Writing

Truth in Fiction

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 20:13 min

One of the central tools of literature is using the “lie” of a made-up story to tell a human truth. Neil shows you how to make your story’s world—no matter how outlandish—feel real to readers.

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Neil Gaiman
Teaches the Art of Storytelling
In his first-ever online class, Neil Gaiman teaches you how he conjures up new ideas, convincing characters, and vivid fictional worlds.
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Fiction stories are one of the most interesting phenomena that human beings have. Human beings are storytelling creatures. We tell stories. Stories are vital. Stories are important. We can go back later to why they're vital. We can go back later to how they're important. We can go back later to how long they have been around. But the important thing to understand is that stories are part of us. And we convey truth with stories, which is fundamentally the most gloriously giant contradiction that you can ever imagine. What we're saying is we are using lies. We're using memorable lies. We are taking people who do not exist and things that did not happen to those people in places that aren't, and we are using those things to communicate true things to kids. Now whether you're looking at-- And to each other. I mean, we're-- not just kids, but it begins with kids. You tell a child the story of "Little Red Riding Hood," and there are lots of takeaways from that story. But one of the takeaways that is always taken is, you know, there are people out there who may not mean you well. There are people out there, who when they say, where are you going, what are you doing, you may not want to tell them. That might get your grandmother eaten. Might get you eaten. There are people it is best to avoid. Some-- some people-- some wolves are hairy on the inside, and some wolves are hairy on the outside, and perhaps, you're best keeping yourself safe. And it's a true thing. It's a good thing to learn. It may be not something that we are automatically told, so a story like that gives us that as information. You're telling a reader something that you hope will stay with them, something honest, something important, something vital. But you're using lies. "Little Red Riding Hood" never existed. Wolves don't eat grandmothers and then climb into beds disguised as grandmothers. And if they did, Little Red Riding Hood would walk in and go, that is a wolf. She would not be sitting there going, grandmother, what big eyes you have. All the better to see you with, my-- And wolves can't talk. But we understand that. We, as human beings, are really good at taking that information. That is the magic of stories. That's the magic of fiction. Because it's giving you something big and true and important that you might not otherwise get. And you can carry it in your heart, and you can tell it to your children and your children's children. [MUSIC PLAYING] I began "Coraline" with a quote that wasn't from GK Chesterton, although I said it was. I said, "Fairy tales aren't true. Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be defeated." That, for me, was the important thing about "Coraline," the idea that dragons can be defeated. I wanted to tell my kids something that had taken me 30 years of living to figure out. So when I was writing "Coraline," I wrote the first third of the book, and th...


Unleash your imagination

Award-winning author Neil Gaiman has spent more than a quarter of a century crafting vivid, absorbing fiction. Now, the author of Stardust, Coraline, and The Sandman teaches his approach to imaginative storytelling in his online writing class. Learn how to find your unique voice, develop original ideas, and breathe life into your characters. Discover Neil’s philosophy on what drives a story—and open new windows to the stories inside you.



Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Remarkable! A very intimate class letting you into the mind of a creative genius.

Classes like this help keep the fire lit under my ass.

Mr. Gaiman, I have got to say that you are one heck of a storyteller. I thought your tips were very helpful and your stories are so amazing and original. One of my favorite classes of yours was the chapter on comic book writing. I tried it and I thought your process was rather unique and it reminded me of an outlining process I use to tackle. Than you for such a wonderful class.

This has been one of the most important pushes I've needed to continue writing. Neil had taught me some great lessons which I will apply in my art. Thanks Masterclass and Neil Gaiman himself for all this.


Comments

A fellow student

Atmosphere of this course is breathtaking. I feel like I’m reading the book

Yvonne

I am learning so much in so little time. I feel motivated and looking forward to writing the exercise.

Sharon C.

Every so often I meet a writer, actor, etc., who has the likeability gene. It is a tremendous asset, though, of course, they also have talent and drive too. His classes alone are worth entry fee.

A fellow student

In order to write fictions, we need to embed lies in truth. Be honest to the deep of our minds.

Storyteller

This touched on many things I've always felt to be true....to hear them so eloquently put into words was a very wonderful :). The power of stories are truly wondrous.

Simon K.

This has made me stop and think deeply. Firstly about my writing, and secondly about my skill at lying.

Therese P.

I was a librarian at a private school. Children often asked why folk tales were in the "non-fiction" section. My answer was this: Fairy and Folk tales may not be ACTUALLY true....but they --EMBODY-- the truth. They contain truths that our ancestors want us to know. It is a way for those from our past to protect us from becoming prey to common human errors. It is a gift from our forefathers. It must be opened. Thank you Neil for contributing to the body of truth through story. It is truly a gift to us all. Thank you. Sincerely, Terri

Samantha M.

I feel like I am blooming just from listening to him. Neil Gaiman is just amazing and I feel so inspired from just one lesson.

Ian C.

Although I've written non-fiction and several short stories, I've embarked on a novel and am absolutely delighted and passionate about it - eager to tackle each day and the revelations that await me. These masterclasses are a fantastic help in keeping me on track. I'm enjoying writing the truth from my past into a fiction - merging characters and places into new identities to suit the story, but remining truthful in my lies! :) Great advice Neil - thanks.

Chris P.

I reviewed this and really thought about it. I am writing with the mentality that the story is a portrait and the image of the person is from my imagination, with the highlights and shadows being the truths. This was difficult at first, however, I am finding it more cathartic as I continue on.