Neil Gaiman is a prolific fantasy author of popular works such as Stardust, Coraline, American Gods, Good Omens, and The Sandman. He has written fiction for both adults and children and has explored a multitude of mediums including novels, short stories, film and television, graphic novels, and comic books. He’s also Professor of the Arts at Bard College. To put it simply, the man knows his sh*t.
He’s one of my personal favorites because of his dark twists on fairytales and mythology, sense of humor, and captivating storytelling. When I made a list of all the classes I wanted to take this year, his was at the top so I dove into it in January. It did not disappoint.
Here’s my review of Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling on MasterClass, as well as several of my favorite takeaways and quotes from it.
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Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling
Who It’s For
Like the other courses from MasterClass I’ve taken so far (Shonda Rhimes and Aaron Sorkin), I found the content to be relevant to beginners and advanced writers alike. As I mentioned, he’s written novels, short stories, screenplays, graphic novels, and comic books so his lessons on storytelling apply to all of these mediums.
If you’re a beginner, this class is a perfect welcome into the craft. Neil covers everything from coming up with ideas and creating characters to dealing with writer’s block. It will give you a solid foundation with which to start your journey and attain a stronger grasp on the many layers of storytelling. He delves into the complexity of the art form while easing any overwhelm you may experience along the way with his soothing, grounded approach to being a creator.
If you’re an advanced writer, I think you’ll still find that Neil offers a lot of wisdom through his unique perspective. I’ve been writing for a long time, taken many classes, and read countless books on the topic, but I didn’t feel like his class was at all redundant or overly basic. It was awesome to get a look inside his process and how he approaches the many facets of writing and storytelling. He was very open and honest and went deep into his own experience, which was priceless.
His Teaching Style
Neil has such a gentle, yet passionate approach to teaching. He takes you by the hand and leads you on this incredible journey of storytelling through his eyes. Like his books, there was an air of mysticism throughout the whole thing, which was aided by the wonderful production (they are really upping their game at MasterClass). The whole presentation captured the magic of being a writer. What I loved most was how beautifully he expressed the soul of writing and communicated everything with the spirit of an artist, but you can tell he’s a seasoned educator because of how clear and rich his lectures are.
Neil covered all of the key topics on storytelling and even offered a few bonuses, like his lessons on humor and comics. While I’ve never written a comic book and I’m not sure that I ever will, I was fascinated to learn about the medium, his approach to it, and how he gets creative with its structure to tell his stories.
Here is a full list of the curriculum:
It also comes with a beautifully designed 94-page workbook that includes notes from the class and worksheets.
A Preview of the Class
Here is a small preview from one of the lessons to get a taste of what the class is like:
I loved this class. It was one of my favorites I’ve taken on writing and storytelling through all the years I’ve been self-studying the craft. If you’re still on the fence, check out the trailer on the class page to get a feel for what to expect and whether it’s right for you.
For the cost of 3 Starbucks drinks a month, the All-Access pass allows you to take however many classes you want from a variety of topics, including the dozen they have for writers from instructors such as James Patterson, Margaret Atwood, Dan Brown, and Malcolm Gladwell. I’m working way through them all now.
As a lover of learning, this is a goldmine. I’ve taken several classes with the pass and found something valuable in all of them. For me, it has definitely been worth the investment.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the class:
On mixing truth with fiction:
“What you’re doing is lying, but you’re using the truth in order to make your lies convincing and true. You’re using them as seasoning. You’re using the truth as a condiment to make an otherwise unconvincing narrative absolutely credible.”
On characters getting what they need:
“Remember that characters always, for good or for evil, get what they need. They do not get what they want.”
On being willing to explore your dark side:
“You are going into yourself. And you have to not be afraid of yourself. You have to be willing, if you’re writing a murderer, if you’re a bad person, to go and find that part of you that is the bad person, that is the murderer, that would take pleasure in this thing, and go, okay, what would you say? What would you do? Who are you?”
On adding depth to prose with your senses:
“Find one thing that is memorable, one thing that’s important, one thing that’s different, and then look at that using a sense. It may be touch, it may be smell. Smell is often ignored in writing, and smell in the real world is subliminal, rolling, evocative, and very, very likely to take you to very strange places.”
On writing humor:
“Humor is that moment where you see something that you’ve always thought, but now somebody has articulated it. And they’ve articulated it in a way that you’ve never seen before. And sometimes it’s just the joy of the unexpected.”
On surprising readers:
“You can always turn things around. You don’t actually ever have to give people the thing they want in the way they’re expecting. Actually, they always like it if you give them what they want, in a way that they’re not expecting.”
On writer’s block:
“The problem I think that so many of us have, especially the process of writing, is because it creates magic, because when you read the story, you are off in this wonderful, magical place, you can forget that it’s a craft. And you can also, especially as a young writer, forget that you simply do it by doing it.”
On becoming a writer:
“You can fix dialogue that isn’t quite there. You can fix the beginning of something. But you cannot fix nothingness, so you have to be brave. You have to just start.”