They all say that, but to what extent is it really true? Over the years I’ve worried about whether some aspect of a character I have created will strike one of my many relatives as a thinly disguised portrait of one of them. And then they would complain or maybe they’d threaten to sue me. The characters I create are completely imaginary composites of human qualities and histories. My writing is about real places as well as imagined ones and it pertains to and actual events in history.
My publisher inserted the standard language on the copyright page of Eleanor’s Wars. This is what it said: “This is a work of fiction. The people, corporations, organizations, institutions, circumstances, and events depicted are fictitious and a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance of any character to any actual person, either living or dead, is purely coincidental.”
What about the boarding school known as Phillips Academy Andover? Halloran General Hospital? The Three Deuces jazz club? These are real places that are not a product of my imagination but the experiences my characters have inside these places were certainly made up by me. I never entered any of those places (or anywhere else) during the early 1940s.
I checked what is said on the copyright pages of other authors of historical fiction, figuring they will have wrestled with some of these same issues. How about: “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.” That’s accurate.