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.

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.


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

Absolutely brilliant. Neil has such an engaging voice and personality. It felt like we were sitting in the library having a cup of tea with each other. The one thing that really stood out to me was his recitation of his short story about the genie. That was such a beautiful story, and I'd never heard it before, so thank you.

Awesome stuff totally useful! I'm surprised by its clarity of the information!

Neil was an absolute wonderful instructor. Full of passion and meaningful lectures.

Neil is a very engaging speaker. He has a powerful yet calm energy about him.


Noemi G.

Thank you for the lesson … I am going back to my 18`s and trying to refresh my mind to learn again how to write at the same time I had listening to you !

Ashley D.

I love how he described the truth that exists in fiction and being honest in your writing. I can already tell that I am going to love this class!

A fellow student

It's worth reading "Tremendous Trifles" (even just part one) as suggested in the lesson PDF. The anology of the giant and the pigmy is so revealing. Spoiler: BE THE PIGMY! I've written down so many quotes from this piece. The takeaway is that as a writer you should always make mountains out of molehills. Exagerate the the smallest and most mundane of things. Show people the detail they didn't expect to see. Oh, and if you are small enough, a molehill actually IS a mountain. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/8092/8092-h/8092-h.htm

A fellow student

It's wonderful! Very enlightening and is making me think about the stories I want to tell


Wow! I was just watching "Bad Blood" with Kim Coates. I believe Michael Konyves is the writer. In one scene, Kim's character is telling a bunch of hard core bikers to relax. He says something like "breathe, relax, have a drink, paint your toenails red" and the bikers all chuckle! It caught me off guard too and I laughed heartily. I asked myself why did the writer put that line in about painting their toes red ? I think this is what Neil is teaching about honesty. Maybe Michael is a cross dresser, maybe he isn't, but either way it is vulnerable and endearing. If he is, he must know that the audience would think that. If he isn't, he legitimizes a simple pleasure that may cause judgement...which gives us an insight to the character, hence the honesty, of the author.

Jeanned'Arc L.

Well there you have it. The secret to better writing is to go inside yourself and face that which we fear or feel embarrassed about. It's one thing to know it and keep it hidden but it is another to write it down and say it outloud. . . even in an exercise. Neil's exercise encourages me to seek the honesty surrounding a terrible personal event and use it to create a better story.

Isaac A.

When one loses the fear to explore inner and outer darkness, and expose what needs to be exposed in order for broader conversation to happen, that is the deliciously unforgettable moment of reaching maturity. I have been putting that into practice lately...

A fellow student

Great lesson. I realize some of the over-emphasis I've put on creating physical realities rather than focusing on the universal emotional realities. The IDEAS and FEELINGS are the truths as much as the experiences, themselves. What's crazy is I've always considered myself a writer that has tapped into sentiment, but recognize in this teaching that it's an area that needs specific attention.

Aline M.

I like the importance it is given to the curiosity. It makes so much sense and helps a lot about getting a path.


Neil just got to the core of myself, as I feel like I'm in my darkest period of my life precisely because I feel like I have nothing to say. I just want to find out what I lack about.