Chapter 9 of 19 from Neil Gaiman

Dialogue and Character

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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

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. 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.

Award-winning author Neil Gaiman teaches his tools for conjuring up original ideas, crafting characters, and bringing new worlds to life.

A downloadable companion full of supplementary information, creative writing exercises, and printable interactive resources accompanies the class.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Neil will also critique select student work.

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Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling