From Neil Gaiman's MasterClass

Short Fiction

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

Topics include: Imagine Your Story as the Last Chapter of a Novel · Only One Thing Has to Happen · Use Short Stories to Practice Your Craft


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

Topics include: Imagine Your Story as the Last Chapter of a Novel · Only One Thing Has to Happen · Use Short Stories to Practice Your Craft

Neil Gaiman

Teaches the Art of Storytelling

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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.

Fabulous, thank you! I have learned so much, and it feels like the tip of the iceberg. This class is rich and substantial and relevant. Again, thank you

It was extremely helpful, helped to learn some methods of taking care of things, helped to inspire and find what's inside me as a writer, taught me to keep on --should really be a little longer!!--

Very inspiring. Neil is a very honest teacher and he does a great job of sharing his experience in a way that is relatable and very humble.

Neil gave me the confidence to take joy in the struggle of writing. This was a gem of a MasterClass.


Dwight H.

He stood there in that place where he knew that he shouldn't be standing. But he stood anyway, in between the threads of paintings, sculptures, the very room itself. The mosaics of the dead, scripted on small marble plates, captured in row after row of headstones-behind-glass-panels. The tapestry in the weave of the carpet soon gave way to a long and narrowing road through the forest. Drawing his short sword from its sheath, he waited for the Biggengobbler.

Suzanne L.

One of the problems I'm having with my WIP (yes, only one) is that there are several scenes I simply don't know how to write effectively. Neil has given me the perfect solution: write the scenes as short stories. Don't worry about what happens in the rest of the book, just write about these experiences. Give them beginnings, middles, and ends. Then, I can incorporate them, with minor changes to help continuity, into the book. Brilliant. Thanks, Neil.

Lou Nell G.

I always love listening to Neil read from his own work. His voice, timbre, and pacing seem to add to the story. I loved the presentation of short stories being the last chapter of a novel, only one thing has to happen, and particularly the analogy to taking the boat around the headland and back, writing short stories as practice. I was away from class for a week spending time with my nephew during his Spring Break. This lesson seems the perfect intro to help me get the rhythm of learning and writing back.

Wendy W.

I adore that Neil reads the introduction from M is for Magic! This introduction is something I read to my students every year. I want them to pay attention to story, as readers and writers. The exercise about jumping into the action is something that I've tried and trying to taking that risk so that we, as the writer, can get into the character's head. I do think about the previous lesson and about direction for the story. I like that I let the character be as real as possible. Maybe real is the wrong word, honest to that character. I worry about too much "plotting." My experience with students is when they "over-plot, over-plan," they are done with the story. I prefer Neil's idea of asking questions, of wondering what happens next. When my students think as "scenes" they seem to do better to focus and spend time discovering their characters. That idea from R. Zelazny that we are writing the last chapter, that characters existed BEFORE this scene, this story.

Ekin Ö.

As I was watching the lesson, I realized something: The best short stories I've read had a density. It's like there is a bigger story behind them -- just not written. I also liked Neil's analogy where he says "not paid for the word, but paying for the word," for short stories.

Karen F.

I loved this lesson, short stories are my favourite!! I would love to be able to write short stories like Goosebumps or Amazing stories by Steven Spielberg my favourite is Mummy, Daddy. I realised that most short stories I like are horror and that's the best place to start. A great book of horror short stories is in a glass darkly and Tales of the peculiar by Ransom Riggs. Is coraline a short story?


Terrific lesson. My goal being short story writing. Right on target. I've got some writing to do!

A fellow student

Does anyone have trouble getting this workbook part? When I download, it says nothing is available for this format?

Bradley L.

I loved the example of "Nicholas Was." Felt like I was discovering Fredric Brown all over again. Bradbury's "The Pedestrian" ambushed me one time when I was living in Northern Michigan. The topic and tale so suited life in a rural small town. Consumed that whole collection of short stories after that hook. Zelazny's 'writing as poetry' description by Neil made me think of my favorite fiction writer, Yevgeny Zamyatin. His entire novel "We" is like a continuous poem, streams of images and dreams in a claustrophobic life. I like the idea of not losing large amounts of time over an idea that maybe isn't seaworthy but can get you across a small lake while you learn to sail. Great advice.

Andrew Kyle B.

I didn't know where I was, but tears were pouring down from my eyes. After a moment, I realized I was in bed. It had been a nightmare which woke me up. In the dark, I reach over to feel for my wife-- In my dream she had fallen, lodging a large piece of concrete in her head. She did not die though, living on, but the doctors said it would not last long. Maybe days, maybe hours. They did not know. Her mind was slowly slipping away; as she forgot things the dream became more and more painful. Her clever remarks faded as did her spirit. Yet she still smiled, but it was an empty, stupid smile. It hurt so much. We went to church and I faced having to explain what had happened. I didn't have the words, but they understood -- she would die and I would be alone. As the preacher preached, grief overwhelmed me and I fled from the sanctuary -- I fled from the safe place. I began to sob and cry. "I never spent time with her like I should have!" I wailed. I woke up crying. Awake, tears pouring down my face, I reach for my wife in the dark. She is not there.