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.

The emotional support and expertise I received from this class was like a bellow igniting a glowing ember in the fire of my soul.

I still have a lot to learn, and it will take me time to ponder over all these classes. But what is has really already given me is the inspiration to go on. The bravery, the honesty, the determination. And the feeling that a dream has just come true. I've been the student of my favourite writer. And he really is as good as I could imagine. Thank you Neil Gaiman! And thank you Masterclass.

I've done quite a few Masterclasses on writing. Neil was great. I think sometimes as a writer we need to be told over and over again that it's okay to just let yourself write as much or as little as you want. Describe as much or as little in a scene. And to keep exploring and asking questions. And most of all, to keep writing and keeping finishing what you write.

I've come across this class after finishing writing a novel. It has reinforced that I'm on the right path and just to keep doing what I am doing. Brilliant!



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.


Neil has pinpointed several key aspects of writing books that are vital to me, but I have never heard them discussed like this until now. An example is "If you're writing something, you have to have something you want to say." For me, this simple, powerful statement covers the integrity and the purpose of the story for the writer and reader. Another key aspect of this lesson for me is, "What do the characters want?" Perfect. A key tool for moving the story forward that I had never thought to ask and something that brings the characters alive! Many thanks.

Jerry R.

And then what happened? That's what you have to answer next. What would each character want? How does wants conflict?

Martha M.

One of the major highlights of this course, for me, will always be the day I turned "Othello" into a superhero origin story. And had a ball doing it! I hope everyone taking this class is not only enriching their writing, expanding their abilities, and growing as storytellers, - but having as much fun along the way as I am!

Richard F.

Any notion, concept, or idea can be made into a story. It is not whether there is a story there. It is can you develop it into a story.

Jonathan F.

Asking what characters want is so important! That's one of the main things I ask when I write a novel. Before I write a scene, I ask myself what the characters want and what they, as individuals, will do to get it. I'm so glad Neil's talking about that. I don't remember who told me this first, but it's an important step in writing a character-driven story.

Cheryl R.

Fantasy is making metaphor concrete. I can't begin to express how much this idea pleases me (though hopefully by the end of the course I will).

Emmi K.

Neil said, that you should have trust in yourself. I have come to believe also, that if your mind was smart enough to generate an idea, which can be the end of a story or a start, then you must have the rest of the story also in you. At this point it is exactly matter of trust, because if you trust that you have the answers, you build your confidence as a creator. Eventually that in turn will help to generate the needed answers.

William B.

I am unable to download this chapter's PDF. I've had no trouble with the prior chapters.