Using Real Things in "fictional novels"

O most awefull one

Can I refer to real media such as CNN or the BBC in my WIP? All my media characters are fictional.

Regards to Killer Yapp from his feral friend downunder

Thank you for your help.

KY wonders if his feral friends need winter boots? With pink pompoms? No stiletto heels sadly.

Yes you can use CNN and the BBC in your book. There's wording for the front matter of the book that basically says "we're using real people and companies for fictive purposes".


Anonymous said...

"we're using real people and comapnis for fictive purposes".

You were just testing us, weren't you, Miss Smark (comapnis, fictive)? You crafty devil, you! :)bmnwn

Miss Snark said...

well ok comapnis was a typo, but fictive is a word. I even looked up to make sure. p 426 in my tattered red Websters New Collegiate Dictionary (c) 1975. Yowza.

M. G. Tarquini said...

my tattered red Websters New Collegiate Dictionary (c) 1975.

I have one of those.
What? It belonged to my older brother. My much, much, MUCH older brother.

kis said...

Ack, it's the splelling police! Dukc!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I was six when that dictionary was published.

Guess snark isn't confined to hip, single, thirty-some chicks with a literature genre named after them after all.

Kate Thornton said...

Susan, I was twenty-six when that Dictionary was published.

While Miss Snark is young and hip, she is also experienced and savvy, like a lot of authors.

BuffySquirrel said...

Never heard of "the fictive dream", anon? It's where the writer wants to send the reader. They're allowed to come back to eat and go to work, though.

Chumplet said...

Okay, then that means I can use the NHL in my book. I wonder if I can use the Toronto Maple Leafs? Or just the Leafs? So far, I've just been skirting around 'professional hockey club'.

Anonymous said...

Does this also apply to products? e.g. Pepsi or Big Macs?
Some critique partners have complained about this and I'm hoping I can leave these references in and not use vanilla words such as 'soda' and 'burgers'.

Mazement said...

There are two problems with saying "Pepsi" and "Big Macs"...first, it looks like gratuitous product placement, which annoys those of us who get annoyed about that.

It also ties your book too closely to a particular time period. What's going to happen two hundred years from now, when they're figuring out which books to force on high school students? They're going to be looking for things that can be understood with just a basic knowledge of 21st century culture, not things that require knowing trivia like which brands of soft drink were popular.

The exception is if specifying a brand lets you establish character quickly. Saying that somebody drinks Coke or Pepsi doesn't give us any information that we couldn't get from the generic "soda". Saying that he watches CNN or FOX is a quick way of showing his political leanings, so that's a little more tolerable. (But it might be better to work his politics into the story, instead of just saying "CNN" and counting on future generations to be able to fill in the blanks.)

Anonymous said...

It's my understanding we have to be careful about using associations/team names, etc.

There are so many licensing agreements associated with them, we risk infringement if we breathe around their hallowed names.

Disney owns the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (red uniformed mountie) image--and you sure can't go there, legally at least.

Sonarbabe said...

Anonymous #2. You can use the names of real products. I make use of the word Jagermeister in mine and I've read plenty of books that use the real name of places and products. As long as you're not using it in a way that may be considered negative, you're good to go.

Word verification: pygtssdx (code name for covering your own butt when it comes to using product names)

Anonymous said...

Yes Miss Snark, I too am interested in whether this rule applies to consumer products. I am working on something where the character names and locations are all based on a specific product... as if you were reading about a world where everything was based on Baskin Robbins' 29 flavors. If I name the town Baskin Robbins, and the streets and businesses after the ice cream flavors, is that okay?

I'm not crazy, really. And it's not ice cream.

Loudlush said...

Forget comapnis, fictive or otherwise. What troubled me was the combination of CNN, BBC, and "real people".

Kim said...

You might want to check with a professional sports organization before using them - it seems to me that in every novel I've ever read concerning a sports team, the team has been a fictitious one. Better safe than sorry... And I thought using a product name was okay, as long as you identified what it was. I.e Kleenex tissue instead of simply Kleenex. Again, better safe than sorry - some companies are real sticky about trademark infringement.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Oh, the spelling-[p;oc uimm ok let's try this: Oh, the spelling police are off their leashe, though its where they shuld stai.

They need to rember to save the spell chk for essentials like cookies and modelilng clay.

(So, it makes no sense, but it rhymes!

I payed my doos to the scurety gard at Websters' frunt door;
I ain't got no regard for fussy purits or spellers hoist on their own ... hey, how does one spell petard?


Bill E. and Nan E. Goat and their mistress, the princess Sha'el

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Oh, and one other thought: A true princess is ageless. Besides, I don't use Webster’s Collegiate. I am a word-snob and use the OED.

And ... because I use the OED, I know what retromingious means. Other than insulting people by calling them that or an ovinophiliac, I'm not sure what good it does to know. But, I know.

If someone calls you a "retromingious troglodyte with tendencies toward amomaxia and a preference for altocalciphilia," Webster's won't help.

Metal Maiden said...

You mean, I made up an entire network for nothing?


HawkOwl said...

Mazement - I really doubt that the use of brand names will interfere with a novel's staying power. Victorian literature is riddled with references to realities that were obvious to them but aren't to us. How many people even understand why the house is counted out in Phineas Finn? Yet, who cares? It's still a good book. If the house was counted out while Phineas drank a Starbucks coffee, would we understand it any less in another hundred years? No. Would we care? No. The story is what's gonna keep the book in print, not the presence or absence of brand names.

Anonymous said...

Sex positions are they copyrighted? They have been written about in many books, what if I wrote the same sexual position in the same order as another author...did I comment an illegul akt. Darn spell check.

Anonymous said...


Two hundred years from now, I'll be dead, and so will be our 450,000,000 fellow living speakers of English, and so will you be too. I don't give a rat's sass what anyone will think of me by then. If you (really, truly) think that conforming to an expectation of that kind of legacy is a requirement for contemporary novelists, see the thread Life of the mind in the snarkive.

You are not offering a critique against product placement, you are revealing a peeve against capitalism.

Updike puts his characters in Hondas and feeds them RC Cola. Shameless capitalism?

The opening scene of Motherless Brooklyn features a car chase between a Chrysler "K" car and a Lincoln, while the POV character scarfs named White Castle hamburgers. You think you know better than the National Book Critics Circle?

[aside to MSnark- having somewhat misjudged Mr. Lethem on the basis of As She Climbed Across the Table: A Novel and Fortress of Solitude, about which, feh, I take back my "lapidary" remark, w/r/t Motherless Brooklyn, about which, wow.]

Phillip Marlowe drove a named "Chrysler" in 1942. Evil conspiracy to co-opt the means of production from old prole Chandler?

Thomas Wolfe did not pull his plugs for Pullman train cars, the New York Times, the historically real Drake Hotel, the New York Yankees, or Ovaltine from You Can't Go Home Again (C. 1934) despite that book's astringent anti-capitalist pleas.

On the other hand, maze, on review, I notice that Alexandra Kollontai uses not a single brand name in Love of Worker Bees, a landmark masterpiece of Soviet Socialist Realism. And that book will defintely be remembered in 2206, for exactly what it is: agitprop dross, biting the hand that feeds it.


Mazement said...

I'm not sure how that one throwaway line got transformed into an anti-capitalist diatribe...

Let me try again:

Brand names can be useful in some situations. "Nehi" is evocative; it establishes the setting as the rural South and also conjures up feelings of nostalgia. (At least for those of us who grew up drinking Nehi. Other people will have to look at the footnotes and they still won't really "get it".) "White Castle" is useful; it's important that the guy in "Motherless Brooklyn" had a lot of small hamburgers instead of a few regular ones. Saying "White Castle" is a quick way to communicate that, but the author goes on to describe the hamburgers for the benefit of the readers that don't understand.

But it's also possible to do gratuitous product placement. We've all seen movies where somebody holds a can of Coke in the very center of the screen, with their hand positioned so that the label is clearly visible. It's annoying.

(Economic Theory: My attention is a scarce common resource. The easiest way to get it is to shout louder than everyone else. This can lead to destructive competition where nobody gets any of the resource. For example, there are ad servers that are permanently barred from my web browser because they showed me too many obnoxious flashing "Click here to claim your free iPod" banners. That's not a condemnation of capitalism as a whole; it's just the recognition that capitalism doesn't work well in "Tragedy of the Commons" scenarios.)

So, the question is: Will the product placement be perceived as integral to the story, or will it be perceived as gratuitous? Pepsi and McDonalds already have reputations for gratuitous placement, so you'd want to be especially careful with those. Starbucks is borderline. (From my perspective; other readers will be more or less tolerant.)

In conclusion, Ayn Rand never used actual brand names in her books.

Anonymous said...


I said: you are revealing a peeve against capitalism.

Then, you said: It's annoying.

peeve: tr.v. peeved, peev·ing, peeves
To cause to be annoyed or resentful. See Synonyms at annoy.

That's how.

Ayn Rand (is the invocation of her name ever complete without a derisive snort?) was also a fascist, an economic position that meets up with the 5-year plan at the top of the ring-shaped political spectrum that also places Mussolini and Stalin at each other's heels, dividing their tragically limited resources amongst themselves, whilst the commons contemplate weepy theorists, with poetic lumps in their throats.

If you didn't sound exactly like the kind of person who dispenses that brand of advice to young people as though it rose from the Delphic cleft, I suppose it wouldn't matter so much to me. Your unqualified "gratuitous" masquerading as a standard of measure smacks of crypto-NY, tweed-bedecked, nasalized, academic aparatchik, and your anti-advice on this topic is a PEEVE, not wisdom, or critique, or anything else useful.

PS: In France, it's a Royale With Cheese. Your own preference for caution is noted.


Maxwell said...

I've seen books, and movies, that intentionally have fake variants of the CIA and the FBI. But other things use the real names of the real agencies. What's that all about? Is this something that has had different legal status over time?

vquyjjqo said...

I always thought that if your main char watches a certain network, or even gets into an argument with a reporter from said network, then go ahead and use a real network. But if your main char is a reporter for said network, then either be very, very careful, or use a fictitious network.

In other words, doesn't it mostly have to do with how the network/company/product is used in your book?

That said, I personally find overuse of brand names in a book quite annoying.

Anonymous said...

So do we have to use specific and real places for our locations when writing a book? Like if I make the location in Australia, do I have to also tell of a real city, Street, and house number? Or can I just invent a place in Australia?