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Arts & Entertainment

Short Fiction

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 14:01 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.


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...

About the Instructor

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.

Glorious! Neil gave me so many things to ponder and even just listening to his voice sparked my imagination.

It just gave me what I needed. Writing is a work of creation based on reality, imagination, and honesty.

It was well-structured and helpful. Now I'll do some more exercises from the PDF, a great tool.

Loved it! And thank you for the inspiration and advice!



I liked the advice about thinking of your short story as a novel and just writing the last chapter. I would have liked some more examples on structure and opening lines, I guess one session on short stories is not enough to explore it in-depth, perhaps there is another class in Masterclass dedicated to the short story.

Jennifer R.

The thing is some writers don't write short fiction at all, they say that they can't. So whilst it's a good start short stories and novels are completely different.

Peter P.

I think this course thus far, is a really handy thing for new writers to experience. It truly is helping out a lot in getting to the routine things that a writer must do and think about. It is one thing to be an avid reader but that does not mean you pay close attention to the way something is written. It's easy to overlook the beauty of word choice and the fluidity of explanation when a writer is exploring a concept idea. Not until I sit and try to write something am I faced with these complexities. I struggle to tell you how an environment looks without going on and on about it. I attached a file of my short story I wrote in a single sitting. I try to explain an area behind a persons house and in my mind, it seems simple, but when written it becomes more complex. What do you think? Also, can I attach documents of pdf's? I seem to only be able to attach images.


This man fascinates me. His manner and way of speaking are incredibly if not subtly inspiring. His British accent is also a plus as he is articulate and expresses himself thoughtfully and with feeling. Although our reading histories are altogether different he has a mind I understand and which speaks to my being.

Liz C.

I like this idea on the definition of a short story. … The last chapter of a novel, and you don't have to write all the other words of the novel, because you have a short story. On the other end of the thought, I would say that if you have a short story you can write a novel on how the characters got to where they ended in the short story.

Andrea F.

It's been a few weeks since I wrote a line of my novel. This particular exercise worked well for me; in half an hour, I wrote 1009 words straight away, which brought me the confidence to come back to my own work and keep writing it. Cheers for that!

Karen G.

Wonderful insights into the nature of a short story. However, short stories are master writing forms, too. Much more than just a practice or starting points.

Dale U.

Twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation. The basic tools of the writers craft. This is truly inspiring.


This lesson was really helpful. I need to learn how to be patient and learn how to crawl before trying to run.

Liz L.

I have written stories from several different genres including songs, poems, short stories, mysteries, romance, children's stories, and true stories. Should I just keep writing them all or focus on one?