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.

I enjoyed this Master Class better than some of the others. I think it's because he said things that resonated with me more than some of the others. All advice is good advice. It's how much you can learn from the advice that's worth it.

Compassionate and packed with useful info, Gaiman's class is my favorite Master Class so far. The concept of twisting a familiar tale into something new really resonated with me. He's a natural born teacher and enthusiastic coach. I'll be reviewing this class again.

The class provided insights from a great master writer. It was more about connecting to the soul and intent of writing than specific techniques. I found the advice on character particularly useful. What do your characters want? What do your characters need? You can apply those two questions with great effect to every character you write. Thank You Neil Gaiman for sharing.

Neil Gaiman is really inspiring. Sometimes that's all you need.


Rich G.

When younger, I read all of Ray Bradbury. Listening to Neil, I feel like I'm in one of his stories. His voice has that effect.

Tommy B.

Short stories are what got me into reading and followed me through my life. While being broke and in a different country I came across a book, "Spells of Enchantment"stories collected by Jack Zipes, in a second hand bookshop and started to read, I couldn't afford it at the time but called into the book shop each day for half a hour or so to read from it. One day I came in and it wasn't on the shelf anymore, I searched high and low to find it until the owner called me to the counter, he had put it in the window and told me "you'll have to buy the book to read more". I panicked as I thought surely someone else will see it in the window and get it before I can. I spent the next few days finding ways to make that little bit extra so I could buy the book and eventually I made it. My wife used to call it my bible because of the size of it and the fact that I brought it everywhere with me. Many years later I found the book on the internet for a sixth of the price I'd paid in the first place, but at the time it was still worth it.

Eric G.

I always feel that Neil is genuinely trying to help me - thanks, Mr. Gaiman!

A fellow student

I could listen to Neil Gaiman speaking for hours straight. He is an absolutely brilliant storyteller. I watched this piece close to ten times.

A fellow student

This is super useful. I like Neil's style of speaking to his audience. It feels like he is telling a story about how to write a story! I feel I am in the same room with him, like in a small college classroom.


I have so many small ideas in my notes on my phone about ideas for stories that I would love to take on. But this lesson really gave me a sort of reminder that short stories exist, and permission to not exactly take on, as I mentioned, a massive storyline. I'm free as a writer to write about what I want, how I want to and I don't need to go big, I can satisfy a small little nagging at the back of my head to write about that one thing that's been kicking around for awhile. I can be proud that I now know if it works or doesn't work and that I had fun with it.

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.