Short Fiction Case Study: “March Tale”

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 14:54 min

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.

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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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.

Splendid class. Made me go back and finish a story I'd left hanging.

In general, there a number of specific techniques I've filed away in the folder for later. Slightly less general, I really enjoy Mr. Gaiman's personality, coming through with warmth as it does. As I don't want to enhance the competition too much, I will also say I very much enjoyed Mr. Gaiman's ending sentiment, considering it very wise.

More than the tips on story craft, I found the lessons on strategies and habits much more useful. Combined with the writing exercises, I have made progress on current work and found inspiration for new ideas.

I just wanted more. Drinking in lots of great advice that I will use in my next story


Joseph P.

I will have to view this lesson over and over again. While I am off on a tangent taking in something he said, Neil is already ahead of me with more and more and more. Yes, he is a master with a master class.

Devon F.

Answering one of these questions reminded me of a story my fiancee once told me, which then led to me daydreaming about that, which led to me using that as the basis for my lesson work, which led to me getting mad that I had never considered writing about that story before. What a ride.

Devon F.

The imagery alone that he used in that short story is a level of writing I hope to reach one day.

Eimear L.

Brilliant, I could listen to his words all day, they just flow off his tongue like poetry. By far the best Masterclass on writing.

Rich G.

"What's it about?" Working on a project but "what's it about?" is still a work in progress.


A very good lesson by a very professional writer who can seemingly toss these ideas out, off the top of his head. :0) My problem is sustaining the beautiful prose that Neil Gaiman writes so effortlessly. And don't even get me started on editing and rewrites -LOL.

Judy K.

Amazing. It open me to a whole new dimension to the land of words and emotions. Thank you.

Jan B.

I am mesmerized by Neil Gail and his magical voice. He has incredibly interesting things to say. I will definitely come back for more! Was like going to a smorgasbord and having a feast on words and great thoughts!


I would have Mary go in search of her father, who didn't return when expected. Then, Annie would have to go after her to try to protect her daughter. Somewhere along the way, the truth about Annie comes out, and her daughter, who hates pirates, has to come to terms with her mother's past.

Marjohn L.

The story is great but I could listen to you read the phone book. Forking paths... fascinating