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Arts & Entertainment


Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 13:13 min

Readers’ expectations are intrinsically tied to genre. Neil explains how an understanding of your story’s genre can help you provide delightful surprises to your audience.

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.


I used to puzzle a lot over what genre was. I knew that I was writing sometimes genre fiction, sometimes not. I knew that I had a huge advantage in that the majority of what I was writing as a young writer was comics, was graphic novels, which is a medium, comics, that looks to the uninitiated like a genre. But because it wasn't a genre, it was just a medium, I was allowed to do whatever I wanted. I could write historical fiction. I could write fantasy fiction. I could write high fantasy and low fantasy. I could do science fiction. I could do pure horror. I could do political fiction. I could do it all. And because it was all coming out as comics, people didn't mind. But what genre was baffled me. [MUSIC PLAYING] It wasn't until I read a book by a film professor in California called Linda Williams, who wrote a book called "Hard Core." And it was a film professor's analysis of hardcore pornography. And 3/4 of the way through the book, she compared hardcore pornography films of the 1970s to the musical. And suddenly, the penny dropped for me, because musicals, like 1970s porn films, had certain things that have to happen. You need the opening song by a large chorus of people. You need the heroine singing on her own about what she thinks is going to happen. You need the song that's the first meeting of our heroine and our hero. You need the comic relief song with the three robust people behind him. You need all of those things, ending up with the final song, which the hero and the heroine sing together that indicates they've been brought together. You need the final chorus, and then we're out. And the truth is in a classic musical, the plot exists purely to stop all of the songs from happening at the same time. Just as in a '70s porn film, according to Linda Williams, the plot existed to stop all of the sex happening at the same time. Though actually, that tells me what the difference is between a cowboy novel and a novel set in cowboy times, because you can just look at it from a perspective of reader expectations. What are they coming to this for? What will they feel cheated if they do not get? They're going to expect the cattle stampede. They're going to expect the showdown at high noon. They're going to expect the fight in the saloon. They're going to expect-- you start listing the things. And you go, OK. So the plot actually needs to exist to keep all of these things from happening at the same time. Or you can do a novel set in the Old West, and none of those things need to happen. You can go after completely different things. But you need to understand, at that point, you're writing something that might look like genre, but isn't. And that people may point to it as genre, and it's not. And that if somebody picks up your novel expecting genre, they will be disappointed, just as they would be if they went to see a musical and there were no songs at all. So a lot of what you wind up doing then with genre is...

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.

Inspiring and precise, this class helped me gain confidence in my skills and gave me great advice for what comes next!

For me the best learnings: how to learn writing? write!

I learned from his way of writing in stories and experiences that he tells us, simply magnificent

Excellent Class! I really appreciated they way you think out a charator and construction. Thank you!


Dale U.

I now fully understand what Neil says about leaving your comfort zone. I'm pretty much stalled on my novel right now and took to writing fantasy as an exercise and the fantasy story is taking off like a rocket. There may be some serious reevaluating in the future.

A fellow student

When he says, "don't write genre fiction," what does he mean exactly? If I enjoy fantasy and would like to write fantasy, is he saying something to the effect of "don't write a fantasy novel, write a novel set in a fantasy world"?

Terri R.

Dear Neil, Thank you so much for your masterclass. It was a little confusing but I loved it. Lots of great information. I got what it takes to be a great story teller. Thank you again, Terri Rogers

Clara S.

Great advice to get out of your comfort zone and write not what you know but try a different genre. Ernest Hemingway: Invent From What You Know. “You throw it all away and invent from what you know. I should have said that sooner. That’s all there is to writing.” –from “The Art of the Short Story“


Learn the rules in order to break them. It reminds me of the Music Theory classes I took at University 20+ years ago. After two semesters of studying the theories, having applied the rules for a couple of assignments and writing music, I remember the professor saying something just like this. "Now you've learned all the rules, you can forget about them. You don't have to actually follow them." (My paraphrase.) I've always remembered it, but as a rule follower in life in general, found it hard to implement. It's helpful to hear again, now.


"and now you are gray and unattractive and barely readable" he does know this was a video right? that was beautiful ^.^

Jeanned'Arc L.

Genre. I now understand that the differences between the two are separate.

Rich G.

The project I'm working would fall into the "thriller" category because most chapters end on a "cliffhanger" but the story is humor and not Jason Bourne.

Arjun I.

Only while describing a Neil Gaiman tutorial can the words "70s Pornography" and "Wisdom" be used at the same time. For me the best and perhaps the most difficult thing to do would be to go out of my comfort zone. Because I came to books and stories seeking their comfort. And now, after having nestled myself in a comfortable niche, I must force myself venture out and explore different styles and genre. Ti's said that 'Fortune favors the bold', but I've always lived by the motto 'Why be bold? When you can be content.'

Nadia A.

This is one of the most important lessons. I have a question that has been confusing me: Can I write something that's both fantasy (with characters that are half humans and half animals) and (dystopian, science fiction) at the same time ? A story that takes place in the future where there's technology and poverty. Something similar to the Twilight Saga (It has shapeshifters, vampires and humans and happens in the modern time), and in this case, what genre would this story be? Thank you!