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I am writing a novel, and part of the plot has one character killing another in a specific real-life location. I mean the setting is extremely specific - for example, a particular hotel, or one particular ferry.

I'm worried that portraying violence in a specific location might be frowned upon by the real-life owners. I don't want to be sued because they don't like how I've used their property, or because they think I'm slandering them.

Can I be sued for this kind of writing? And if so, what can I do now, in the writing stage, to avoid that possibility?

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Have you spoken to the owners? Do you have particular reasons for thinking they may take issue with this, or is this just anticipation of the general unease that many people would have? Does the story have to take place in this specific place, or can it be fictionalized? –  Neil Fein Aug 15 '12 at 5:40

2 Answers 2

Option A: "Welcome Monsieur Debarge to your cabin on the Caspian Rapide, the luxury train service that will take you on a journey from London through to Istanbul," the guard said as the famous Belgian detective came aboard.

Option B: "Murder!" Lady Glintington cried, aghast. "On the Orient Express? I believed that this was one of the safest train services in the world!"

"Normally so," Debarge said the inflections of his French-Canadian accent bringing a particular gusto to his authoritarian tone. "The perpetrator of this wicked crime must have been exceptionally determined and resigned to capture. For only a fool with little care for their own freedom and safety would dare to execute such a heinous crime in such an environment."

Option C: Just don't worry about it. It's only if you go into territory that suggests that heinous acts of murder most foul are the norm in the selected location and the owners of the location actively encourage carnage and anarchy that you'd probably be getting a raised eyebrow or two. As long as it is made plain that the situation is out of the ordinary the location is usually deemed fair game for adding dramatic spice, particularly if the venue is open to the general public.

Matthew Reilly set his gladiatorial SF thriller Contest in the Library of Congress, Dan Brown set Angels and Demons in the Vatican City. If in the latter Brown had depicted the Vatican as an organisation of loose morals and casual atrocity he might have attracted the wrong type of attention to his tedious pot boiler. Because the Vatican largely performed its expected function with various rogue elements trying to cause chaos it passes as dramatic licence.

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To avoid possible problems, you could perhaps be less specific, or make up a fictional hotel or ferry to set the murder in. Depending on the way you write it, could be considered damaging to the reputation of the hotel. If they take offense, I believe they could take you to court - I don't know exactly how much trouble you can get in for libel for this sort of stuff, but to be on the safe side I would suggest not using a very specific location. :)

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