Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 27:09 min

Writers don’t need to shy away from comics just because they’re not illustrators. Neil demonstrates his process of plotting and scripting a comic, using an award-winning issue of Sandman as an example.

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.
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When you get an idea and you start turning the idea over in your head and inspecting it and trying to figure out what the strengths of the idea are and what the weaknesses of the idea are, a lot of the time, that's when you start to figure out what medium the idea would work in best. When you get to comics, you have a whole different area of territory. We get to use the pictures and the words to try and do things inside the head of the reader that you might never be able to do in prose or in film. For example, why don't I take you through the process of plotting a comic. And not just plotting a comic but of taking an idea through to a script. Now, bear in mind that one of the strange things about writing comics is as far as I can tell, there are probably as many ways to write a comic as there are people in history who have written comics. I do it my way. I'm sure everybody else does it their way. But I can give you how I do it and how I did it. "Sandman #19." In "Sandman #19," this is the first of "The Absolute Sandman" volumes. It is huge. It is very heavy. You could use it to stun a burglar, if necessary, which has always been my definition of art. I have been to a performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." I loved it. I'd forgotten how funny it was. And it was an open-air theater, and there was something very strange and magical about being outside as the play began in daylight and moved into night. What would be interesting about "Midsummer Night's Dream?" How could I do this? I thought, well, look, the first performance of "Midsummer Night's Dream" outside with Shakespeare and Shakespeare's men putting it on before an audience consisting of Oberon and Titania and Puck and the fairy creatures would all be a little bit more dark and dangerous than they are in the play as a gift. I like that. That feels like it's about something. And it also felt dangerous, felt hard. Nobody had ever done anything like that in a monthly comic. So then I reread the play-- "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Just made notes. Just put little pencil marks where I thought lines would be important because I realized, of course, I was going to have to have various layers of action going on through the story. There would be the play always ticking on. There would be the front row of the audience which would be Morpheus, the Sandman, the Lord of Dreams, and Oberon and Titania and Puck. There would be the back row of the audience. I loved the idea of just a bunch of idiot fairies commenting on the action and explaining it to each other. I thought, that'll be fun. And then I began. [PIANO MUSIC PLAYING] The way that you begin, if you're me, if you take some paper, you take a bunch of sheets of paper, you staple them together, you fold them over. And I knew I had 24 pages, so I numbered 1 to 24. Actually, all I needed to know. I didn't fill in very much detail in the middle. Normally, I'll fill in roughly what's happening on each page. But...

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.

What a pleasure to learn from one of my favorite authors! Thank you, Neil! I shall write. I shall finish. I shall put it out there in the world. Then, I shall repeat. :)

Neil has delivered on his promise to inspire and give the little push. I love the way he explains how to put a little tweak here and there to make a story just slightly weird, and unique.

Neil Gaiman is an incredible storyteller. This is a gift to all writers.

I would have given this class ten stars if possible but I had to settle for five. I think that says enough in itself.


Ian C.

I like the description and use of the silent panel - making the reader think - useful to translate into novels also. Thanks Neil.


I prefer to write novels, but I have this one idea that I felt would work better as a comic. When I first came up with the idea, I drew out a page of it with some dialogue. Since then, I've sort of planned out some more, but without making any real commitment to the story. This lesson is urging me to take a closer look at it now, with new knowledge.

Scott M.

Favorite quote: "You could use it to stun a burglar if necessary, which has always been my definition of art".

Ekin Ö.

Comics are not my favorite, but the lesson was fun to watch. Coming out of Neil's brain, I felt I may give a chance to Sandman.

Karl T.

I love comics and graphic novels, I've always wanted to write one, since I have a story that I believe would fit best that particular format. This class was great, it gave me some insight into how a script can be made and the plotting. Sadly I can't draw a thing for the life of me, I may be able to sketch the issue like Neil does but not more. I just need to find an artist.

Aaron B.

Comics are unfortunately dying out now. We have comics that are lucky to make over five thousand sales and it's really disheartening that this once great cornerstone of American culture fall. It falls because of the people that are in charge of it and really the movies that they are making for it. Sure, we all loved Avengers Endgame, who didn't. But because of that, we are taking away from the comics and now we are getting stories like Cecil Castelucci's run of female furies, which is borderline psychopathic with it's misandry and blatant disregard for Jack Kirby. Now, we're getting female thor in the form of Jane Foster and really the whole thing is disgusting, embarrassing, and frankly it's insulting to all of the people who have dedicated their lives to this once great industry. I want to go into making comics, or at least graphic novels, and write for them. The reason being is that I am a very visual writer. I write things that people can see in their minds and that's because I borrow a lot of conventions from scriptwriting. I'm not the strongest novelist I'll admit that. But, I think that if I am given the opportunity then I can make a rather good comic that people would be interested in reading, not to sound arrogant, just saying. I want to see people care about comics and graphic novels and reading in general again. I want to see a movie trailer hit and no one's talking about the politics or the gender or the sexuality of the characters but the characters themselves. This may seem like idealistic babble, but I believe that in a way, stories are for idealistic dreamers who believes in a better world. Writing is meant to be not an escape but an invitation to another world that can hopefully change yours.

Alexandria S.

After this lesson I really want to read the Sandman. Comics are both my strength and my weakness. I am a great drawer, but I tend to add effects that maybe shouldn’t be in the comic. I like to reference off of the Japanese variations of comics called manga, and I’ve read those since I was about 12. The words he said really fit with how comics from all parts of the world are made. And though in America you should put the surprise on the left page of the comic, in Japan they would put the surprise on the right page of the manga, since they read from right to left and not left to right like westerners.


This half an hour lesson was a joy. Longest masterclass lesson I have done and felt no different, well done

Janet J.

I have the whole book with thumbnails and script and animation i did just want to add to the story

Carolyn S.

This was a powerful lesson on how to visualize the story. I love the idea of creating a comic strip with the story beat concepts. I have actually used illustrations for the same purpose - while much more labor intensive - the illustrations helped me FEEL and see the story. I took the photos and created this photo paintings. Each painting helps me to tell the story.