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Dialogue and Character

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 25:14 min

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


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

Finish! I finished the beginning of my book and sent it to my New York editor. We talked today. She said I'm well on my way to publication and gave me a line edit on the first chapter to finish next week.

My biggest take away is "finish things". I've started many stories. Written the outline for many others. Written the first draft for a few. But I haven't really finished anything. Neil Gave me a boot in the pants on that score. Lots of other gems about writing and being a writer.

pointers and encouragement especially with the editing process. love being able to go back in at certain points to revisit as necessary.

This Masterclass was the first I've taken. I chose it specifically because I am a fan of the writing style of Mr. Gaiman. It was the right choice. Listing to him talk was inspiring and helped me get past a few things I was stuck on. I will be going back through the workbook information and watch some of the lessons again. Thank you for sharing from a great mind and the honesty behind writing.


A fellow student

A lot of the time when listening to Neil Gaiman's lectures, I find myself craving a rainy evening of tea and his collected works more than I do a few hours with a pen in my hand and nothing to do but write. I really would like to read all of his books some day, however, I do think I will be writing a lot more, and hopefully more successfully, after watching all his lessons. You could not have picked a better author to teach thank you very much!!

Shan C.

George R Martin would have an army of very skilled people come knocking at his door.

Jacqueline T.

I enjoyed this lesson and thoroughly identified with knowing and listening to my characters, to the point where it sometimes feels as if they are about to phone me, or have just walked through the door. I heard a noise, and the first name that came to my mind was not a daughter, friend or even a burglar, but Mendel, my main character.

Liz C.

"I lost some time once. It's always in the last place you look." I gained some time once. For some time I thought I was a year older, then on my birthday I figured out I had just turned the year I thought I was in the first place. So, I gained some time once.

Dale U.

I know what Neil means by having your characters knocking on your door one day. I feel so attached and familiar with them that I have to be ready to greet them either with a smile or a hatchet depending on what happened to them in my stories.

Ysielle G.

I always had that feeling when creating characters and stories that I'm only just transcribing their life, their choices, and the events around them. I never force them into any direction though I suggested them solutions. Sometimes they take it, sometimes they don't. They feel so alive that I wouldn't surprise to see them knocking at my door like old friends. I like this feeling, one of the most wonderful ones I've ever dived into.

I S.

Mr. Gaiman and/or class: Is there a thing as too much dialogue in a chapter? I have a scene that introduces the main 4 side characters. The bulk of it breaks down to three parts, how they interact with each other, how they will interact with the protagonist, and a bit of world-building with a touch of info dumping (can't be helped). I do have descriptions of locations and people in the previous chapter and at each location change, but I'm finding that this chapter is about 90% people talking. The next chapter is planned to be much different, much more internal struggle, so less "talking" and more doing. I'm still writing it so I have room to expand in a few areas if that would be better, or should I just continue? Sincere thanks for your thoughts and time.

Helena S.

Funnily enough, characters are the easiest for me. Not sure if it is because I love acting, my biggest problem is developing the idea, the small details, and how to connect them. I am loving this class.

Jan B.

As always, I am mesmerized listening to the calming, yet captivating voice of Neil Gaiman. I jot down words, and a few thoughts that I can apply.

Maria Rosa

Love it-"Find the part of the character in yourself, and not be afraid"- the Shadow (Jung) Maybe, Neil Gaiman is not only a writer, a magician?, His voice is kind of hipnotic, you follow it like walking in a tunnel and you do not know what is going to surprise you.