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"The story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed, to protect the innocent."

A fictional account of Real Life events, loaded with Captain Ersatzes of real people. These are often autobiographical or Ripped from the Headlines. These differ from Inspired by… and Very Loosely Based on a True Story in that the story is not dramatized, merely retold with different proper nouns. (Which isn't to say that no Artistic License whatsoever is taken.) Historically, many of these have been a great success merely from people in high society buying them to figure out if they are one of the characters.

The name is pronounced "Ro-mahn ah cley."note  It's French for, roughly, "novel with a key" (read: decoder ring). As seen here on The Other Wiki, sometimes the key to who the names were supposed to be would be published and in circulation. It has nothing at all to do with unusual Italian musical notation or Dr. Alto Clef.

This literary technique also runs the risk of provoking the Streisand Effect.

Compare Very Loosely Based on a True Story, Biopic, Docudrama, Anonymous Ringer, Historical Domain Character. For an inversion, see Biography à Clef, where Captain Ersatz of fictional characters and events are retrofitted to tell the life of the artist and creator.

See also Spell My Name with a Blank.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The yuri manga Husky and Medley, as well as the 2channel chat logs the story is based on, replaces the names of the protagonists with the nicknames given to them by 2ch anons as the story of their romance unfolded.
  • The oldest anime film to survive, 1943's Momotaro's Sea Eagles, is a Wartime Cartoon showing the attack on Pearl Harbor as carried out by an Imperial Japanese Navy manned by cute, cuddly animals. They're attacking "Demon Island"—but Demon Island is drawn to look just like Oahu and Pearl Harbor, the battleships are tied up in two rows just like Pearl Harbor, the ships fly American flags except the flags have one big star, and "Aloha Oe" plays on the soundtrack as the Japanese planes swoop in.

  • Stan Freberg Dragnet parodies.
    • From St. George and the Dragonet for Capitol Records
      Narrator: The legend you are about to hear is true. Only the needle should be changed to protect the record.
    • And again in Little Blue Riding Hood.
      Narrator: The story of Little Blue Riding Hood is true. Only the color has been changed to prevent an investigation.

  • In-Universe in Deathtrap. Sidney is a playwright. He and his lover, aspiring playwright Cliff, conspire to murder Sidney's wife Myra via a Fright Deathtrap. Everything goes swimmingly, as the Fright Deathtrap induces a fatal heart attack for Myra and Sidney inherits her vast fortune. However, afterwards Sidney is horrified to find out that Cliff is writing a play called Deathtrap, which is nothing more than the story of how Cliff and Sidney killed Myra, with only the names changed.
  • Japanese film Vengeance is Mine is about Real Life Serial Killer Akira Nishiguchi and his 78-day, five-murder crime spree, but with the character's name changed to Iwao Enoziku and other details fictionalized.
  • The Film of the Book Z, mentioned below. During the opening credits, the text "Toute ressemblance avec des évènements réels, des personnes mortes ou vivantes n'est pas le fait du hasard" appears on the screen. The English translation: "Any similarity to actual events or persons, living or dead, is NOT accidental."
  • Citizen Kane blends the line between mockumentary and this trope, as the character of Charles Foster Kane is loosely based on newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Hearst did not take to the similarities kindly. Probably to keep Hearst from suing him, there is a line in the beginning of the film where one of the men who is making the documentary about the late Mr. Kane asks what makes him different from other famous newspaper magnates like Pulitzer, or Hearst. Mentioning Hearst as someone other than Kane meant lawyers could plausibly argue the character wasn't the real person. Legalities might also be part of the reason Kane buys his ingenue an opera house, as opposed to the movie studio Hearst purchased for Marion Davies. In Real Life, millionaire Samuel Insull built the Chicago Civic Opera House in order to feature his less-than-talented wife; if Hearst had sued Welles, RKO or Herman Mankiewicz, they could have claimed that the film was based on Insull as much as anyone else.
  • 1935 Jean Harlow vehicle Reckless, features Harlow as a torch singer who marries a rich heir, only for the heir to kill himself. Based on the Real Life story of torch singer Libby Holman's marriage to tobacco heir Zachary Reynolds, who killed himself in 1932. Libby Holman was said to be happy when this film bombed at the box office for the only flop of Jean Harlow's career.
  • The Three Stooges shorts that knock at Nazi Germany use "Any resemblance to real persons or events is a crying shame."
  • Primary Colors was a famous one. The novel it was based on was a thinly disguised portrait of the 1992 Democratic nomination race.
  • Velvet Goldmine. Interesting in that it is two Roman a clef put together: that of David Bowie/the emergent glam rock scene as well as Citizen Kane (a Roman a clef itself), with bits of Oscar Wilde thrown in.
  • Fargo pretends to be this, with text at the beginning of the film announcing that everything portrayed in the film really happened, with only the names of characters changed, out of respect for the dead. This is, of course, completely false; the film is entirely fictional. Apparently, the Coen Brothers added this to the film to make audiences suspend disbelief.
  • Almost Famous is a fictionalized autobiography of writer-director Cameron Crowe's teenage years as a writer for Rolling Stone in The '70s, with the Fake Band Stillwater as expy of Led Zeppelin and other bands he encountered. (There was a band Stillwater that existed IRL, just not with the songs played during the movie.)
  • Dog Day Afternoon was based off of a real 1972 Brooklyn bank robbery and keeps many details true to Real Life, with the notable exception of the ending, where Al Pacino's character reluctantly sells his partner out in exchange of a plea bargain. Reportedly, this put his real life counterpart on bad sheets with his fellow inmates at the correctional facility he was in when they played the movie there, giving him the reputation of a rat.
  • The plane crash at the start of Final Destination is obviously based on TWA 800. It's same plane, same route, same cause, same group of students going to Paris; Roger Ebert criticized this as being a bit tasteless.
  • David Fincher's 2007 film Zodiac, based on the novel of the same name by Robert Graysmith. The movie uses the real names of all the people involved, and is thus actually truer to real life than the book, which used pseudonyms at the time.
  • Casino extensively utilizes this trope for almost all of the real-life figures in the story.
  • My Favorite Year: Alan Swann is loosely based on Errol Flynn.
  • Bob Fosse's semi-autobiographical film All That Jazz; which also functions as an exercise in Self-Deprecation.
  • The Red Shoes (1948) overlays the Faust legend on the life of the infamous ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev, despite claiming that "any similarity to real-life persons or events is completely accidental." The movie turns one of Diaghilev's real-life lovers into a woman but removes the sexual tension, so Boris Lermontov (the film's version of the impresario) still comes across as a diabolical homosexual.
  • The members of Monty Python had to invoke this when critics of their Biblical satire Monty Python's Life of Brian accused them of making fun of Jesus, even though Jesus and Brian are two separate characters.
  • Parodied in the faux disclaimer at the start of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
    "The following is based on actual events. Only the names, locations, and events have been changed."
  • Bombshell (1933) features Jean Harlow as Lola Burns, in a satirical take on the life of Clara Bow. Lola wants to get married and retire to the desert, which Bow did in Real Life.
  • The original Scarface is largely inspired by the life of Al Capone, but with plenty of fictional elements put in as well.
  • Badlands is a fictionalized version of the Charles Starkweather murders. Most of the changes serve to make Kit and Holly less monstrous than their Real Life counterparts. The real Starkweather didn't just kill Fugate's father, he killed her mother, stepfather, and two-year-old baby sister. The real Starkweather didn't let that rich guy in the fancy house live, but instead killed him, his wife, and the maid. Fugate mutilated the corpse of the young woman who died with her boyfriend in the storm cellar. At his trial, Starkweather claimed that Fugate killed two of the victims attributed to him (the young woman in the storm cellar, and the rich man's wife).
  • An In-Universe example is a Running Gag in The Darjeeling Limited; Jack's family have all read his novel and talk as if it's obvious that it's about them. Jack's automatic response is always "The characters are all fictional."
  • In the Based on a True Story film Point of Origin about fire investigator and serial arsonist John Orr, his wife Wanda reads his unpublished manuscript for a novel about an arsonist. She finds it creepy how similar the hero is to him. The manuscript ends up being used as evidence against him, as it contains details only the arsonist would know.
  • The Harder They Fall (1956): This film, in which sleazy boxing promoters build up a boxer named Toro into a heavyweight championship contender via a series of fixed fights, is a take on the controversial career of Primo Carnera, 1930s boxer. Like Toro, Carnera was a foreign import (Argentina for Toro, Italy for Carnera). Like Toro, Carnera was a giant of a man who hulked over the smaller heavyweights of that era. Like Toro, Carnera was in the clutches of shady corrupt promoters. Like Toro, Carnera won a series of boxing matches that were later said to be rigged in his favor. Like Toro, Carnera takes a brutal beating when he faces a real boxer, getting knocked down 11 times before he finally loses by TKO. And just to make it more obvious, the boxer who knocks out Toro is played by Max Baer, who knocked out Carnera in Real Life, and thus is playing a fictionalized version of himself.
  • The infamous 1979 Exploitation Film Guyana: Crime of the Century (aka Guyana: Cult of the Damned) was made just months after the Jonestown tragedy, and was all about Congressman "Lee O'Brien" and his journey to Guyana to investigate Rev. "James Johnson" and his remote jungle commune called "Johnsontown".
  • Zipper is a thinly veiled dramatization of the Elliot Spitzer prostitution scandal.
  • Invoked in-universe in Saving Grace, when at the end after Grace publishes a novel based on the events in the movie, her new boyfriend dismisses the allegations that he is a criminal as described in the book, by saying he and the character in the book are different nationalities.

  • The Vassilis Vassilikos novel Z writes about the assassination of a left-wing politician. That it is a Roman A Clef is made particularly clear in The Film of the Book, above.
  • David Langford's The Leaky Establishment is a novel set in the everyday banality and grey bureaucracy of Britain's nuclear weapons research establishment. Except that Langford was a senior scientist at Aldermaston and that many other people in the know have testified to the truth of his depiction of day-to-day life in the nuclear weapons business and have even speculated on the real names of several otherwise fictional characters.
  • Several of Melville's first novels - Typee, Omoo, and White-Jacket, for example - are essentially factual accounts of his experiences.
  • Many Hunter S. Thompson books - for example, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - are novelizations for events in his life, with the names of he and his lawyer friend changed to aliases. This almost certainly helped avoid implicating himself in several felonies he somehow got away with.
  • Some notable examples from Dutch literature:
    • In The Diary of Anne Frank, the van Pelses become the van Daans, with Auguste listed as Petronella, while Hermann's and Peter's first names are retained, and Fritz Pfeffer is known as Albert Dussel.
    • Max Havelaar, Eduard Douwes Dekker's famous account of his (failed) struggle to improve the lot of the Javanese under Dutch colonial rule.
    • Onder professoren ('Among Professors') by Willem Frederik Hermans. It mocks some of the many enemies Hermans made while he was a lecturer at the University of Groningen.
    • Het Bureau ('The Office', 'The Department') by J.J. Voskuil. Essentially a Sitcom in printed form, based on Voskuil's own experiences at the Department of Dialectology, Ethnology and Onomastics, a research institute funded by the Dutch government. The series consists of seven volumes and has five thousand pages in total.
  • H.D.'s novel Asphodel contains a depiction of the literary world she moved in, with thinly-veiled portraits of such writers as Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and D.H. Lawrence.
  • News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel García Márquez is a novelized version of the kidnappings of reporters and other media personnel by Colombia's Medellin Cartel.
  • There is evidence that Chronicle of a Death Foretold was very inspired in a real case from the fifties, with enough similarities left under the name and circumstances changes that one of the surviving characters sued the writer for benefits. García Marquez used to be a journalist for trade, so several of his novels have some degree of this in the guise of Historical In Jokes.
  • Heart of Darkness is a stab at Henry Morton Stanley.
  • The Chilean book King Acab's Party.
  • Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point
  • Joyce Carol Oates is very fond of fictionalizing real cases of murder and violent death, sometimes sticking very close to actual events but going inside the minds of the people involved, sometimes departing much farther. Some examples (there are more) include My Sister My Love (Jon Benet Ramsey), Zombie (Jeffrey Dahmer), Black Water (the Chapaquiddick scandal), "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" (Charles Schmid), "Dear Husband" (Andrea Yates), and "Landfill" (John Fiocco).
  • The Dear America series, which is in diary format. Usually it will recreate things that happened in history, only on a smaller scale and before the actual event happens.
  • Although Proust denied it, In Search Of Lost Time is rife with barely hidden Captain Ersatzes of his contemporaries, such as Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac.
  • Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is based off of her childhood as well as the Scottsboro Trials.
  • Elie Weisel's Night is generally labeled a novel, although it is an account of his experiences
  • Grave of the Fireflies, which was based on the author's childhood during and after World War II, except in this case, his Author Avatar, Seita, dies with his sister, Setsuko. The author had blamed himself for the death of his sister from malnutrition and had written the novel as a way to make amends to her.
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins, which tells the story of the "Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island."
  • Primary Colors, which used Bill Clinton's 1992 Presidential campaign as inspiration.
  • Edgar Allan Poe's "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt" was in fact an account of the real-life murder of Mary Rogers, written and published while the crime was still in the newspapers and unsolved. In it Poe's detective C. Auguste Dupin learns of the crime solely from newspaper reports and presents his theory of how it was committed — which is exactly what Poe himself did in writing the story.
  • In 1962, Kerry Wendell Thornley wrote a novel called The Idle Warriors about a strange young man he had met while in the United States Marine Corps. That young man's name? Lee Harvey Oswald.
  • The vast majority of Jack Kerouac's novels are simply retellings of things that happened to him and the other Beat writers, with the names changed (and some parts taken out, as the first draft of On the Road reveals). On The Road and Visions of Cody focus on his best friend Neal Cassady, The Dharma Bums is about his adventures with Gary Snyder, And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks (written with William S. Burroughs) was about a mutual friend who murdered a lover, and so forth. It became so well-known that the publisher insisted he use different character names in each book to prevent legal trouble for anyone involved, but they can still be decoded easily.
  • Compulsion, based on the Leopold & Loeb murder case, investigation, and trial. Told partially in first person - author Meyer Levin was a fraternity brother of Loeb's, though Leopold didn't remember him when Levin visited him in prison.
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is often called a roman à clef. However, in this case the "key" is not that it's based on specific people, but that it's about homosexuality.
  • Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks which is, for all intents and purposes, the history of his family (with the author himself being Thomas Buddenbrook's son Hanno).
  • The first novel of Chilean writer Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits, is essentially a name-and-some-details-changed version of the history of her country and her family. This isn't the only novel of hers where she did that: The Infinite Plan is in the middle between this trope and Very Loosely Based on a True Story on regards the life of her second husband; and while the plot and characters of Eva Luna are original, the setting and backgrounds events are so heavily inspired by the then-recent history of Venezuela (the country Allende was living when writing the book) isn't even funny.
    • This trope is also played in a very meta way in Eva Luna: the soap opera Eva ends writing turns out to be the very book we're reading (which, by the way, is mostly her autobiography and the biography of her love interests), and her transgender actress friend ends interpreting herself and her transition to great success and acclaim.
  • Dave Peltzer's autiobiographical trilogy did this.
  • Les Liaisons dangereuses was popularly thought to be one of these. Several keys circulated around ancien regime France. Since several of the characters aren't very nice people, part of that was simple slander (though for what it's worth, the novelist Stendhal claimed that he had met the woman who inspired Mme de Merteuil when he was a child and she was an old, old lady.)
  • The Hamiltons in East of Eden are based on John Steinbeck's own relatives, without even changing their names. Events drawn from Steinbeck's own boyhood are interspersed among main plot points concerning between the Trasks and Hamiltons.
  • Mordecai Richler's Solomon Gursky Was Here is a weird mix of reportage and total madness. The stuff about a family of Canadian Jewish bootleggers who got rich during Prohibition and then became philanthropists? Based very, very closely on the real-life Bronfman family. The stuff with the Franklin expedition's secretly Jewish doctor and sole survivor, the faked death in a plane crash, the mystic ravens? Not so much.
  • The Making Of The Goodies Disaster Movie inverted this, revolving around a totally fake story but starring real people without names changed. The back of the book did a Dragnet-parodying disclaimer: "The story you're about to hear is true. Only the facts have been changed, to make it more interesting."
  • University don Dr Malcolm Bradbury was also a literary novelist. The only one of his books that got anywhere near "best seller" status was The History Man, a thinly autobiographical account where a Marty Stu character stalks the campus of what in the 1970's would have been a "new" university. Marty Stu is young, hip, intellectual, loved by the students - reciprocated more often than is wise in the case of his female undergrads, a man who communicates History and English Lit in an exciting and fresh and unstuffy way. Naturally his less intellectually gifted, stuffier and priggish colleagues grow jealous and attempt to stifle the new and exciting talent in their midst, but Professor Marty Stu thwarts them at every turn. The book is a VERY thin disguise of the University of East Anglia, Norwich, and some of its teaching staff - characters who can so easily be identified by anyone who was around UEA in the time period 1970-86. In fact, the BBC got to film part of their TV adaptation at UEA....
  • George MacDonald Fraser's McAuslan series of books, thinly disguised slices of the author's service in the Gordon Highlanders between 1946 - 48. Real people, including "Colonel J.F.G. Gordon" have been identified in the books, as have some of the events described.
  • The Girls is a story about a 14-year-old girl in 1969 who falls into a hippie cult led by an ex-con named Russell. It is an obvious story about Charles Manson and the Manson Family. The names are changed and a few details of the murders are tweaked (in the book they take place in Marin County rather than Los Angeles) but the parallels are clear. Evie mentions that she was briefly mentioned in a book about the murders written by a poet—in Real Life poet Ed Sanders wrote The Family in 1971. Evie's grandmother was a famous actress—in Real Life Angela Lansbury's daughter was a member of the Manson Family for a little while.
  • HHHH (Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich) is this in spades, and the novelist Laurent Binet does interrupt the novel in between for a small paragraph where he states he is not sure how exactly things went he's just trying to paint a pretty picture of how it could've gone. He doesn't know what train someone took or if anybody else was in the coupé, but he does know he took a train. Several Urban Legends are invoked when he literally states he's using something based on Word of Mouth.
  • Many Harold Robbins novels qualify, most notably The Carpetbaggers (inspired, in part, by Howard Hughes) and Where Love Has Gone (based on the Lana Turner / Joey Stompanato scandal).
  • La Dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas, fils is based on the tragically short life of the famous courtesan Marie Duplessis, whom Dumas had an affair with. The Author Avatar is the transparently named Armand Duval.
  • The Fixer by Bernard Malamud is based on the blood-libel trial of Mendel Beilis, going so far as to lift a good number of passages from Beilis's memoir The Story of My Sufferings.
  • Junky, or depending on the version Junkie, by William S. Burroughs is essentially an account of his life as a drug addict and dealer, but with the names changed, though he didn't much bother with his own, changing it to William Lee, which he also used as an author pseudonym for this book.
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is an account of James Joyce's life up to the point where he left Ireland in self-imposed exile. Joyce changed the names, using some of those of real people for characters that don't stand in for them, and shuffled around some of the scenes, but reading My Brother's Keeper, a memoir by Stanislaus Joyce about how it had been like to grow up with James Joyce is like reading A Portrait all over again.
  • Brown's Pine Ridge Stories: The names of individuals who were still alive at the time of its publishing in May 2014 were changed or omitted altogether.
  • The Sun Also Rises is a classic example, with Ernest Hemingway basing all the characters on people in his literary circle.
  • Leif G.W. Persson's Backstrom novel The Story of a Crime (Mellan sommarens längtan och vinterns köld), and its TV adaptation En Pilgrims Död, concern the assassination of a Swedish Prime Minister only known as "Pilgrim". But when clues in the narrative are decoded, it can only be referring to the still-unsolved murder of Olaf Palme in 1986. Persson uses the novel to advance his theory that the murder was an inside job by far-right groupings in the Swedish police and security services.
  • Icelandic author Arnaldur Indriðason wrote what begins as a detective thriller about an abused boy who in adulthood takes revenge on his abusers. The policeman dealing with the case is also dealing with a seemingly unrelated case of a blackmailer found beaten nearly to death, presumably by an affonted would-be victim. But as Detective Sigurdur Óli discovers, it all links into a high-level fraud scandal being perpetrated by greedy bankers reaching too far, one with the potential to savage the Icelandic economy. Svörtuloft (Black Skies), written in 2009, reads like a clear and concise explanation of exactly how Icelandic bankers precipitated a financial crisis and a recession which fed into a wider world recession. And why Iceland is the only country to have actually put any of its bankers into prison for greed and corruption. note 
  • Not an example itself, but the Nero Wolfe novel Murder By The Book revolves the murder of a man who wrote a Roman a Clef about unscrupulous goings on around the law firm in which he worked, with the book containing various clues about various unethical things that several people who worked there would rather were kept secret...
    • Also, in the Nero Wolfe short story See No Evil/The Squirt and the Monkey Wolfe 'decodes' a comic strip for a clue to a murder.
  • Valley of the Dolls was based on Jacqueline Susann's experiences as an actress from the 1940s to 1950s, and each notable character is an Expy of a real life person.
    • Anne Welles is Jacqueline herself - a small town girl who moves to New York and falls into the entertainment business. Anne's turbulent relationship with Lyon and Henry is based on persistent rumors that Jacqueline was unfaithful to her own husband (though their marriage was much happier than Anne's).
    • Neely O'Hara is based off Judy Garland - a talented actress, singer and dancer who makes it big but turns to drugs and alcohol to cope with the pressures of being famous. Her stay in the mental hospital is also inspired by Frances Farmer.
    • Jennifer North is based off Carole Landis - a beautiful blonde who became Best Known for the Fanservice and struggled to be taken seriously as an actress ultimately committing suicide rather than deal with her fading looks. Getting addicted to pills because of nerves was based off Marilyn Monroe.
    • Helen Lawson - the foul mouthed veteran Broadway star - was based off the outspoken Ethel Merman.
    • Tony Polar - the Manchild of a club singer - is based off Dean Martin.
  • Was uses a fictional version. According to the book, L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz after being inspired by a child he knew called Dorothy Gael. With his fictionalized Dorothy, her name became "Dorothy Gale".
  • Truman Capote's unfinished Answered Prayers thinly disguised his society friends who had confided the details of their foibles to him. Publication of its chapters led to Capote being ostracized.
  • Dolores by Jackie Susann is based on Jackie Onassis.
  • Joseph Conrad based his short story "Youth" on his own experience as a second mate on an ill-fated voyage carrying coal to Bangkok. Interestingly, the captain and first mate were named for their real life counterparts, but the ships were re-named; the Palestine became the Judea, while the ship that towed the stricken Palestine, the Somerset, was re-named the Sommerville.
  • Michael Korda wrote a novel called Queenie about a half-caste Indian girl who is able to pass for white, and does so in 1930s Hollywood. It's based off his aunt, Hollywood star Merle Oberon. 'Queenie' was her nickname in her youth.
  • James Salter's debut novel,The Hunters, was about his experiences as a Korean War jet fighter pilot in MIG Alley. He wrote under a pseudonym (his real name was James Horowitz) because in addition to detailing his own frustrations (Salter only had one kill in the war), the antagonist was based on Lieutenant James F. Low, who had nine kills to his credit in Korea. When Low discovered he was so portrayed he publicly assailed Salter's skill as a pilot and lack of a killer instinct.
  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson this for the whole history of Western philosophy. Readers can identify individuals such as Plato , Diogenes or Bertrand Russell, or movements such as Kantian thought.
  • A Theatrical Novel by Mikhail Bulgakov features numerous characters from the literary world of the 20's Russia as well as the actors and employees of the historical MAT (Moscow Art Theatre), disguised as the Independent Theatre, starting with Konstantin Stanislavski, famous due to his method.
  • The Red Room by August Strindberg is a novel about Strindberg's poverty and suffering as a young aspiring writer. The plot is a series of scenes satirizing the hypocrisy and selfishness that Strindberg found everywhere in society. Characters in the novel are often based on specific people, but those people are completely unknown to modern readers and were only famous in Strindberg's days, so modern editions of The Red Room usually don't bother explaining who any character is based on.
  • In the early 2020s former Girls' Generation member Jessica Jung wrote two young adult romance novels, Shine and its sequel Bright. Both books are based on Jung's life story as a K-Pop trainee and eventually an idol. In particular, some of Bright's plot bears heavy resemblance to events from Jung's career, most notably the main character establishes a fashion line and eventually leaves her group.
  • We Eat Our Own is about the infamous Troubled Production of Cannibal Holocaust. The protagonist, Richard, is based on Carl Gabriel Yorke, lead actor of the real film; director Ugo Velluto is a stand-in for Ruggero Deodato; and many of the incidents that the crew faces during filming, such as having to kill real animals for the production, actually happened on set. The only wholly fictional part is the side plot involving guerrillas who interfere with the shoot.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Many police procedurals, starting with the archetypal Dragnet. Other examples include some of Jack Webb's other series, such as Adam-12, although that often drifts into Very Loosely Based territory.
    • Modern-day procedurals often keep the criminal's real name (if convicted). Which makes for a crappy protection as simply googling the murderer's name will reveal the real name of his victims.
    • Hilariously enough, TV Guide once quoted (during the run of the short-lived reboot series) a producer from Dragnet as saying that he told the writers to just make a story up, and chances were that something like it happened somewhere.
    • Something similar happened on one of Webb's own productions, Project UFO (with cases drawn from the U.S. Air Force's "Project Blue Book" reports), according to series star Edward Winter:
      Winter: As I understand the story, the Air Force finally got tired of looking at us, because they said "Anything your writers can dream up, we can find...There are over 12,000 cases in the Blue Book report." So instead of finding it first and then writing about it, they let the writers write it and then they go find one like it!
  • McGee in NCIS writes books falling into this trope.
  • It's widely implied that Temperance Brennan in Bones does this, too.
  • The very premise of Castle is that the eponymous author is trailing Detective Beckett around for inspiration. While the plots of his novels don't draw directly from the cases he "consults" on, the characters do. This is no secret in-universe. A method actress cast as Castle's protagonist Nikki Heat even got in-character by joining him in following Beckett around to learn her mannerisms. And Beckett's not even his first muse. The protagonist of one of his earlier series, Clara Striker, is based on a CIA agent he shadowed. No word on who "inspired" his one male protagonist, Derek Storm, but based on his track record, the in-universe real life version is probably walking around somewhere.
  • On Barney Miller, Harris's book Blood on the Badge was based on his experiences as a NY cop. He got all his colleagues to sign waivers (or whatever it's called, to allow their likenesses in the book), but he didn't bother with an Ambulance Chaser that he had occasional dealings with and who was in the book. When the lawyer found out about the book he sued Harris for defamation (or something) and bankrupted him.
  • The Voyager episode "Author Author" deconstructs this by having the Doctor create a Roman à Clef holo-novel with himself as the hero and thinly-disguised versions of his shipmates as the villains.
  • Entourage is based on Mark Wahlberg's meteoric rise to fame and notoriety.
  • Generation Kill uses this on occasion; while most of the protagonist Marines are known by their actual names, a couple of the less-competent officers are referred to only by their nicknames. Captain America, Casey Kasem, and Encino Man are probably the best examples (they were never named in the original book either, in a specific attempt by the author to avoid having them be targets later).
  • The characters of Ron and Mark on Parks and Recreation are loosely based on real people whom the creators met while researching the show. Notably, the person who inspired Ron was a woman, if you can imagine (like Ron, she was a Libertarian who didn't believe in the mission of her own job).
  • The 50's sci-fi show One Step Beyond was allegedly this. In many cases the veracity of the strange plots of the episodes can actually be confirmed.
  • The BBC adaptation of novelist/university lecturer Malcolm Bradbury's The History Man (see above).
  • The Empress of China covers Tang Taizong's expedition to Goguryeo using this method, by changing the names of the Korean places and persons involved.
  • Shoestring contains an in-universe example. Eddie changes everyone's names in his weekly broadcasts, although the details he provides are sometimes still enough to get him in trouble with lawyers.
  • Spoofed in "Mathnet", a Dragnet parody about detectives that used math skills to solve crimes that ran as part of Square One TV. Every episode began with the narrator stating "the story you're about to hear is a fib, but it's short. The names are made up but the (math) problems are real."
  • The Wire zig-zags with some characters in the police department being both named after their real life counterparts, but also featuring some Real-Person Cameo performances such as by Ed Norris who appears as himself, meanwhile, other characters, especially in the criminal world and politics are based on people David Simon and Ed Burns knew from their respective careers in journalism and police work in Baltimore. Avon Barksdale and Omar Little for example are based on two underworld figures who also have cameo roles in the show, and Thomas Carcetti is heavily based on Martin O'Malley.
  • Spoofed on the CBBC magazine/sketch show On the Waterfront which once had a sketch with a Dragnet style voice over saying "The story you are about to see is true. Sort of true. All right, it's complete lies. The names have been changed because the original ones were silly."

  • Biz Markie has stated that "Just a Friend" is based on a true story, although the girl's name has been censored as "Blah, Blah, Blah" to protect her identity.

  • Again, Dragnet.
  • The Goon Show had an episode, "The Whistling Spy Enigma" with Peter Sellers, that did a Dragnet-parodying intro:
    "The crimes you are about to hear have all been specially committed for this program."
    • The popular character of Bluebottle note  began with a really eccentric and physically odd-looking Scoutmaster who Michael Bentine encountered in London. Discovering the scoutmaster had a truly unique voice, Bentine grabbed his friend Peter Sellers by the arm and said "You have got to meet this man!" After the encounter, Bentine said to Sellers "Look. I can't do that voice. You can. There's your Bluebottle!" The rest became radio history. Even when invited to a Goon Show recording, the life-model for the character still did not twig who Bluebottle was based on, and complimented Sellers on creating such a funny character who could not possibly exist in real life.
  • Parodied in one of Frank Muir's monologues on My Word!, where he explains he's going to call a character Lafcadio Quilp to protect his anonymity, before adding "His mother is the dreadful Mrs Snaith who runs the school dinners at a Staines educational establishment, I have met her son Ron a few times."
  • The second series of Ashley Blaker: 6.5 Children, an autobiographical show about raising kids with special needs, interspersed with clips from the family, has a Cold Open to the first epsiode with Ashley telling the kids that, to protect their privacy, this series is going to give them all new names. He then explains which of them is which on-air. After the titles, he introduces the show with "Hello, my name is still Ashley Blaker. No-one cares about my privacy." There are several moments in the episode where he forgets the pseudonyms, and one of his sons keeps arguing that, if he's getting a new name, he wants it to be Sebastian.

  • The Bible: Some scholars have speculated that the apocryphal Book of Judith is one that was about a socio-political situation happening at the time it was written, and that it was using names of characters and locations from the Jews' past to tell that story. Hence, the Anachronism Stew of King Nebuchadnezzar being the king of Assyria when in actual history and canonical Scripture he was the king of Babylon. Also, the story is said to take place after the Jews have returned to their homeland from their exile, which was after both the Assyrian and Babylonian empires have been conquered by the Medes and Persians.

  • The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams is widely believed to be essentially autobiographical, with Tom as the Author Avatar for Williams (who was born Thomas Lanier Williams).
  • The Musical Louisiana Purchase opens with a lawyer writing to the producer and writers of the show, telling them their story is too close to Real Life, and people will know whom they're alluding to even though they've changed the names. But there is an easy way out: change the setting to a mythical state which can even "still be Louisiana," and it will then be OK as fiction.
  • Bertolt Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui tells of the rise to power of Adolf Hitler up to the Night of the Long Knives, but tells it through the setting of a Mob War in 1930s Chicago. Quoting from The Other Wiki: "All the characters and groups in the play had direct counterparts in real life, with Ui representing Hitler, his henchman Ernesto Roma representing Ernst Röhm, Dogsborough representing Paul von Hindenburg (a pun on the German Hund and Burg), Emanuele Giri representing Göring, the Cauliflower Trust representing the Prussian Junkers, the fate of the town of Cicero standing for the Anschluss in Austria and so on."
  • Cyrano de Bergerac: A strange case of a subverted Roman à Clef where the names did not change combined with a Very Loosely Based on a True Story: According to this wiki about the play:
    "Everything that happens in the play actually occurred in Cyrano’s life except what many now remember about the story: his unrequited love for Roxane."
  • Max Frisch's play Andorra is quite obviously not set in Andorra, but rather in another small mountainous country, namely Frisch's homeland Switzerland.
  • Kanadehon Chūshingura is a puppet show (later adapted to Kabuki) that tells the tale of The 47 Ronin. Due to the Shogunate's censorship laws, however, the names are changed and it is nominally set in the Sengoku Jidai, instead of the Edo period.
  • Inherit the Wind, a dramatization of the Scopes Monkey Trial with names changed and some dramatic liberties taken (in particular, Matthew Brady dying at the end of the trial, whereas William Jennings Bryan didn't die until five days after).
  • Discussed in The Moon is Blue: Patty once had an affair with a writer, and months after breaking up with him was shocked to read a short story in The New Yorker written by him telling what was identical to the story of their break-up except for the names.
  • Long Day's Journey Into Night is based more or less on episodes from Eugene O'Neill's own youth. O'Neill deliberately refused to allow the play to be published or produced until after his death, probably out of worry that he would be too closely identified with the play's protagonist, Edmund Tyrone. (O'Neill had a brother named Edmund who died in infancy, like Edmund Tyrone's brother Eugene.)
  • Laughter On The23rd Floor is a play written by Neil Simon based on his experience as a young writer for Sid Caesar.

  • Dana's Story is based on an interview given to the humanitarian charity and aid agency CARE International by an actual woman who fled persecution and war in Syria with her two young sons and her attempt to reach Vienna, where her daughter and sister are. Dana is not the interviewee's real name, it was changed to protect her identity.
  • The artist behind the autobiographical Joe vs. Elan School changed all the names in the story, including his own. He mentions that he's done this not to protect the names of the people involved, but out of extreme fear of retaliation.

Alternative Title(s): Names Changed To Protect The Author, Secretly Nonfictional