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Arts & Entertainment

Truth in Fiction

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 20:10 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.


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.

Would have titled this course, "Neil Gaiman translates the art of storytelling for mere mortals." Brilliant presentation, uncanny storyteller.

I have absolutely adored this Masterclass! I am so sad that I don’t have any more lessons in this series. Neil Gaiman has made me laugh at myself and take myself more seriously at the same time.

Sometimes you just need a magic man to show you what you have and tell you what to do with those things to make something wonderful, if you also have the courage to do so.

I've learned some excellent tricks to help my stories progress and lots of different things to think about when I'm writing. It was also reassuring that some of things Neil suggested I had already done out of instinct. I've feel like I now have a new perspective on how to begin and finish stories. I feel inspired to create good, honest stories.


Robin J.

The idea of having to be honest in order to sell the 'lie' that is your story - it really resonates with me and I think it's one of the most challenging aspects of writing and storytelling. I think most everyone is afraid of being judged at some point in their life, but in order to be a successful writer, you have to move past that fear and do what Neil says here: open up, walk down the street naked, and show just a little bit more of yourself than is strictly comfortable. I know it's something I struggle with time and time again in my work. But honestly, the best pieces I've done are the ones where I'm most honest. This lesson reminded me of that fact and, going forward, is going to help me write more authentic fiction.

Loretta C.

"I had nothing to say, not because I hadn't lived, but because I wasn't prepared to say anything true about who I was." WHOAAAAAA.........

Aileen C.

He is brilliant! Ok that is what I have to say right now...I just wish I had the confidence to write - he inspires me

Liz C.

I like this lesson. Neil Gaiman shows his inside views on writing, and a passage of his life that helped him finish his book Coraline. I will have to read this book. Lying to be honest for the story. Taking note.

Rayna L.

This was an amazing lesson and I absolutely related to many of the things, considering I have just finished writing a book and am working on a new one that reminds me a little bit of Coraline in a way. I have had some trouble getting it all out onto the page but I think this lesson helped me understand about the true things in a good book. I can see that behind what seems to be just a lie is actually very personal and true.

A fellow student

Coraline was a big part of my childhood,when I saw the movie I liked it,it was like no other I had every seen.I saw it again a few years later and I felt like a happy little kid again.then a few years later I was on youtube and saw theories I watched them all. then I was scared.I never wanted to see or hear the name Coraline ever again.I lived in fear of it.a year later my best friend got the book from school. a year later,it was on Netflix I sat there every Friday.I looked through the movies scared I would see it on there,even though I knew it would hunt me. I wanted to be brave one Friday night,so even though I was scared as heck,I clicked on the movie,as soon as it stated I stopped it.then I thought Coraline got though all this,so I could get though an hour long I started it again.I felt fine,only my mother was there,and that was not brave my mother was there to hold me. so I told her to leave me to watch the movie by myself.I was scared I knew I was being brave.I no longer scared when the movie was over.I watched the theories again and I was scared two years later.I saw the book at school and checked it out and read.I was scared.but when I got to the part were her father got stung by the bees and how she told the black cat that being brave means you have to be scared or it doesn't matter.I was no longer scared.Coraline was my Beldamn and I killed her,I learned to love the thing I love most again. Coraline is and will always be my childhood when ever I get scared I whisper in my mind the feeling I'm feeling is not scared it's braveness.

Ken D.

I must admit, that part when Neil stated he didn't want to be judge. I had to rewind and listen to that again and as I listened, I realized that that was me. Sure I've written many user guides, technical instructions, quick reference guides and I know the quality and usability of them. But when it comes to writing fiction, even with other writing courses, I found myself not wanting to submit it for fear of being told, not good enough, writing and the dream of writing a novel may not be my path. I think that is truly what has been holding me back, and saying the usual "damn writers block." I look forward to learning more from this course.


"I didn't want to be judged. I didn't want people reading my stories to know who I was or what I thought or to get in too close." You've hit it on the head, Neil.

A fellow student

In the middle of this lesson, I actually began to tear up. He hit on the very thing that has been holding me back for, forever. Certainly, the last couple of years most of all. I have always been very afraid of people seeing me, or seeing experiences and people I know, in what I write. I am always afraid they may see themselves in a character and... not like the way that character is portrayed, or disagree with how I perceived that moment in our shared history. So, I refused to delve too deeply into that truth - and then found myself frustrated and unhappy with my work because I could see how shallow and one-dimensional it read. I've written some really good things before - when I had an internet persona to hide behind - and those things, I was proud of them, but never proud enough to feel comfortable sharing them with the people who knew me in real life. Having to conquer that fear, to reach in and pull out some of those personal truths and shine a public light on them, is probably going to be one of the most difficult lessons for me - and yet, I know if I want to progress as a writer, I have to.


I think this was what I was searching for in my attempts at writing something that was my own. "Be honest"...Maybe I will stop feeling like a shell of a human being if I search for that truth within myself and use it to write stories.