From Neil Gaiman's MasterClass

Truth in Fiction

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.

Topics include: The Truth of Coraline · Be Honest · Honesty in The Ocean at the End of the Lane

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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.

Topics include: The Truth of Coraline · Be Honest · Honesty in The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Neil Gaiman

Teaches the Art of Storytelling

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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.

What a fantastic guide! I thought the assignments and recommendations were good ones. The encouragement was generous and felt sincere. It's enormously helpful to hear about the process of writing from the perspective of an author I admire. Glad to have taken the course.

Insightful and inspiring from beginning to end! I watched all the lectures once, but now plan to go back and watch again while doing the exercises. Excellent! Really enjoyed Mr. Gaiman's pace, examples, presentation, and advice!

Worth every penny. After each sessions, I discovered new techniques to improve my work. A must attend for anyone working on a stories.

This class was incredibly inspiring in so many ways. I write book for children and this class has helped me develop my new script and has given me a new approach to the story I am writing. Amazing!

Comments

Makena M.

Really helped me understand the true power of storytelling and why I am taking this class.

Cagla A.

Damn, the honesty part, that "walk down the street naked" made me cry. Tears are such incredible indicators of being poked right in the weak part, huh...

Mario B.

Very much getting my hands dirty and remembering times long gone. "I'm digging in the dirt \ To find the places I got hurt Open up the places I got hurt" ... - Peter Gabriel Amazes me that the memories come back with sounds, smells, and oh so many feelings.

Becky D.

Huge brain wave on this one after letting it percolate for a week or two. I've been using my imagination to tell myself reassuring lies and make myself feel better, over things I was told (put that down before you screw it up) that weren't true to begin with.

A fellow student

I wrote about an emotionally abusive relationship from my childhood that is my biggest secret and a source of great shame. It took me a while to get to the point of what I was trying to write because so many other factors felt tied to this experience. My initial feeling was that no one would want to read this part of my life because it wasn't significant enough for other people to spend their time reading. Of course, the underlying implication was that I wasn't significant enough to share my stories. The next thing that came up emotionally for me was what the people closest to me would think I was damaged in some way and thus not able to see the situation with real clarity because there is the story that I tell them where I renounce the experience as bad and traumatizing, and then there is the much more complicated story that is the truth where I know the experience was traumatizing but that I also feel tenderness for this same abusive person that people expect any sane person to renounce. This exercise was definitely eye opening. It's helping me see now why some of my stories are falling flat. I'm making an attempt a describing emotions as I would imagine people to experience them, but they aren't coming from my real truth.

Melissa O.

Finding the elements of truth that are sometimes uncomfortable or cringe-worthy feel like battles against giants you didn't know you hadn't faced down yet. In retrospect, knowing that something in my past could so easily muck up my insides again, nearly a decade after they happened, is both fascinating and disturbing, but it makes me want to write it--makes me want to dig into those emotions that are still there, still raw enough for me to flinch back from. I found this lesson to be a good introspection into what my truth is and how I find it and face it.

ML V.

I loved this lesson. I am writing a YA, and the embarrassing moment I chose to write about was in high school, it took me reading it out loud to realize just how much it had hurt and how afraid I was of being judged or perceived a certain way, it reminded me of how it ACTUALLY felt to be in high school.

Cher G.

I loved the lesson. I'm not sure if I did the exercise correctly, but I got some words on the page about losing my father and the regret I feel for never really getting to know him. It was a moment of truth and I guess that was the main purpose of the lesson.

A fellow student

Great lesson! I appreciate the power of telling a lie to convey some truth. I then did the writing practice in the workbook and wrote about something I've never spoken much about, the loss of my grandfather. By the end of the short three paragraphs I was left crying and feeling like I had released some inner tension I have been holding on to. The exercise has helped me see that by being vulnerable we can all allow for a deeper emotion to be present in our words.

Becky D.

The yellow jacket story made me cry - it's just where I am with being scared to write. I've already lived through all these things and just don't want to go back in there! I've been thinking about this for days. I'm going to have to do this.