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Arts & Entertainment

Developing the Story

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 18:08 min

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.

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.


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...

About the Instructor

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.

Neil's lessons are thoughtful and well-structured. His focus on story-telling and where it comes from was particularly helpful. Finally, his relentless but gentle admonitions that we write, finish what we write, and pursue life were all very helpful.

This may possibly be one of the most important writing classes I've ever taken. Let's see what the next few years bring.

I have discovered that what I believed to be plot, and what plot is are two different things. I've also learned that experience is life is almost more important that genre in a story, and that saying something in your writing is incredibly valuable.

Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite writers, this class is wonderful!



As a new writer, is the point to create a work from the writing exercise? Or do you use the exercise to get working on an idea? I seem to do all the exercises, but never actually work on the idea that has been percolating in my head.


How I would give anything to attend a course in person with this man. Something about him I find very inspiring. He is British but also reveals his passion. These are two things not mutually exclusive but in my experience not really synonymous. Where I will go from here? I don't know but perhaps through this class I will discover more of what I want. After all we are all characters who enter and depart quite quickly in the scheme of time in some endless convoluted story which to this date in time has no ending.

Jennifer R.

Not being a planner I don't always see where my story is going. It does change and it's the 2nd draft where you find the gold dust, where you find the meaning. Maybe, that's according to writer Jessie Burton. I love the idea of just writing down everything you know, and having a mindmap just letting any ideas come up, you usually do find something interesting. Mostly I have pages and pages of notes while the story stews in my head, which I always add to. One day I might find a more organised way of doing things. Getting so much out of this course now I'm going through it properly, so many exercises, it turns into over an hour for one lesson :) Enjoying it though.

Liz C.

I've re-started my story. Thinking about an outline, I came up with a way to outline that incorporates the page turner concept. I wanted to share. I am not including the characters and setting in this idea, just the plot and getting to "Turn the Page." I. Plot A. Chapter One name 1. Introductions to the story 2. Middle story main idea 1. The page turner idea (turn the page! turn the page!) B. Chapter Two name 1. Turning the page (what made the reader want to turn the page) 2. Middle story main idea 3. The page turner idea (turn the page! turn the page!) etc. etc.

Liz C.

One of my ideas. I have the changes of our world if something special happened. What would we have to do to make this change a successful change without continual grotesque accidents? I am starting to create characters and the plot that gets the reader to the end of the novel. Hey! I just thought of how my story ends. I will need lots of story to get there, but I'm making progress.

Michael G.

I discussed these exact questions in a roundabout way while working on my next story with a friend. This lesson just articulated everything that I hoped to explore.

Hannah H.

This lesson was worth the price of the entire Masterclass subscription. It transformed a web episode I was struggling with about my best friend and bandmate from a dry slideshow into a beautiful memento this week. Once I stepped back and asked, "What is this story ABOUT?", I realised it was about friendship and loyalty transcending circumstance. It was about how songs came from not only killing time, but loving and supportive environments, and how that could sustain a band no matter how much time someone had to kill at any point in their life. Not sure if links appear here, but if anyone is curious to watch the result, you can search "PGX Lockdown Report Something About Mary". Thank you, Neil. A gift.

Rosalind P.

So far, Lesson 5, has been the most helpful to me. It's just where I've gotten stuck. Where is my story going? What happens next? What do my characters want or need? I went back to the opening of my story, changed it a bit, and gave it a reason for going forward. I'm so excited with my story now, I feel we have a mission. I need a villain. I have a suspect, I just need to find his motivation. Thanks so much. I'm truly enjoying this class

Jessy M.

These lessons are so inspiring! I can already feel myself looking at my own writing and stories differently.


Inspiring, inspiring, inspiring; just thinking about HOW makes me inspired and - counterintuitively - freer.