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Arts & Entertainment

Character Case Study: “October Tale”

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 15:52 min

Neil explains the technique of bringing a character to life by putting them in an unfamiliar situation that creates tension.

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.


There are two ways you can introduce a character. They can be static or they can be on the move. And it can be really fun if you want to meet somebody, if you want to encounter somebody, if you're bringing on a character, to just throw them into an unfamiliar setting to make the reader do a lot of the work. But by the same token, you're making people immediately have to figure out what's going on. Here we go. This is a book called "Trigger Warning." And it contains in it a short story that I wrote a set of 12 short stories called "Calendar of Tales." Here's the October tale. And I'll go through the whole thing. Because it's fairly short, and it does a whole bunch of stuff with character. And then I'll tell you what I did and I'll tell you why I did it. "'That feels good,' I said. And I stretched my neck to get out the last of the cramp. It didn't just feel good, it felt great, actually. I'd been squashed up inside that lamp for so long. You start to think that nobody's ever going to rub it again. 'You're a genie,' said the young lady with a polishing cloth in her hand. 'I am. You're a smart girl, toots. What gave me away?' 'The appearing in a puff of smoke,' she said. 'And you look like a genie. You've got the turban and the pointy shoes.' I folded my arms and blinked. Now I was wearing blue jeans, gray sneakers, and a faded gray sweater-- the male uniform of this time and this place. I raised a hand to my forehead and I bowed deeply. 'I am the genie of the lamp,' I told her. 'Rejoice, O fortunate one. I have it in my power to grant you three wishes. And don't try the "I wish for more wishes" thing. I won't play and you'll lose a wish. Right, go for it.' I folded my arms again. 'No,' she said. 'I mean, thanks and all that. But it's fine. I'm good.' 'Honey, I said. 'Toots, Sweetie. Perhaps you misheard me. I'm a genie. And the three wishes? We're talking anything you want. You ever dreamed of flying? I can give you wings. You want to be wealthy, richer than Croesus? You want power? Just say it. Three wishes. Whatever you want.' 'Like I said,' she said. 'Thanks. I'm fine. Would you like something to drink? You must be parched after spending so much time in that lamp? Wine? Water? Tea?' Uh, actually, now she came to mention it, I was thirsty. 'Do you have any mint tea?' She made me some mint tea in a tea pot that was almost a twin to the lamp in which I'd spent the greater part of the last 1,000 years. 'Thank you for the tea.' 'No problem.' 'But, I don't get it. Everyone I've ever met, they start asking for things, a fancy house, a harem of gorgeous women, not that you'd want that, of course.' 'I might,' she said. 'You can't just make assumptions about people. Oh, and don't call me toots or sweetie or any of those things. My name's Hazel.' 'Ah!' I understood. 'You want a beautiful woman then? My apologies. You have but to wish.' I folded my arms. 'No,' she said. 'I'm good. No wishes. How's the tea?' I told her that 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.

This wonderful course is tilted toward the young or newer writer but even an old dog can learn a few new tricks. And Gaiman, even if you're not writing speculative fiction, is such a marvelous talker. language drips "like diamonds from his fingers," in his own words. The lessons were a joy. I could have listened much longer.

Neil made me feel like, not only should I strive for more, but that I could also achieve it.

This class gave me a lot of tools to begin work on my next novel (where I've been stuck). It was also very nice to have all of these tools provided in Neil Gamain's voice and his encouraging manner.

This course challenged me to dig deeper into my writing. I can tell that 'bringing out the truth' will be the most difficult thing I attempt as a writer. Exposing ones core is never easy. I'm grateful to hear that Mr. Gaiman struggled with it, too.


Chemrelle E.

I loved this lesson. First time being introduced to Robert Heinlein. But, I loved the reading of the tale, and then Gaiman telling us about the characters, how he drew them and why. I love how dialogue showed so much, even when we didn't have names for the character. I love the movement of the story in just a few pages... its like an entire world was created between two people and I fell right in, not realizing they were both granted the unsaid wishes of their heart. So, this is a genie meets girl I'd presume.

Rich G.

Thought about the Robert Heinlein "There are only 3 stories" that Neil mentioned and applied that to a recent book I read, "The Bourne Identity" (for those who only saw the movie, the book is very different), and I would have to say it's a "boy meets girl" story.


Just as I was thinking something a bit cynical when he magically pulls out the exact book he begins to read and I am thoroughly enchanted. She of course has a wonderful and charmed life so is completely content which in itself is fairytale like. If she had my life she definitely would have need for a wish or two. :-) I found myself however wondering what I would wish as I have no interest in trivial things or the things most humans seem to crave and lust after. My fantasy went to a very interesting place. The contrast to Hazel's world seen from one from the year 2020 makes Hazel all the more incredible. Even the richest of the rich on this planet want more. There are people who have absolutely everything but they are never content or happy and I have known a few of them. I would like to go live in that world that Neil conjures up, of thoughtful, kind and contented people.

Matthew D.

What I love the most about this is that, the Djinn is the person meeting a super natural entity, not the other way around. He believes (like many people) that people are all selfish or driven by desire, until he meets this woman who is content with her lot in life (which I would argue is magical in its own right) and she teaches that to him. I feel like thats another cool way that he kind of turned my expectation on its head.

Matt R.

Neil, I literally cried at the end of this story. And I'd read it before. Bravo. Again.

A fellow student

His writing is amazing, such a gentle descent into the story, yet full of detail and interest for the writer.

Harvey A.

This has been one of the most important lessons for me. The October story is one my favourites, and I thoroughly loved having Neil putting all the craft in its place, piece by piece. This should help with my next project, which is about a single character... or perhaps two, because Neil gave me some extra inspiration.

Luc Tousignant

I loved the jinny appearing with the attitude of solving any problems, being the one who could help any one with anything ......then realizing that HE was the one needing help

Ashley D.

I absolutely loved that story and loved how he broke it down and explained it!

Clara S.

My favorite story so far, Hazel's answers had me laughing out loud, not a very loquacious girl. Enjoyed Neil explaining the character's personalities coming alive through dialogue.