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.

Amazing. Neil is so good at speaking in a relatable manner, and so clear about what he wants to say and what he believes

Intelligent, magical, clear, ...love the rhythm of his voice... it is captivating thank you!!

In the details, especially with dialogue. I am so privileged to have this opportunity

I took a lot of inspiration from Neil's words to get writing again. I write for different audience and through prose, so not all of the lectures were directly relevant, but they all contained good information and suggestions that I am making use of now.


Alexander B.

Brilliant, beautiful, touching and simple. I could just sit and watch this man talk as a TV show.

Dorothy E.

Just finished the journal assignment. It made me deal with a huge, personal, very painful truth. Possibly the most difficult writing assignment I've ever had, which of course means it was probably the most valuable writing experience.

Jishan B.

People are not real, but emotions are real. Emotions are the ones that connect us all. Telling a lie with true emotions is the challenge.

Rebecca D.

oooh this was fun! Went through my list of stories on the go and wrote a little about what I thought the truth was for each of them. It's interesting to see how it changes or clarifies throughout the writing process.

Kim D.

I had never explored these personal aspects in writing and speaking. This was a genuine exercise in self-worth. Thank you for helping me gain a deeper connection to my soul.

Andrea P.

I feel that we're often afraid of the truth, of telling the truth. The truth may not always be pretty, or pleasant. There are parts of us that we're afraid to show, exactly because we don't know how they will be received. Being able to speak your truth, I find, is essential when it comes to writing. Sharing it might be exactly what connects you to others.

Tina M.

Beautiful lesson. The exercises are inspiring. Here's a piece I added to my current WIP, prompted from the "For Your Novel" Section: "His words left an imprint against my lips with every syllable he spoke as he inched closer and closer to my face. As if he could permanently brand me with his rage, his words traveled into every cell and reminded me exactly why we stood there in the first place. I stood back from the threat of his control and slapped him hard across the face, hoping the sting from my touch erupted through his body as it did through mine. The red handprint I’d left behind could never be enough. I needed my pain to echo, to vibrate, to scream hard enough to interrupt the next words that would escape his lips. Taylor did not respond. The rage flowing from his dark eyes said enough."

Michael G.

Fantastic. Made me think of my writing to date and how maybe I'm not being as authentic and vulnerable as I should. So much to think about here.

Mike C.

Great first lesson examing truth in fiction. I found his comment about reading stories as though you're a craftsman, as a creator of these things, to be particularly relevant.

Abigail S.

It took me a long time to do the writing exercise from this lesson. I was scared and had a hard time remembering things to write about. I’m so glad that I pushed through the fear and took the time to remember something fitting for the exercise. I’m incredibly happy with how it’s going so far.