From The Book Designer: Getting Creative with Disclaimers, An Article by HELEN SEDWICK


Attorney and author Helen Sedwick shares in her article on Getting Creative with Disclaimers, which I read in The Book Designer,  that your disclaimer does not have to be boring and if you taken liberties with historical facts and figures, be open about it and make the disclaimer part of the book's experience for readers.  Ms. Sedwick's examples for disclaimers are entertaining and worth reading. 

Here are some examples from the article by Ms. Sedwick:


Disclaimers for Fiction

Every reader is familiar with the typical fiction disclaimer.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
I find nothing wrong with this disclaimer, except that it won’t work in many instances. What if your novel includes real events, places and historical figures? What if parts of your book are based on your own life?
Let’s take a look at how some authors have dealt with these issues. Thomas Wolf in A Man in Full, acknowledges that parts of his story are from real life:
This novel’s story and characters are fictitious. Certain long-standing institutions, agencies, and public offices are mentioned, but the characters involved are wholly imaginary.
Margaret Atwood in Cat’s Eye tries to dispel readers’ assumption that the book is the alter-ego of the writer:
This is a work of fiction. Although its form is that of an autobiography, it is not one. Space and time have been rearranged to suit the convenience of the book, and with the exception of public figures, any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental. The opinions expressed are those of the characters and should not be confused with the author’s.

Suppose you’ve taken an historical figure and given him dialogue and personality. Here’s how D. M. Thomas dealt with using Freud as a character in The White Hotel:
The role played by Freud in this narrative is entirely fictional. My imagined Freud does, however, abide by the generally known facts of the real Freud’s life, and I have sometimes quoted from his works and letters, passim. The letters . . . and all the passages relating to psychoanalysis . . . have no factual basis.
The lesson here is – if you’ve taken liberties with historical facts and figures, be open about it.  Make your disclaimer part of the experience of the book.

Disclaimers for memoir:

That works fine, but some of the great memoirists use their literary voices to a much better effect.
Mary Karr, in her memoir The Liars’ Club, apologizes for nothing. She starts the book with her sister asking her mother whether a bullet hole in the kitchen wall happened when her mother shot at her father.
No, her mother explained. That’s where she shot at Larry. She points at another wall. “Over there’s where I shot at your daddy.”

As Karr explains, when fortune hands you such characters, why bother to make stuff up?
In The Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolf, buries his disclaimer in his acknowledgments. As he thanks those who read drafts of the book, he says:
I have been corrected on some points, mostly of chronology. Also my mother claims that a dog I describe as ugly was actually quite handsome. I’ve allowed some of these points to stand, because this is a book of memory, and memory has its own story to tell. But I have done my best to make it tell a truthful story.
Please read more about disclaimers, nonfiction ones,  and the legal effect of disclaimers in 
the whole article by Helen Sedwick at:

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