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Summary of Neil Gaiman´s “The Art of Storytelling” Masterclass

What is Masterclass?

Masterclass features courses from the top experts in their field — writers, actors, athletes, musicians, chefs, and many others. You’ve probably seen their super produced Youtube ads. Their tagline is “Learn from 100+ of the world’s best minds” and it sure lives up to it.

Who is Neil Gaiman?

Neil Gaiman is an English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, nonfiction, audio theatre, and films.

His works include the comic book series The Sandman and novels Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book.

He has won numerous awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker awards, as well as the Newbery and Carnegie medals. He is the first author to win both the Newbery and the Carnegie medals for the same work, The Graveyard Book. In 2013, The Ocean at the End of the Lane was voted Book of the Year in the British National Book Awards.

This is the first time Neil teaches an online course.

Below, you will find a short summary of Neil Gaiman´s “The Art of Storytelling” Masterclass.

Get a full summary of Neil Gaiman´s Art of Storytelling here. 


This course will teach you:

  • How to find the tools to write. 
  • Show you where the pitfalls are. 
  • The nuts and bolts of writing. 
  • What is a story and how to build it. 
  • Give the push you need 


Fiction uses lies to tell true things. Fiction gives you something big and important that otherwise, you wouldn’t get. Fiction has to be as honest as you can make it. People respond to honesty. 


A writer needs to have a compost heap.  

Lou Reed is one of his inspirations. There is a story in his music, his choice of words… he learned from him not to tell readers how to feel. They should find it themselves. 

Your influences are not necessarily the things you think they are. Your influences are all sorts of things. So it’s important to open yourself to everything. 


In the beginning, you don’t know your voice. A writer’s voice is a result of discovering it. When you are beginning you imitate…You find voices that you like and follow them. And that´s fine. 

You don’t have to get it right at the beginning; you will make mistakes. The most important thing is to just write. 

To find your mistakes you do stuff; that’s the process of living…and creating. It’s a process you will always screw up in some way or another. But you have to keep on doing.  


Writers often know they have an idea but they are not sure if they have a story. They don’t know if their idea has legs.

So how to build a story? A novel? A plot? 

A story is anything fictional that keeps you turning the pages and doesn’t make you feel cheated at the end. 

What’s gonna happen next is the game you play as a writer with your readers. That’s what keeps them turning the pages. Things they don’t know. Things they care about. Fill the pages with this stuff. 

Keep your readers wondering: “Is he going to kiss her… or poison her. Does she know about the missing will? Are they going to be happy together… or split up? 

And then what happened?” the 4 words anyone writing or telling a story wants to hear throughout their story. They show that people care.

Those words are the most important words for a storyteller. You need to do anything you can to keep your readers glued to the story.  

You need to care about your readers. And they need to care about what happens next


A good short story is a magic trick. It’s simple –not grand. Someone shows you their hands, covers them, and then there is a rose there. Short stories are like this. 

When you are writing short fiction you just want to feel these characters didn’t start to exist the moment the story began. You want to know they existed all along. You want to know things that have happened to them, things that have taken them to that point of the story. And now you place them into the unraveling time. And it’s the last chapter of a novel. 


When Neil started, the most terrifying thing for Neil was character creation. He didn’t understand them. 

He learned about dialogue from his years as a journalist, doing interviews. After transcribing the tapes of an interview ( about 10,000 words). He would turn them into a 2,000-3,000 word interview. He learned about economy and how to make people sound like themselves.

Economy was the most useful thing to go out and write fiction. He learned to compress. To show who someone is by what they say.  

The process of writing good dialogue is a listening process. You write the line before and then you listen…Then you write the next line. 

Neil needs to know what people he writes about look like. Dialogue must not feel forced. 

Once you have a character who can say anything… you can also have a character who can say incredibly wise things as well. 

Train yourself to listen to the character. 


The joy of world-building in fiction is playing god. All fiction is fantasy. You are creating a world that didn’t exist. 

It is an act of magical creation. 

When starting don’t borrow someone else’s world. What you want to do is get out, look at places, get to know them, and then change them. Make them bigger or smaller… or scarier. 

Sneak in things from the world you know into the world you create.  


Words are the most important thing writers have. Let’s talk about what we can do with them. 

You describe what needs to be described and explain what needs to be explained. Neil doesn’t believe in “getting rid of descriptions”.

When you are writing, you play God. There are no rules other than to tell a great story… tell it as best as you can. 

There is enormous pleasure in describing… so do it. You don’t have to cut back. Describe the world you are building


Neil says humor is vital in anything you do. Humor is something you’ve always thought and now somebody has articulated it in a way you’ve never seen before. 

Sometimes humor is just the joy of the unexpected. 


In a genre, something has to happen. There are elements that make a genre a genre. Such as outlaws, saloons, and gun duels in Westerns. 

You have to know what readers are coming for when they read the genre you are writing. They are going to expect certain things from you. Specific scenes and characters. A plot is just a way to tie it all up. 


When staring at a blank page don’t give in to despair. 

Do this instead: 

  1. Don’t just sit there staring at the page. Go do something else. Go for a walk. Chop wood. Go play with children. Do whatever it is you can do. Neil has stopped writing a book, thought about it for a few months, and then came back when he had the answer.  
  2. Come back pretending you’ve never read what you’ve written and read it through. The direction the story should take becomes obvious. The problem is always earlier than the place you got stuck. Discover where it is. It’s ok to abandon a chapter that leads you to a dead end.  


As an artist/writer what you are doing is a twofold process. You are creating and then fixing or editing your creation. When you write you explode, like a bomb. Explode onto a page and get to the end of it. 

And then you get to see how it worked– you can now think about it. What works and what doesn’t work. 

Once Neil is done writing what he does is he leaves what he has written and walks away. Then a week later he prints it out and comes back to it and pretends that he’s never read it before. And then he reads it and makes notes on the margin of everything that doesn’t work as a reader. 


  1. You have to write. If you don’t write, nothing will happen. 
  2. You have to finish what you write. You have to let it go into the world. 
  3. After you finish it, send it out to the world to someone who could publish it. Or share it on the internet, the internet broadens your scope.
  4. You can find the rest of the rules in the full summary


My responsibility is to tell good honest stories. Tell them as well as I can. And encapsulate as much as I can the things and values I believe in within the stories. 

Get the full summary of Neil Gaiman´s Art of Storytelling Masterclass here. 

Disclaimer: This summary is not in any way associated or endorsed by the course creators or their affiliates. 

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