by Helen Sedwick on BookWorks site:
Every writer, whether tackling fiction or nonfiction, uses real people. Whether our main character shares our father’s love of puns or we are naming names in a tell-all about an ex-lover, real people populate our work. Is this safe, legal? Can we be sued for defamation by everyone who recognizes themselves in our work?
The good news is libel and invasion of privacy suits are rare, particularly involving fictional works. Claims are difficult and expensive to prove. Most targets don’t want to call attention to a matter best forgotten. Typically, lawsuits occur only when big egos and deep pockets are involved.
It can’t hurt, however, for writers to be aware of the risks. I outline the basics below. My goal is not to tell you to take no risk, but to urge you to be smart about them. Take the risks that are important to your narrative arc and minimize those that are not.