From Neil Gaiman's MasterClass

Developing the Story

Every story has a big idea. Learn how to find a big idea that’s meaningful to you, as well as how to create conflict and compelling stakes for your characters.

Topics include: And Then What Happened? · Write Down Everything You Know · What Is Your Story About? · Create Conflict · What Do Your Characters Want?


Every story has a big idea. Learn how to find a big idea that’s meaningful to you, as well as how to create conflict and compelling stakes for your characters.

Topics include: And Then What Happened? · Write Down Everything You Know · What Is Your Story About? · Create Conflict · What Do Your Characters Want?

Neil Gaiman

Teaches the Art of Storytelling

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Beginning writers often don't know and can't tell if they have a story. They know that they've got an idea. But even once you've got an idea, what do you do with it? How do you build it up? How do you know if your idea has legs? If it's going to go anywhere? We're going to talk about that. We're going to talk about how you build a short story, how you build a novel, how you build a plot, how you find out if you have an idea or a notion or a concept or something that actually might be able to stand up there on its own two legs as a novel. I, especially during the "Sandman" years, would worry and think and obsessively ask myself questions about what is the story? What is the story? I'm making these things. They're how I feed myself. They're how I feed my family. They're how I pay the rent. What is the story? And eventually what I decided was the story is anything fictional that keeps you turning the pages and doesn't leave you feeling cheated at the end. That was my definition. My son, Ash, is three years old, just turned 3. And his favorite game is to stand next to me on a bed or on a large sofa and go "what's going to happen?" And then I have to go "I don't know. What's going to happen?" And then he jumps in the air and falls down on the sofa. This can go on for weeks if you let him. He just thinks the what's going to happen game is the best game in the world. The what's going to happen game is the game that you play as a writer with your readers. What's going to happen? And that is what keeps them turning the pages, things they don't know, things they need to find out, things they care about. And coming into a story, it can just be things like who are these people? What are they doing? Why should I care? That's a bit odd. After a while, it can get a lot deeper. It can be is she going to kiss her? Is she going to poison her? Does she know about the missing will? Did they know the grandmother's body is still in the room upstairs? What's going to happen? I wrote an essay once, a very small essay, in a book called "Stories." And it was called, "Just Four Words." "It began when somebody wrote in to my blog. 'Dear Neil, if you could choose a quote either by you or another author to be inscribed on the wall the public library children's area, what would it be? Thanks, Lynn.' "I pondered for a bit and I'd said a lot about books and kids reading over the years and other people had said things pithier and wiser than I ever could. And then it hit me, and this is what I wrote. 'I'm not sure I'd put a quote up if it was me and I had a library wall to deface. I think I'd just remind people of the power of stories, of why they exist in the first place. I'd put up the four words that anyone telling a story wants to hear, the ones that show that it's working and that pages will be turned-- and then what happened. "The four words that children ask when you pause telling them a story. The four words you hear at the end of a chap...

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've written two books, both published, and write all the time, primarily historical fiction. I know I am a good writer and have great stories to tell but at times I feel like I am lost and need guidance or advice from someone who has made it big. Neil's comments, thoughts and advice have already made me a better writer. I will recommend this course to everyone I know who writes.

This class is absolutely beautiful and inspiring. Neil Gaiman does a great job of demystifying things and gives extremely good information on how to write and what to do. Plus I love his way of speaking and his honesty. I gonna come back to this class several times.

The class is fantastically informative, inspiring, and helpful!

This is the best Masterclass on writing there is. I'm not even a huge fan of Neil's. I'm familiar with his work, and I like some of his stuff, I could never get through American Gods. Neil helped me identify my problem writing scenes. Every character should want something. That's just one nugget of advice. Anyone serious about writing should take this masterclass!


Daria V.

Creating my "Brain Dump" with critical elements of my story helped me structure my ideas and even come up with some new things to enrich my novel. And the “Genres” and “Stories” exercise, it's just brilliant! Very helpful lesson.

Christa A.

I tried to download the PDF for this lesson and got this error message: This XML file does not appear to have any style information associated with it. The document tree is shown below. <Error> <Code>AccessDenied</Code> <Message>Request has expired</Message> <X-Amz-Expires>3600</X-Amz-Expires> <Expires>2019-05-09T14:15:04Z</Expires> <ServerTime>2019-05-09T14:31:27Z</ServerTime> <RequestId>88EF0BF7E35B507D</RequestId> <HostId> FWNqiaP/gs9dRy5i1xEx7haL4j/YakZqdmdto/6MbaYNL/E90fYlGKAzQyXBInlxUYgzLaQsyuY= </HostId> </Error>

Christa A.

"Characters always, for good or for evil, get what they need. They do not get what they want." "And then what happened?" I absolutely love these concepts a way to get unstuck that keep us writing and keep readers turning the pages.

Arjun I.

The words of the late playwright Sam Shephard come to mind after this lesson, "The plays that really bore me are the ones where the characters are speaking for the author. It's boring compared to the ones where the characters speak for themselves." It is a frequent condition of people who can write or want to write that we always hear voices. And while for those around us, this condition is perhaps a sign that we need medication, for writers it is essential to get to know those voices. Give them names, learn about their ambitions, their goals and then write a story where we give them what they need. Not what they want. But what they need.

Norreida R.

Thank you. I know everything about my characters except which of the many paths before them they should choose. This Workshop helped me get out of my head about what the readers want or what would sell and back into what does my character need vs. want. Thank you so much. So far, this entire class is very well done. Looking forward to what happens next.

Patricia B.

I really like the way you use questioning to develop what happens next showing that the questions change depending on where you are in the story.

Christian K.

It would be very handy if I could set markers within one lesson. And just now I'm trying to play sound over Bluetooth speakers, but that doesn't seem to work.


There was only a few things in this lesson that I had heard for the first time. But it was a great reminder for the points I already "know", in a manner of speaking. While Developing the story as a whole is not hard for me, the plotting and near constantly changing ideas have been a bit like that "rival" that is slowly pulling away some how. This lesson also reminded me that, great work takes time. Sure its been a handful of years since I decided to become an author, but the important part is the work I put in, not the number of times the story has changed.


I think the difference between art therapy and art is - art therapy is a person working through there own personal conflicts and the final product or medium doesn't matter so much. Whereas art is a conversation between the artist and the audience, and in the case of narrative it is an extremely intimate conversation that asks for so much participation of the audience. I love this episode by Neil in that it really made me start thinking that this line between art and art therapy is fine - an that being honest and putting yourself in there too is ok. This has encouraged me to re-evaluate my characters - on knee jerk reaction I wan't to make them strong and invulnerable. But what I truly connect with in a character is a person with vulnerabilities with a journey ahead - what is it that drives them? Are they fulfilled? Are they going to grow as the story progressive and we sit with their experiences? Will what they want change? Thanks kindly for the inspiration, I have reduced the number of characters and have revisited what my story is about and how what each character wants and seeks plays into this :o)

Wendy W.

I do like this lesson and the ideas about asking what characters want and what they need. I do like the questions that you ask as an author, but also thinking about the character. What is the character looking for? Needing? Wanting? Discovering. I also know that Neil (in my opinion) also lets characters discover that on their own and not just answer that for the reader. In the case of Neverwhere, Richard doesn't know and is confused, he only knows he wants to help Door. And questions still linger beyond the text and beg their own stories (the Marguis's coat). I want to have a direction and not feel like I have to answer all the questions..... I just need to keep asking.