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.

I loved this class! Neil taught things in a way that helped fundamental truths hit home in a fresh way, just like he teaches to write. I've learned so much to help move me forward on my journey and I'm so grateful for all of his wisdom! I also loved the workbook, which gave additional resources and exercises which I know I'll come back to for years to come.

I learned to keep writing and finish what we have already started. Send the work out to the world!

Neil doesn't bring what's new, or what we wish we'd hear. He brings what we must know, specially if we've forgotten over the years.

Neils lessons showed me that other writers go through the same problems and feelings that i am going through and that i am on the right path.


Karey B.

Gaiman’s blazer is like Mary Poppies’ carpetbag. Wonderful writerly stuff. Pens, pencils, glasses—his ‘funny hat’!

Alexandria S.

I need to find those month short stories, the October tale was a very sweet story. It’s great advice to place characters in situations they are unfamiliar with, I’ll try that with my stories when I start to write them down.

Tauna S.

My favorite from "Trigger Warning" is the Sherlock Holmes tale. I always knew he went on forever. After all, my ex-pat nannies, Frank and Alice Murphy taught me to read with Sir Conan Doyle, Shakespeare, and added Ian Fleming, when my father suggested they read something more modern to me. James Bond was just coming to life. Aside from learning to speak with a British accent while growing up in Chicago, it gave me a life long love of mysteries. Every good story is a mystery to be solved. It's okay, I'm fine.


The way Neil narrates his own stories is so pleasant and captivating, and made me forget that I was even watching an educational lesson because I got so lost in his short story and the unique characters. October Tale is such a good example of character building and how the protagonist must learn something important about themselves in order for the story to develop. That’s one of my favorite things to read about, and I was so happy that this was one of the main focal points of the lesson. Definitely one of my favorites so far!

Bobby H.

I enjoyed pieces of it. Neil seems to ramble on a bit. And I do find it a chance for him to sell some of his books. He needs to take his on lesson and learn to compress things.

Ekin Ö.

Neil's tale was very peaceful. Of all the three types of stories, I would put my love on the one where a person learns a lesson. Beautifully put!

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!