Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 18:23 min

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.”

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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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.

With Neil's class I went from, 'I'm a fake' to, 'Huh, that's what I've been doing--okay, I'm on the right track!' Made me excited about writing again!

This was an Amazing class! very inspiring, informative supportive and enlightening , enjoyed every second of it, and it helped me a lot beyond my expectations. Thank you Mr. Neil for everything. -David Berty, Cairo, Egypt

Neil Gaiman teaches a lot of to me. He has many works, such as comic, short story, and novel. And I didn't know until I saw him now that he writes a lot of genres. The last advice are very good. The hardest thing for writer is finish what you have wrote.

I am an amatuer writer, so I have a lot of things to learn and practice to do. This class has helped me calibrate my compass, and now I feel I know what I need to do to become a successful. writer.


Carolyn G.

Neil makes humour sound so simple and straight forward. It just isn't. I have read so many attempts that have just fallen flat. He has given me the enthusiasm to try though.


Sometimes I forget that I'm supposed to be using these stories as case studies rather than just enjoying them. But this lesson has given me better tools to wield the humor I put into my own work. Thanks!

Debbie J.

Humor can be so relative. You never really know what will make people laugh....or not. You have to find that something that all or most people can recognize and relate to....Find the humor in it....Twist it. Not always easy to deliver in a way that's not contrived. I have to admire people who can pull it off and make it seem natural...even more so if it does come naturally.

Debbie J.

Twisted cliches. Clever. Throw a touch of irony and sarcasm into it, as well. Shake up that cliche with a character who's a realist. Perfect. Got it. ;-)

Alexandria S.

With humor I feel like I think I’m funny, but I don’t actually know if I was being funny or if I was trying too hard. The stories sound like really good examples, especially the story of a father going on a magical journey though he really wants to go home to give his kids breakfast.

Ekin Ö.

Humor is my weakest part, and I'm a bit encouraged by the idea of twisting a cliche to contribute some fun to the text. It's also good to know that putting funny words at the end is a better way of presenting them. :-) I loved what "sherbet lemons" describe because I always find them engaging even when reading non-fiction.

Cliff Y.

Loved this lesson. Neil has a great grasp on comedy structure as it should be written. I performed my own stand-up for over 25 years. Sometimes just the change of one word in a routine can make the difference. Sometimes there's no logical explanation, all you know is that after the change, the audience always laughs. Definitely the twist which is the surprise which triggers the laughter has to be the last word. The last word triggers the laughter. If the trigger word had several words after it wouldn't make sense. People laugh on top of the words that were left. Bravo Neil, and thanks now I have a green light to include humor in my Novels.

A fellow student

I find it difficult to write with humor so I was happy to learn how to twist a cliché. I would like to write about the princess in distress. How she is not saved by the prince but something else.

Wendy W.

I don't think of humor as an element to use in telling a story. I've not thought of humor as recognition. When I see it, it can make me smile. I like the "joy of the unexpected." I've only sought out humor with students and read aloud, but not in my own writing. Makes me see things as a way to try to experiment with this.

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.