From Neil Gaiman's MasterClass

Character Case Study: “October Tale”

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

Topics include: Character Case Study: “October Tale”


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

Topics include: Character Case Study: “October Tale”

Neil Gaiman

Teaches the Art of Storytelling

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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 class was full of wonderful information and insight. I loved how he used his own fiction as examples to illustrate what he was telling us.

One of the best classes i had here. A great blend of ideas and concepts told in an almost fictional way by a master of prose...

Master Gaiman is an excellent, if not the most important, authority on creative writing for me because he speaks to me as both a struggling writer and human. He gives me the tools to navigate my internal obstacles, where my passion would rather have its way. I'm very grateful to have had this experience, and will take all that I've learned and invest it into my passion. Thank you.

Neil Gaiman is the first 'teacher' who has been clear and concise as well as practical. I appreciated his method of presentation and how he illustrated points with is own work. Write, finish and continue.....


Christa A.

Oh I just LOVED this story and this lesson. I am so excited to write more short stories and to incorporate what I learned here into my larger works as well.

A fellow student

Great story! I bought the book, Trigger Warning, and read all 12 tales. Learning a lot from these short tales. I like to have a theme for my tales. Perhaps based on A Human Learns a Lesson. Storytelling has been teaching lessons for a long time:)

Lou Nell G.

OK, here I was alone (OK, I was with my three feline muses) in my own place, at the end of the tale, I applauded, smiled, even a little laugh of delight emerged. Such a good reader, especially of his own work, just the story was a lesson.

Wendy W.

I like how this story works as flash fiction, surprises, a twist on an idea. Such a clever clever author!

Suzanne L.

So tension is a quieter form of conflict, which is the engine of all tales, and an antagonist is not necessarily a "bad guy," but only a person (or thing) that prevents the protagonist from fulfilling a want or need. Thanks for talking us through this perfect little gem of a tale.


Fantastic. Now, my imagination is working... such a clever way to spin an old tale.


I was totally inspired by October Tale and so I set out to write a short story in a similar vein. I thought I would post the first draft here. It's about a Muse who starts to wither and die when she fails to inspire a depressive writer. In all honesty, I tried to push my imagination with this one and I really struggled, particularly with the ending. So I'd love some feedback for draft 2. I will 100% return the favour!

Barb D.

I confess having thought this story was a metaphorical reflection of Himself and Amanda. I can't help seeing aspects of each personality - as I know from videos (and one of her FB groups that no longer exists) I truly thought it was a Himself love story to Amanda. His dissection of the story, the 'how I did it' was an insight into what I hear as 'crafting' but never had any idea what they were talking about.

Katelyn S.

Please tell me I am not the only one who tried to identify the pens in his pocket and the tea he is drinking. I like how this does feel like he brought you and a few other students into his library to talk about his work and how to hone your own. Little touches like reaching for his books and pulling out his glasses and taking a sip of tea makes it feel less...not formal, but less like a anonymous classroom and more like your neighbor inviting you in and showing off a hobby that you discovered you both enjoyed.

Roberta Artemisia C.

oh, how sweet I love this genie in the lamp October Tale, boy meets girl? nope somebody learns a lesson, and how great to meet someone who is content.