalize, a process I've created that helps my stories seem more “real” to readers.

    In my current story, Untamed, I have taken liberty with a few items. The Coolbox? A real thing. Since I'm using it exactly as it's supposed to be used and keeping to the times it's meant to keep things cold, it is okay to do.

    Now, since we have the uptight lab and the not-so uptight lab, I had to make sure that I wasn't indirectly stepping on toes. I looked up labs in the United States where people could register as a separate business entity to join a shared-use lab. Tall orders, right? Not really! I found Research Park in California. (NASA Research Park is a world-class, shared-use R&D and education campus located in Moffett Field, California) Obviously, it's NASA. I'm not going to want to have mine be associated with it due to potential legal issues. So I started searching for other types of places where research is done near there to have mine be based in Palo Alto. Then, I looked for nearby roads in order to pick a general area and street name, so that it sounded “real” to readers.

    Next came the name, the biggest part. Both VoxLabs and Univital are companies that are made up by me using a name generator. Now, looking both up afterwards, there ARE two companies associated with those names. However, one is a container shipping company out of Austria and the other is a recording studio for acapella artists in Chicago. Clearly, nowhere near the location or business that mine are, and this makes it wholly separate, and thus protects my use of the names.

    To some, this may seem like a lot of work for little pay-off. In reality, doing this research now will help your stories to become richer in detail, and to make them appear true to life. Not only does it make your writing stand out, it protects you so that you don't accidentally misstep on someone else's trademarked or copyrighted item. If you are a writer, it's worth the time to ensure your writing is unique, and the best that it can be.


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