From Neil Gaiman's MasterClass

Short Fiction Case Study: “March Tale”

Using “March Tale” as an example, Neil shows you how to expand your narrative by creating conflict for your protagonist and how to bring your story to a satisfying climax.

Topics include: “March Tale” · Expanding the Narrative


Using “March Tale” as an example, Neil shows you how to expand your narrative by creating conflict for your protagonist and how to bring your story to a satisfying climax.

Topics include: “March Tale” · Expanding the Narrative

Neil Gaiman

Teaches the Art of Storytelling

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Some years ago, I got a call from BlackBerry. Actually the call came from an advertising agency, and they said would I come in and talk to them. I said sure. And they said BlackBerry are launching their first smartphone, and they want to do something to do with art. And they want you to do something to do with art. I said, well, do I have to do it with the BlackBerry? And they said, no, you just have to do a thing. What would you like to do? And I said, well, I have an idea that's a bit mad. I said so what I'd love to do is something that basically is the 21st century equivalent of when Harlan Ellison used to write short stories in the windows of bookshops, and he would set up his typewriter and a chair in the window and he would work. And he loved the idea that people were seeing him working and seeing what was actually happening and that seeing him staring and writing and not writing. So I put together a bunch of questions, 12 questions. And they were things like why is January dangerous? What's the strangest thing you've seen in July? What did you lose in November? Just questions that went out. What I didn't want was people suggesting titles for stories, suggesting ideas for stories. What I wanted was just to take a beautiful little idea and go OK, that's the starting point and for people to realize that anything could be a starting point. So my question that I asked for March was what historical figure does march remind you of? And I thought, well, that'll be a fun question because I'll get something that's got a person in it. And the reply was beautiful. The one that I picked just said Anne Bonny and her rapscallion heart dreaming for a ship of her very own. I found a notebook. I really liked this particular notebook because it's just a blank book. It's bound. I think it may even have been a misprinted book with no text in. And then I wrote calendar of tales in the front. I wrote down all of the months in order. And then I began to write. "So it was too warm in the great house. And so the two of them went out onto the porch. A spring storm was brewing far to the West. Already the flicker of lightning and the unpredictable chilly gusts blew about them and cooled them. They sat decorously on the porch swing, the mother and the daughter, and they talked of when the woman's husband would be home, for he had taken ship the tobacco crop to faraway England. "Mary, who was 13, so pretty, so easily startled said, 'I do declare, I'm glad that all the pirates have gone to the gallows, and father will come back to us safely.' Her mother's smile was gentle, and it did not fade as she said, 'I do not care to talk about pirates, Mary.' "She was dressed as a boy when she was a girl to cover up her father's scandal. She did not wear a woman's dress until she was on the ship with her father and with her mother his serving girl mistress whom he would call wife in the New World, and they were on their way from Cork to the Carolin...

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 was amazed at the depth and scope of Neil's narrative, and experienced what it takes to be a successful author.

I've always been a fan of Neil Gaiman. He's such a delight on both the page and in this class! His advice is authentic, invaluable, and appreciated.

A wonderful experience. The perfect combination of advice, practical activities, and inspiration.

Tears were rolling down my face when I saw the trailer for this. I had said that if Neil Gaimen ever did this, that is the class I would buy.


Patricia F.

I absolutely love that he shares how he writes. I find it fascinating to have this kind of knowledge into his process. I construct a story very differently. So much to learn perhaps about slowing down the process in my early stages and rely less on "plotting."

Eileen N.

This story had me weeping within the first two minutes. Anyone else feel it deeply?

Lou Nell G.

More a support question about discussions and notifications: I’ve received some e-mail notifications that I’ve received a reply to one of my comments. When I click on “Go To Class”, then scroll to find my original comment, there are no replies that I can see. I scroll further through the comments and have found nothing associated with the person whose comment I'd like to acknowledge either. How can I go directly to a fellow classmate’s comment or reply so that I may respond?

Lou Nell G.

It is a real pleasure and excellent learning experience to watch and listen as a master craftsmen walks through the process of building the framework for a novel.


I got a weird sense of satisfaction when I went through the activity on page 42 in the workbook for the novel I've just finished writing and thought "Wow, this is fantastic, I've really done the worst possible things I could do to this person. Oh, and now I have even worse things planned for her in the second book that will break down everything she built in the first book. How wonderful!" Seems a bit cruel when you say it out loud like that. But, the questions really helped me see that my characters are plot are working - hooray!

Cathy C.

What a brilliant idea for our writing group! Give your hero/ine a decision to make. Start at a crossroad or forking path, and take your character along one path. Then start a new story and take them along a different one. This was a helpful lesson for someone like me who struggles with story ideas. How to start plotting without charting every step to the end. I could see my story taking on a life of its own like that - something I've heard of from other writers but it seldom happens to me.


Here is my tale. January Tale Born on a killing cold night in January she was a child of winter. She loved winter much more than summer. Summer with its heat, biting flies, sucking leeches, dust, hot wind, and endless work did not lift her heart as it did for her summer sisters. Sure, fresh fatty fish from the bubbling streams or black lakes were sumptuous roasted over flames and sweet smoke. The smoke did keep the flies at bay. And yes, the greens plucked while still dew-covered were tender and tasty. Her favorites fiddleheads wrapped with wild onions in spring leaves, nettle tea, watercress chewed raw, miner's lettuce, Oxeye Daisy and wild mustard used to flavored fish. There were the late summer's ubiquitous berries picked sweet and sticky eaten by the handful, dried or mixed in rendered fat preserved with smoked fish. But winter foods were better. She loved snowshoe hare stewed with dried berries and nettles, venison roasted, blood dripping and hissing over the fires. The essence of summer harvest preserved, it's savory or tangy scent steaming over stew wafting through the room filled her with warmth. In summer she longed for dark nights made magical, mysterious by frost and snow, or nights lit up almost day bright when the moon was full, hoarfrost glittering reflecting gems under a week winter sun, bright cold otherworldly alchemy. Her favorite, January, bore frozen lakes, rivers, waterfalls, icicle daggers hanging from roofs and trees, and the stories. As a child she cherished the stories recited by mother, grandmother, aunts, her passion the tales of danger from dark loving winter creatures, those who awoke at twilight and stalked the long night. “Stay inside,” her grandmother said. “The frigid nights are haunted by dwellers of the biting cold, they who slumber is summer and abide in gloom, deceivers who trick the unwary enticing them away from shelter, well-traveled paths warm abodes and the company of humankind.” “What are they?” she would ask enthralled. “Where do they come from?” “Ghosts, demons, gods, creatures unnamed,” said her mother authoritatively. She was relentless. “What kind of ghost?” she asked. “In some lands they are women who died in winter, frozen in snow, ghost who lure credulous men astray and freeze them with a touch. Lovely to behold but deadly,” explained an aunt. More questions more creatures. Frosty beings who seduced the careless, ignorant, ill-advised, reckless, poor, or unsuspecting onto lakes with thin ice and embraced them as the sink beneath the frigid water. More questions more tales of monstrous carnivores, eyes glowing who devour arrogant souls, those who presume they are invincible. Those victims are never found, never heard from again. “What about men who are found?” she asked, because in the tales the victims were always men. One or other of the older woman would reply that some are found when spring thaws the land, bones gnawed, hair dried, skin shriveled, some with smiles frozen on their faces. “Why smiles?” she’d inquire. That question was never answered as she was diverted often by being asked to make tea or stir a pot. She recalls those long nights with delight. Now she's a woman grown longing for moonlight walks, a child of her own. Dressing carefully in her best furs, long white hair streaming from her hood, eyes bright, she steps into the night. On this long January night a man will die smiling.

T S.

'March Tale' is so compelling I felt I should try to finish the story in my own way, but with highest respect to Professor Gaiman. If not, my apologies. Comments and thoughts welcome. (remove spaces between 'https' and ://; MC does not accept the address otherwise) https ://

A fellow student

Content: falling in love, wanting to belong, but afraid to give up freedom. Worst that can happen? Having to pay with your freedom.

A fellow student

The work sheet is very helpful. Put my story in a different place. Struggling still with putting the story together but am just writing which is good. Want to create the setting, the image and tell the tale. But first, writing the content, then framing it.