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Arts & Entertainment

Short Fiction Case Study: “March Tale”

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 14:50 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.


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.

Neil Gaiman's MasterClass taught me not only how to begin storytelling and writing, but also how to have the courage to finish. I have struggled with a fear of failure for as long as I can remember, and this class has really given me tools and the encouragement to keep writing and to finish the writing that I have begun.

What a great teacher! To the point, clear, practical.

Infinite possibilities and humor, that's what I take home with me, mesmerized.

Honest and simple yet enlightening on some aspects of the craft.


Rale S.

The protagonist trying to avoid conflict is great conflict. Love Neil's approach to instilling in us the constant reminder that we are to always write from a place of awe, and of magic, and of truth. So great!

Karen G.

Wonderful to journey with Neil Gaiman as he explores plot development for March Tale. Very informative, very inspiring.

Dale U.

Valuable lesson and beautiful writing. Neil is truly a Grand Master of the craft.

Pratik P.

Everyone has ideas, but developing a storyline is the most important part of a story to come to fruition. This lesson really gave me some ideas on how things should be done. Thank you!

A fellow student

He takes me to the Irish coast, the screeches of the seagulls circling the ship, as it bobs towards the New World. He whisks me to a hot, rainy March evening with an ancient pirate queen who still dreams of her bloodred galleon... it's an inspiring, entrancing story that teaches me how to present a story, and the possibilities of dangers and conflicts.


This lesson really helps people like me who have the question of, " I have a great starting point but now what?"


Not only do I love listening to what he has to say, I just love the sound of his voice. It's quite soothing. It makes me want to go and listen to any audio book of his he has narrated.

A fellow student

Extremely generous lesson. I hope many more stories are made better by this. Thank you !


I have absolutely LOVED all of the seven lessons I have done so far. He's very good at providing a framework and at helping me as a writer determine a path.

Thiago C.

Are we supposed to cry watching these lessons? It is impossible to hold the emotions when listening to Neil. The greatest thing about Neil's lessons is that they are not made for our brains, but to our hearts. More than teaching how to write, Neil is cracking the writers' fears. This is really, really helpful. Thanks for that, Neil.