From Neil Gaiman's MasterClass


Neil shows how he uses humor in his work. He includes a close look at his novel Anansi Boys to illustrate his personal techniques such as “sherbet lemons” and “figgins.”

Topics include: Twist the Cliché · End With Funny Words · Figgins, Cigarettes, and Sherbet Lemons · Case Study: Anansi Boys


Neil shows how he uses humor in his work. He includes a close look at his novel Anansi Boys to illustrate his personal techniques such as “sherbet lemons” and “figgins.”

Topics include: Twist the Cliché · End With Funny Words · Figgins, Cigarettes, and Sherbet Lemons · Case Study: Anansi Boys

Neil Gaiman

Teaches the Art of Storytelling

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Humor in anything you do is good for me, anyway. I know there are many writers who write without humor. For me humor, whether it's broad or whether it's subtle, is always vital. Sometimes it can be very dry. Sometimes it can be overt. Whatever you're writing you want some humor, because humor is recognition. Humor is that moment where you see something that you've always thought, but now somebody has articulated it. And they've articulated it in a way that you've never seen before. And sometimes it's just the joy of the unexpected. This is a book that is all humor. It's called, "Fortunately, the Milk." It's a children's book. And it is about a father who sets off to buy milk for his children's breakfast, and finds himself kidnapped by aliens. And fleeing the aliens, finds himself captured by pirates. "'Who be ye, land lover,' said the woman who had a big hat on her head and a parrot on her shoulder. 'He's a spy! A walrus in a coat! A new kind of mermaid with legs!' said the men. 'What are you doing here?' asked the woman. 'Well,' I said, 'I just set out to the corner shop for some milk for my children's breakfast and for my tea, and the next thing I knew--' 'He's lying your majesty!' She pulled out her cutlass. 'You dare lie to the queen of the pirates!' Fortunately I had kept a tight hold of the milk. And now I pointed to it. 'If I did not go to the corner shop to fetch the milk,' I asked them, 'then where did this milk come from?' At this, the pirates were completely speechless. 'Now,' I said, 'if you could let me off somewhere near to my destination, I would be much obliged to you.' 'And where would that happen to be,' said the queen of the pirates. 'On the corner of Marshall Road and Fletcher Lane,' I said, 'my children are waiting there for their breakfast.' 'You're on a pirate ship now, me fine bucko, said the pirate queen, 'and you don't get dropped off anywhere. There are only two choices. You can join my pirate crew or refuse to join. And we will slit your cowardly throat, and you'll go to the bottom of the sea where you will feed the fishes.' 'What about walking the plank?' I asked. 'Never heard of it!' said the pirates. 'Walking the plank,' I said, 'it's what proper pirates do. Look, I'll show you. Do you have a plank anywhere?' It took some looking. But we found a plank, and I showed the pirates where to put it. We discussed nailing it down, but the pirate queen decided it was safer just to have the two fattest pirates sit on the end of it. 'Why exactly do you want to walk the plank?' asked the pirate queen. I edged out onto the plank. The blue Caribbean water splashed gently beneath me. 'Well,' I said, 'I've seen lots of stories with pirates in them, and it seems to me that if I'm going to be rescued..' At this the pirates started to laugh so hard their stomachs wobbled and the parrots took off into the air in amazement. 'Rescue?' they said. 'There's no rescue out here. We're in the middle of the s...

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.

I've only watched the lessons to Chapter 3 and I am completely satisfied with what I have learned so far.

This is the best Masterclass on writing there is. I'm not even a huge fan of Neil's. I'm familiar with his work, and I like some of his stuff, I could never get through American Gods. Neil helped me identify my problem writing scenes. Every character should want something. That's just one nugget of advice. Anyone serious about writing should take this masterclass!

very encouraging. great to hear about someone else's process

Everything. Neil's class was leagues above other classes I've started and never finished on this site, probably because of how he tells stories. It's not a class it's possible to be bored in. Everything is honest, truthful and valued. to writers of all skill levels.


Eric C.

I loved Star Trek's (original series) "cigarettes." There was always, with a couple exceptions, a brief wrap up on the bridge with a little philosophical rendering of what the previous hour had revealed, and the inevitable bad or corny joke. It's hard to pick a favorite, but I think Spock, after being taunted about his mirror self, reminding Kirk and McCoy that while they were in the mirror universe he had the opportunity to view their barbaric counterparts closely is one of the best. "They are brutal, savage, uncivilized and illogical. They are in every way examples of Homo sapiens, the very flower of humanity." Regardless how dumb the joke, I still like watching the interaction at the end of each show.

Marianne E.

Thank you. You gave me the greatest idea! Or I got the greatest idea by listening to your wise words. Thanks!

Dina H.

How can you have two narrators at the same time? Can you do that all the time? Is it good to do it often? Thank you.

Patricia B.

My Take Away From This Lesson Love the use of personification with the lime that couldn't help it. Clever, very in the vein of the story, and yet, it does not impact the credibility of the narrator. So take risks with humor. It's a little bit of magic to sprinkle into the moment. Readers know when the narrator is having a bit of fun with the story. When the writer has fun, the reader has fun.

Brett S.

I love when a writer can perfectly meld the serious and the funny. I think a great example is Jason Aaron: he manages to weave epic or dark tales, but always throws in little asides that you can't help but laugh at.

Sara D.

Please check the download pdf link : This XML file does not appear to have any style information associated with it. The document tree is shown below.

Caleb S.

A simple piece of toast can be dry but scrape some butter on, serve it next to an omelet stuffed with greatness and you all of a sudden have a good go to, to mix up the flavor array. Take it a step further and put some strawberry jam on that shit! Do yourself the flavor. If you don't like strawberry jam, well there is always grape jelly!

Rich C.

I often think of films that would have been so much better with even just a dash of appropriate humor. Dune, for example. Another is The Legend of Hell House. They seemed so needlessly grandiose. Some right chuckles in the right spots might have brought them down to earth and made them seem human.

Kevin L.

I concur that humour has a place in all writing and that without it, any work, no matter how dark or serious or tragic it takes itself to be, is incomplete. I read “Of Course” today, from Shirley Jackson’s first short-story collection, and this one line made laugh out loud at length and tied the story together: “Mrs. Tylor recognized finally the faint nervous feeling that was tagging her; it was the way she felt when she was irrevocably connected with something dangerously out of control: her car, for instance, on an icy street, or the time on Virginia’s roller skates….” It might not seem funny out of context like this. But Jackson was so good at building up humour when she wanted to, and often found room for it even in her most devastating works of horror or her most subtly haunting pieces underscoring social issues. She had building the tension and when she depoyed this line, it articulated uneasy feelings of my own from recent social experiences which found release in laughter.

D. R.

Oh, this is so vital for me. My wife tells me (almost daily) that I "am not funny." Granted most of the time, she's right, but I feel like humor is extremely important to a piece of literature that truly holds up. I need it--even if it is subtle--to ring out. Here Neil makes me think that--even I--can be funny, however limited I may find it. Something as simple as word order and words that sound funny or may just be unexpected made this lesson really tangible.