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.

Neil Gaiman has inspired me to write, to finish things, to LIVE, to ensure my stories 'say' something... He has renewed my belief in myself and has encouraged me to continue. Hands down the best class ever.

I learned what I did not know, and I have been given a direction to take with my next step forward.

Loved every moment. Excited to be here. Feel my heart coming back to life!

I've learned so much stuff about what it means to be a writer. I've learned that many of the problems I thought that I was the only one going through are, in fact, common issues that people in my craft face everyday. I got to learn aspects of craft from one of the masters in the craft and I'll carry this with me always.


A fellow student

I'm so glad I enrolled in this class, it's given me the kick up the arse I needed.

Araminta M.

I loved this lesson. It is validating and affirming that you use much of the same language I've been using for years with my own University students. Your notion about how young/new writers are conflict-averse is brilliantly accurate. I find I spend most of my intro class convincing my writers to focus on the transformative power of a problem. I often start them with the "notion of opposites" and the concept of starting with an emotional tone that shifts to its polar opposite on an emotional spectrum by the end. The problem with that, I realize, is the inadvertent confirmation of, say, the idea that romance comes from hatred (and how limiting is THAT belief for young womyn in the world that love is found from those who treat you poorly at first and then "come 'round" to being decent folks at the end?). I love Neil's (your) plots because they are never polarized but instead a branching trajectory of intrigue.

Madeline F.

I absolutely adored this lesson! "And then what happened?' is some of the most valuable advice I've heard and this inspired me to apply it to my novel in progress. I went through every chapter and compiled a list of questions that readers would have, and then, I read it over and checked off any questions that are answered later in the novel. My next step is getting friends to read so I can see what questions they would have. I want to know if I was successful in hooking an audience. I would highly recommend this exercise, it has been a huge help! Thanks, Neil!

Archita G.

so much to learn from Neil, loved the idea about four letter word "Care", and "then what happened".

A fellow student

I have been working on a novel for about a year, off and on, but I've been a bit stuck and wondering where I was going with this document with all of these words. I'd lost sight of what I was trying to do. With this lesson, it was helpful to look back at the beginning and dump onto the page what I think this beast is about. I remembered my inspirations for the story, and it also helped me solidify what some of my stumbling blocks have been and where I might be contradicting myself.

Alexandria S.

Inspiring lesson! I will definitely take the advice to mind. Mainly the “and then what happened?” “Writing everything I know about the story” and especially “what do my characters want?” Advice.


Another lesson very well done. Nearly every other sentence Niel says is a potential sparking plot or idea point. He is so inspiring.

Shalini P.

Amazing insights in this lesson! Points that help throw new light into the craft of writing for me were the questions: And then what happened? Who are these people? Why should I care about them? What is the story about? (Though this one is very tricky! Really difficult to find the theme in one own's story, right?) He's so right in saying that new writers try to avoid conflict, skirt around them. So true! I used to be so afraid to let the conflicts happen in the story because I thought I didn't know how to resolve them, or I thought the story would head off in a direction where it would make no sense, where I would try to fit the story to the ending. Would love it if there could be a Live Q & A session with Mr. Neil Gaiman.

Sarah C.

I really liked this lesson because it gels with my "pantsing" style of writing. Some of the things, like the info dump, I already do, but I like having a few goals in mind to keep coming back to as a reality check. Is this what Character A wants? Is she acting in accordance with her goals?

A fellow student

Useful, but Stine has a useful take on this too which has helped me; do an outline. A twenty/thirty page chapter breakdown covering the key plot elements, rules of the 'world', characters, twists, dialogue if any comes to mind etc. It's not an easy thing to do but it means on any day you should know, pretty much, what you should be writing. And if you find you're going somewhere else, you can revise the outline and work out the plot/character changes that need to be in there.