Short Fiction

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 14:06 min

The short story is an ideal format for risk-taking. Neil teaches you how to focus your scenes and descriptions for maximum impact.

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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A good short story is a magic trick, and it's close-up magic. It's not a giant grand illusion where five people go into a box, and the boxes haul up, and then there are fireworks, and then they're gone. It's that thing where somebody shows you that their hands are empty, and then they cover it, and then when they reveal it again, there's a rose that. And you go, how did they do that? Was the rose always there? The rose must have been there. I once wrote a book of short stories for children. I'm just going to read you my very short introduction. "When I was young-- and it doesn't really seem that long ago-- I loved books of short stories. Short stories could be read from start to finish in the kinds of times I had available for reading, morning break, or after-lunch nap, or on trains. They'd set up, they'd roll, and they'd take you to a new world, and deliver you safely back to school or back home in half an hour or so." "Stories you read when you are the right age never quite leave you. You may forget who wrote them, or what the story was called. Sometimes, you'll forget precisely what happened. But if a story touches you, it will stay with you, haunting the places in your mind that you rarely ever visit. Horror stays with you hardest. If it brings a real chill to the back of your neck, if once the story is done, you find yourself closing the book slowly, for fear of disturbing something, and creeping away, then it's there for the rest of time." "There was a story I read when I was nine that ended with a room covered with snails. I think they were probably man-eating snails, and they were crawling slowly towards someone to eat him. I get the same creeps remembering it now that I did when I read it. Fantasy gets into your bones. There's a curve in a road I sometimes pass, a view of a village on rolling green hills, and behind it, huger, craggier, grayer hills, and in the distance, mountains and mist that I cannot see without remembering reading 'The Lord of the Rings.' The book is somewhere inside me, and that view brings it to the surface." "And science fiction takes you across the stars and into other times and minds. There's nothing like spending some time inside an alien head to remind us how little divides us, person from person. Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds, and other minds, and other dreams. They're journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner." "Ive been writing short stories for almost a quarter of a century now. In the beginning, they were a great way to begin to learn my craft as a writer. The hardest thing to do as a young writer is to finish something, and that was what I was learning how to do. These days, most of the things I write are long, long comics, or long books, or long films. And a short story, something that's finished over a weekend or a week, is pure fun." "My favorite short story writers is a boy many of them my favorite short 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.

Practical advice, filtered through an experienced master, shared with compassion, laced with inspiration, then manifested and tested with small, digestible assignments = motivation, realization, and personal accountability. Thanks Mr. Gaiman & thanks Masterclass!

Neil's advice has provided me strategies for overcoming creative blocks and rejection. This will help me in my writing, my art, and my professional life. In a lot of ways, Neil's advice has helped me to process trauma and grief. I hope he produces more Masterclass courses.

I thought it was very inspiring. It helped me look inside my work as a new writer in terms of dialogue, characters, their conflict, goals namely.

My name is Jack, and Mr. Gaiman has been a true inspiration. His personality is very interesting and he is very engaging during each lesson. I couldn't ask for a better teacher than Mr. Neil to share his story and wisdom and to encourage his class to do well. This class was the best.


Andrea P.

I hadn't considered giving short stories a chance until this lesson. It is, indeed, a great way to practice the craft, develop your voice (or find your voice). And, the beauty is that short stories need one thing to happen in order to work.

Maryn R.

I’m working on a short story like this. It’s been workshopped and edited and now I am writing the rewrite. This idea is so perfect because I know the novel of which it is the end.

A fellow student

I really enjoyed this lesson - Neil is such an inspiring tutor and he presents each topic so simply and clearly. I have struggled reading literary short stories as they often seem to pose too many questions and require the reader to guess and think at what their meaning might be. Call me lazy but I find that too much hard work! I want a short story to be exactly that - complete, finished, resolved, so I love the idea of approaching short fiction as the final chapter of a novel. In the Saint Nick example here I could pinpoint the exact moment where the penny dropped for me and I understood who the character was. I'd be interested to hear if others think this is something that happens in all good short fiction - is there always something that the reader has to work out for themselves? Could anyone give me any other examples to try, perhaps of more genre based short fiction collections?

Mike C.

I enjoyed the subverting of the norm in Nicholas Was... and I found this session to be one of the most inspiring by far.

Tom M.

This is magic. I loved this lesson so much I grabbed a pen and just scribbled out my own 100 word story, it's a blatant imitation as you suggested and I hope you don't take offense into seeing it here. I'm new to writing - this is my first day since school (I'm now 33 and left at 16). I've just booked tickets to see you in London too! Stoked! Berkley was... a dark soul. Black as his keeper desired. He lived to serve. Stolen as a new-born he has but fleeting memories of his family. Destined for a life of forced companionship, driven by carnal desires of the stomach and loins, he envies those freer folks he shares brief sensual encounters with upon twice-daily forays into familiar ‘adventure’. Taught tricks of the trade by his jailer to impress folk he’s paraded before, a bond formed, a reliance between them: A De Clarambault’s-esq adoration of his captors every obscure gesture. Stockholm syndrome ridden Berkley rarely voice’s his lament with a single, guttural word… Woof!


This lesson helped me realize one of the reasons I'm struggling with my writing. I've been so focused on what I've already come up with, I haven't given myself room to allow new ideas to enter. This was incredibly helpful. Thank you :)

Joni W.

I like this idea of the story being the last chapter, the unraveling. Very helpful!

William D.

WOW - The difference that quality makes in the educational pursuit of honing the writing/storytelling skill. I really appreciate Mr. Gaiman's easy, low-stress approach to the craft of which he IS a master. So thankful that he is willing to share his hard-earned insights. As much as I have dug deep into the how-to and why for in writing, this is something different - this is the soul of writing, not just structure. This has been so worth the investment of time and money to attend these excellent classes.

Bruce S.

I write flash fiction and short stories since generally I don't have time to keep a novel length story going. I hate to admit it, but I I lose my place. Gaiman's flash fiction story about St. Nick screamed of a wonderful alternative viewpoint with St. Nick as a victim. Loved it.

A fellow student

Mr Gaiman, so inspiring. I just have to listen, a little, and the ideas start to flow.