I had the above slogan on a T-shirt once upon a time. I loved that shirt. Not only was it threatening, but it made a few people ask me if I was actually writing a novel. It also made a few of my friends ask if they were in my novel.
Although I do on occasion use friends’ names, it’s in a good way. I don’t have a reason to fictionally snuff my next-door neighbor. Yet.
I bring this up to point out a fun little publishing doctrine known as “the small penis rule”. An article from www.nytimes.com (December 14, 2006) says:
“It’s a trick employed by authors who have defamed someone in their pages to dissuade that person from suing. The rule . . . is described in a 1998 article in The New York Times in which the libel lawyer Leon Friedman said it is a trick used by authors who have defamed someone to discourage lawsuits. “No male is going to come forward and say, ‘That character with a very small penis — that’s me!’ ” Mr. Friedman explained.”
Let’s say you write create a character who bears a striking resemblance to your next-door neighbor. Wow, this character even has the same first and last name, and same physical description! And even prefers wearing bright red cowboy boots, just like your neighbor! Weird! Let’s further say you write this character in a very unflattering light. This character/your neighbor is a pedophile with a thriving dog-fighting business. He also pushes the elderly in front of buses.
Ha, you got back at that guy, all right. Teach him to take your Sunday paper. Wait. What if your neighbor reads it? Oh boy, that could be trouble. Hm. What to do, what to do . . .
How about giving that character who may be not so loosely based on your neighbor a micro penis?
The rule has actually been used. Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, E.R.) wrote a character named Mick Crowley in his novel Next, who may or may not have been based on a Washington political reporter named Michael Crowley, who wrote an article bashing Crichton. The fictional Crowley was a Washington political columnist who . . . let’s just say he had a thing for his sister-in-law’s two-year old son. Crichton whips up this character, and then describes him as not being very well-endowed.
It worked, so far as Crowley didn’t sue for libel or defamation of character. But Crowley did write an article about it.
This rule makes me wonder: what would you do if you wanted to defame a female? Write that she has small boobs? That her gynecologist hears an echo every time he gives her a Pap smear?