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.

To write, to finish, do it well, be confident and not give up.

I just want to taste Neil's words with a spoon)) So wonderful teaching!

very useful, inspiration and motivation from Neil!

It improved me a lot and helped me find my own creative voice.


joyce (moms) F.

For the writing exercise I chose the 'deathbed' scenario, but every time I tried to start it I became so depressed that all I could do was cry. So, I changed my subject to 'when was the last time you cried...' and was able to write my deathbed scenario from there. I also ended up reading the first 3 short stories in the reading exercise, because I kept getting caught up in the actual reading, and would forget to stop and do the assignment. I gave up trying after Apollo. However, on the upside, I discovered I really enjoy reading short stories and ordered Terry Pratchett's A Blink of the Screen. I'd also like to say that Chapter 7 - Short Fiction has been my favorite lesson thus far. :-)

Christa A.

Really inspires me to try out some new characters and ideas in this short story format. I like to think of my backstories of characters in a larger work as short stories.

Veronika B.

Very encouraging. This is just what I discovered recently... write short stories to develop the craft, rather than epic quests and journeys...

Sukhdev S.

I've been so inspired by this very lecture, I've written so many short stories in the past month or so. You can check them out at my website.

Nanette C.

I have never liked short stories, unless fairy tales might be short stories. But your adult short stories always leave me disappointed, cheated somehow. It's obvious from listening to Mr. Gaiman that I might do well to break down and read a couple.

Fülöp B.

I am doing this with fanfiction. The stories I write are fairly short, between 6000 and 16000 words usually, and I get to finish them and occasionally also get some feedback. It really helped me get started as a writer, because there is a lot less pressure than with writing original stuff under your own name, and you can be shorter and build on already existing traditions. So yeah, great thing to do. (Also huge compliments to writers who write long and complete stories, because some of them are REALLY high quality. Some of my big role models are fanfiction writers.)

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.