Freakier Than Fiction

"Truth must necessarily be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind and therefore congenial to it."

Originating in the Mark Twain quote that "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't." No matter how weird, freaky, or squicky fiction gets, there will be something in Real Life that is even weirder, freakier, or squickier.

When such a thing is reported to other people, it will include a "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer because Reality Is Unrealistic and we really cannot, or do not want to, believe it is real. Can be subject to Values Dissonance as well; anything one culture takes for granted about itself can look quite strange from the perspective of another culture that isn't used to the same assumptions.

When such a thing is adapted to fiction, the producers will be sure to insist on their story's realism. These adaptations are usually just Very Loosely Based on a True Story, and so the original real thing probably still fits this trope.

Poe's Law is when it is difficult to prove, without a smiley or other blatant evidence of sarcasm, whether something — religion, Fandom, politics, even pizza toppings — is serious or a parody, because no matter how crazy a parody might sound to the parodist, there's an actual person there saying something similar to the parody.

Rule 34 — "If it exists, there is porn of it" — is a subtrope of this.

Not to be confused with Stranger Than Fiction, which is a movie.

A subtrope of Truth in Television and of Ripped from the Headlines.


Comic Books
  • Timely Comics' (future Marvel Comics) writers imagined the Red Skull back in 1941 as a cartoonish exaggeration of evil fit for propaganda against Nazi Germany, as nobody would believe such creature did exist. At least a few senior figures of the Nazi empire did suspiciously similar things during the war, but the world found out only years after.

  • The film The Magdalene Sisters depicted the plight of girls sent to live in convents as washerwomen for the crime of being pregnant out of wedlock - or even for being accused of being "flirtatious"; many inmates were still virgins. The film actually toned down the habitual violence the girls endured under the nuns's hands and also showed the girls speaking to each other and forming friendships - in reality, both were forbidden...
  • In Singin' in the Rain, Cosmo says of film star Lina Lamont: "She can't act, she can't sing, she can't dance. A triple threat." Now, who in Real Life would build a musical around a Hollywood star who couldn't sing, dance or act? That would be the producers of a musical revue titled Two's Company, which opened on Broadway the same year Singin' in the Rain was released. What critics had to write about Bette Davis's leading performance resembled the movie's put-down of its fictional actress.
  • The film Changeling ran into this trope. It was, in fact, based on a true story, but nobody would believe it...when it was, in fact, not exaggerated in the slightest. So writer J Michael Stracynski added sources to the script and such, to prove it was real! Not only that, but many of the more bizarre and freaktacular parts of the serial killer's exploits were left out, as they distracted from the main story. During an DVD extra, Clint Eastwood noted that if it were fiction, no one would believe it.
  • WWII hero Audie Murphy played himself in the movie To Hell and Back, based on his autobiography. During the adaptation, he requested that certain parts of his exploits (like the time he had malaria and leapt on top of a burning, half-destroyed tank-destroyer to use its pintle-mounted machine gun and single-handedly hold off an entire company of German mechanized infantry for half an hour) be watered down a little, since nobody would believe the real thing.
  • Obviously, the events of the film Apollo 13 actually happened. But what they don't mention is that there were several additional malfunctions, and one or two of the events mentioned in passing in the movie were actually critical problems in reality. There were removed/downsized because, yes, producers thought no one would believe it. No one in the Apollo program at the time would have believed it either had it not actually happened. (The movie depicts Sy Liebergot as saying "It's reading a quadruple failure. That can't happen!" because that's what he really said. But it did happen.) Also, some test audiences reacted poorly to the ending - saying it could never happen and was totally unrealistic.
  • Frank Abagnale's last escape could never have been included in Catch Me If You Can due to being even less plausible than tunneling out of a landing airplane. That solitary cell in federal prison? He allegedly conned his way out by pretending to be an undercover FBI agent.
  • Anyone watching The Way Way Back might wonder who in their right mind would name a water park "Water Wizz". They did.

Live-Action TV
  • Law & Order gets its plots from somewhere.
    • Such as the case of Colleen Stan.
    • One of the better "we can't make this shit up" examples might be "Hands Free," where the detectives believe an eccentric crossdresser is responsible for the body that's shown up in pieces in trash cans all over New York City. Based strongly - yes, down to the crossdressing - on the case of Robert Durst.
  • The writers of Leverage note several times in episode commentary that many of the villains on the show are heavily inspired by real-world events. In fact, they've commented that they needed to tone down some of the cartoonish villainy some CE Os display, as people wouldn't believe it.
  • Criminal Minds: many of their stranger episodes have been based on actual events. note  As it turns out, serial killers and sadists often have severe mental issues and do things that seem like the work of Pulp Magazine villains. Like building death courses in meat packing plants, keeping their victims chained for years in their basement, centering their crimes around bizarre obsessions and signature murder rituals, and taunting the authorities with Criminal Mind Games.
  • An episode of House ("Alone") references the real-life case of Whitney Cerak and Laura Van Ryn where two girls were in an accident, one killed and one surviving but too injured to identify herself, and the surviving and dead girl's identities were switched.
  • CSI: New York also based an episode around this story, with an added twist: the spiteful mother of the "dead" girl smothered the survivor before the switch was discovered, ultimately getting her arrested for murdering her own daughter.
    • A game in the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney series also used this plot. Of course, this case bought in actual mediums to talk to the dead, which is what drives the surviving sister to murder.
    • One of Final Fantasy VII's major twists also resembles this case.
  • The Supernatural episode "No Exit" featured the ghost of the United States's first documented serial killer, one H.H. Holmes. Holmes's actual exploits — which included building a "murder hotel" whose guests sometimes didn't check out — can be read about in Rick Geary's Treasury of Victorian Murder series and in the book The Devil in the White City. And yes, his tomb was sealed in concrete.

  • In the musical 1776, John Adams warns that if they strike down the paragraph in the Declaration of Independence denouncing slavery, "posterity will never forgive us!" What was actually said (by John's cousin Samuel) was "There will be a trouble a hundred years hence! Posterity will never forgive us!" The writers admitted they left that out, because no one would believe Adams would be that scarily accurate.


Web Original
  • is practically in love with this trope as much as boobs, writing humorous articles on true stories and facts that seem utterly ridiculous half the time even though it's real.

  • Everyone knows the British love a Spot of Tea. What people don't know is that they hollowed out a mountain in order to build a power station that could respond to sudden spikes in electricity demand caused by everyone putting their electric tea kettles on at once (such as during half-time of the F.A. Cup final). Built in 1974, Dinorwig power station in Wales is the fastest operating power station, able to generate 1,650 MW of electricity in seconds should the need arise.
    • It is inside the mountain in order to contain the enormous explosion that will result if it ever fails to cope with demand.
    • British armored vehicles all contain a boiling vessel (BV or bivvie) to heat water. This can be used for field (boil-in-the-bag) rations but is usually used for making tea. American troops initially mocked this until they realized it's extremely handy to be able to boil water in the field at a moment's notice. Tip: don't ever approach a British tank asking for a cup of tea or coffee because the cup will almost certainly be skiffed (look it up at your own risk).
  • BTK Dennis Rader, of Wichita, Kansas, has probably been the basis for several fictional serial killers. He would have gotten away scott-free, right under everyone's nose, too, if he hadn't decided to get himself caught twenty years after the fact by stalking the local newspaper and the detective who was head of his case way back when. His crimes were horrifying, but his reported beliefs about the afterlife were worse: he thought his victims would be his eternal slaves. His pastor, who sat through the trial up to this point in demonstration of the belief that even killers could be achieve salvation if properly repentant, stood up and walked out.
  • Descriptions of Jrgen Haagen Schmith's last stand (also his first stand, since he was the driver) are considerably more amazing than the version of events shown in Flammen og Citronen.
  • World War II in general would make a terribly, terribly implausible TV show.
  • Ditto for the start of World War I - who'd imagine that the death of an Archduke would cause practically every country in the first-world to declare war?
    • Every country but one. And even Italy's justification to stay out (namely that their alliance with Austria-Hungary and Germany was defensive in nature and that Austria-Hungary had been the one to declare war first) is unbelievable, both for the sheer balls of it and the expansionist Italy throwing away an easy victory with possibilities for fruitful colonial expansion to pursue their territorial squabble with Austria-Hungary.
    • Imperial Germany's repeated seizure of the Villain Ball until it ensured its own defeat also counts. From the invasion of Belgium (which wasn't actually as needed and inevitable as Schlieffen and Moltke put it), to the unrestricted submarine warfare, to the Zimmermann Telegram, an offer to divide the (neutral but pro-Entente) United States with civil war-torn Mexico, when Germany had its hands full in Europe, and that to reach its destination had to be sent by a cable controlled by Germany's enemy Britain and the United States itself. The offer could have been easily painted as British propaganda intended to make the US declare war on Germany if Germany's foreign minister Arthur Zimmermann had not come forward immediately and recognized the telegram as real. Germany's many other pre-war blunders which destroyed Bismarck's careful work to isolate France, and alienated successively Russia, Britain, Japan, Italy, Portugal and the United States also ensured that there would be a war in the first place, and that Germany could only rely on the decomposing Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires when it happened.
  • The world's most proficient sniper, Simo Hyh AKA "The White Death", has over 700 confirmed kills. Yes, seven hundred. All achieved in about three months in far less than optimal conditions. The Other Wiki has more information on the guy, but needless to say, if he was fictional, this would be considered ridiculous if it was played for anything other than laughs.
  • The Con Lang community uses "ANADEWism" to refer to things that A Natural language has Already Done Even Worse.
  • Any case of a Cargo Cult.
  • New York writer Paul Auster finally got tired of people telling him his stories were unrealistic (in fact, a lot of them deal with coincidences and unlikely events of all sorts). So he encouraged the audience of NPR to write up their own stories. Only condition: the story had to be true. The result is available as a book ("I thought my father was God").
  • Real life instances of Only in Florida.
  • The Shot Heard Round The World, where Bobby Thomson's three-run walk-off homer capped a ninth-inning rally that turned a looming 4-1 defeat into a 5-4 win for the New York Giants, a win that got the Giants the National League pennant in the deciding third game of a best-of-three playoff necessitated after the Brooklyn Dodgers blew a 12 1⁄2 game lead in the standings with seven weeks to go in the season and the two teams ended the regular season with the same record after the Giants won their final game 9-8 in 14 innings against the Phillies. Writer Red Smith of the New York Herald Tribune opened his recap of the game thus:
    Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.
  • Having had a foreign coach on the 1980's that eventually won a World Cup with another team (Carlos Bilardo with Argentina) Colombian fans pleaded for a foreign coach for three decades; the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers for the Colombian side started in 2011 with the usual flunky team that the country had been used to for the last fourteen years. The first coach, beloved former player Leonel Alvarez, was ousted due to bad results. He was replaced with the last qualifying coach the team had had, Hernan Daro "Bolillo" Gomez. He was flunking too until there was a twist worthy of a Soap Opera where he repeatedly struck a woman who had accompanied him into a pub (presumably his mistress). Various groups against violence towards women denounced the coach, who had to resign and dig up a hole to hide into. The Colombian federation resorted to hiring someone that the press and the public could not possibly object to in veteran Argentinian coach Jose Pekerman, who had extensible experience in the U-20 World Cups for Argentina. Pekerman wound up taking Colombia to its first World Cup in 16 years and further than they had ever been before (Quarter-finals). As such, Colombian fans often joke that they have to thank "Bolillo's Mistress" or "Bolillo's Floozy" for their triumphant run.
    • In the vein of the Colombian team, there was a scandal regarding GK Rene Higuita in the mid-early 1990's where he visited the recently jailed narco-terrorist Pablo Escobar in a private jail the government had built for him on the outskirts of Medellin. He was arrested for "mediating in the kidnapping negotiations of an abducted girl" and was sent to jail, where the kidnapping-related charges never came into questioning; he was rather questioned regarding his visit to Escobar. What the press didn't know, or wasn't divulged due to government intervention, note  is that everyone on the squad actually visited the jail at Escobar's request and played a match in there.

Alternative Title(s):

Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction