From Neil Gaiman's MasterClass

Dialogue and Character

Neil teaches you how to write realistic dialogue, how to listen to and trust your characters, and techniques to help readers remember your characters.

Topics include: Practice Compression and Economy · Listen to Your Characters · Trust Your Characters · Find the Part of You That Is the Character · Do Just Enough Research · Funny Hats · Case Study: Neverwhere

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Neil teaches you how to write realistic dialogue, how to listen to and trust your characters, and techniques to help readers remember your characters.

Topics include: Practice Compression and Economy · Listen to Your Characters · Trust Your Characters · Find the Part of You That Is the Character · Do Just Enough Research · Funny Hats · Case Study: Neverwhere

Neil Gaiman

Teaches the Art of Storytelling

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So people talk, when writing fiction, about character. And they talk about dialogue. And they talk about them as if they're two different things. And they are two different things, but they're two different things that actually amount to the same thing. And they're like the two legs the character needs in order to walk. So in the next class, we're going to talk about character and dialogue and what they are and how incredibly tightly interwoven they can be. When I started out, the most terrifying thing for me was the idea of character creation and who were characters. I didn't really get characters. I didn't understand what characters were. And it took a while for me to learn really how to write good characters, characters who were three-dimensional, characters who felt real, characters who felt real to me. A lot of the key to it-- people say, well, do you do those sort of books and things before you start? Do you list stuff lots of things about your characters, and I say no. Mostly what I do is try and figure out what they sound like, how they talk. Sometimes what they look like but mostly how they talk because dialogue is character. The way that somebody talks, what they say, how they say it is character. And dialogue has to show character. It also has to show plot, and maybe it can be funny along the way. And good dialogue is doing all three of those things at the same time. It's making you smile or making you see things you've never seen before. It's moving the story along. And more than anything it's telling you things about the people who are saying it and who they're saying it to. And so for me the key to writing good dialogue, which was the key to character were the years that I spent as a journalist doing interviews. I would meet somebody that I wanted to talk to-- writers, creators. I'd have my little tape recorder. I would talk to them for two or three hours. I would transcribe the tape. And then having transcribed the tape, which would give me 10,000 words of transcription, my task would be to turn that into a 2,000- to 3,000-word interview. So I learned a lot at that point about economy. How do you make somebody sound like themselves without ever necessarily using the exact words that they used because now you're compressing? And people don't talk like themselves. People don't use semicolons. People don't speak grammatically. People-- instead they start sentences. They leave words dangling. A few seconds ago, I said people and then I hesitated and then I changed course because that's how people talk, and you can't do that. Or you can't do exactly that in writing. But you can figure out where the rhythms are. You can figure out how to make somebody sound like the person who was talking to you. And you learn compression. You learn more than anything else economy. And it was that economy that actually I think looking back on it that was the most useful thing for going out there and writing fiction because I l...

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.

Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

It has given me some encouragement and the writing exercises were helpful, but I wish there was some real instruction, some actual feedback for what I've been writing. As it is, this was a very nice lecture series, but not a "class."

It gave me inspiration and things I can try. It motivated me to work and write fiction.

Neil doesn't bring what's new, or what we wish we'd hear. He brings what we must know, specially if we've forgotten over the years.

Honored to be taught by Neil Gaiman. He seems to have a natural talent for teaching. I am stretched as a writer and thinker by each new assignment.

Comments

Patricia F.

Okay. I really wish he should have addressed plotting. Because I feel like there is a gap that hasn't been discussed. Jumping to dialogue seems premature. How does he construct the actual narrative (plot, rising tension, events, etc) Maybe he addresses it next?

A fellow student

I love the way his faces changes as he starts to talk about people. It's as if he's telling me to remember that people are always more real than we tend to give them/us credit for.

Marlaina C.

Neil is right about how interviewing people helps you develop an ear for dialogue. And it was so nice to see Delirium again — some of my favorite moments in the series centered around her.

Lou Nell G.

"Finding that part of your mind that is gloriously perfectly unhinged." Love this! I really appreciate the time Neil spends on care for your reader. I've had the experience with a few (luckily very few) books where I've been saddened and feel almost betrayed by the author, like he or she has broken some kind of unspoken contract between themselves and their readers.

Dwight H.

Dialogue and Character is like a balance beam gymnast on the world stage, sometimes you hit the spring board exactly on center and land the flip perfectly. Other times you are off center, a tea cup full short of perfect and land squarely on the nuts. Both are perfect because one is success the other is failure, but both have created dialogue or content for your character.

Dwight H.

Dialogue and Character is like a balance beam gymnast on the world stage, sometimes you hit the spring board exactly on center and land the flip perfectly. Other times you are off center, just a tea cup short of perfect and land squarely on the nuts. Both are perfect because one is success the other is failure, but both have created dialogue or content for your character.

Dwight H.

Are your characters reaching out to you in their dialogue? Do they want an ear to listen too their struggles in life? The reason that they hate, love or simply run away? Or does the dialogue simply show someone who has become a puppet and accepts who they are because it gives them a sanctuary inside of the insanity of world around them?

Wendy W.

I like how Neil talks of character, respecting the character and respecting the reader. When I read stories like Martin's Game of Thrones series, so many of those people were difficult to keep apart. Or books where you needed some sort of family tree to keep everyone separate. I much prefer how Neil says to listen to your characters (NOT your outline!!) and that care will give them personalities that you share with the reader, but also trust them to allow them to evolve and not just remember their names.

Cliff Y.

I'm excited to create characters. I love when Neil says to go talk to people of different occupations, different cultures. Having been a police officer for 35 years and worked so many different divers neighborhoods and cities, I'm glad I took the time to talk and ask questions in normal conversation to so many different people. I would never have known at the time I was in training to be a writer. While working in the L.A. County jail, the inmates feel free to discuss their crimes and how they commit them. I had many conversation with car thiefs, murderers,burglars and criminals of every ilk.

Sukhdev S.

J.K Rowling is another person that did funny hats really good. I mean, she had so many characters, hundreds and hundreds, and if you ask even the lightest fan who one of them is, they'll know, cause she was that good at distinguishing her characters.