The Writer’s Responsibilities

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 07:53 min

Neil concludes with a deeply personal discussion of the responsibilities that people who create art have to their audience and what this means for humans as a whole.

Neil Gaiman
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Over the years, one of the things that I've given an enormous amount of thought to is what my responsibilities are as a person who creates art. It wasn't something I thought about to begin with. It wasn't until a man was found dead, believed to be a suicide, with a note on his chest saying that the Sandman did it, and the Sandman would bring perfect peace, and a copy of "Sandman" by the body. I had to go, hang on, did I do this. What happened? And I had a very, very bad weekend. And then, a few days later, I discovered that actually he wasn't-- it wasn't a suicide. He'd been murdered. He'd been murdered by his boyfriend who had written the note and put the comic there to try and make people think that this was a "Sandman"-inspired suicide. And the boyfriend also killed himself. And I was very angry. I felt like someone had tried to frame me for murder. But I also thought that the questions that it raised-- what is my responsibility-- were huge and important questions. And what I decided was my responsibility is to tell good stories and tell honest stories, tell them as well as I can, tell them to as many people as I can. My responsibility is to encapsulate, as much as I, can the things I believe and the values that I believe in the stories but also having a point of view, being willing to allow other points of view in, to be able to allow characters who I might not even want to associate with into my fiction, and to do them justice. Those, I figure, are my responsibility. And that, for me, has to be there at the bottom of everything that I write. So I need to be able to point to "Good Omens" and say, yes, it's a farce. It's a silly, funny farce about the end of the world. But absolutely, it has a message I can stand behind. It says that human beings have to be responsible. We have to fix the world, that war is very rarely a good idea, and avoiding war, which rarely gets praised, actually is huge and important, and that, , really we have to remember that the greatest triumphs and the greatest tragedies of the human race are nothing to do with people being basically good or people being basically evil, they're all to do with people being basically people. And so that-- I can take a farce, and I can stand behind it. I can say, this-- this is something I believe. This is real. I can take a book like "Coraline" and say, it's filled with scary stuff for kids, absolutely. There are people who feel that is absolutely and utterly inappropriate, and kids should be kept safe from all the darkness and all the terror and all the bad things. And to those people, I say good luck to you, although I personally believe that if you are keeping people-- young people safe from the darkness, then all you're doing is, when the darkness shows up, you are denying them tools or weapons that they might have needed and could have had. But really, it's a book about bravery. It's a book about carrying on. And that for me is important. I know I can ...

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.

This Masterclass was absolutely amazing. I loved listening to Neil Gaiman. Hearing his personal stories, and all of the advice and tips he gave.

Neil Gaiman's classes have really been an incredible help not only to my writing skills, but to my skills as a writer in general.

Youll see when i finish my novel excellent class Mr Gaiman

Keep doing what you love but living like you meant it.


Marianne M.

I thought the first half of the lessons was going around in circles, but the second half of the lessons were excellent. I'm glad I stuck with it and finished. I will view this master class again.

Rachael M.

Mr. Gaiman is a wonderful teacher. Not only were his lessons insightful, he has such a way about him that he encourages his students to want to continue to learn.

Tames M.

Neil is like Morpheus, a dream bearer. A dragon, a genie or a wizard... whatch out! Sand will get in your eyes...

A fellow student

A really good class, and a lot of things to mull over, and replay again, and exercises to do. Very worthwhile. (Now, I've gotta go write!) Thank you.


Thank You Sir, and yes, what you said about living. I've always thought my experiences (even jobs I did that I didn't want to), would hopefully come in handy, when I'm Writing. Of course I will go through this Masterclass again when I'm in the thick of it all. Love the Process (the bliss and the horror)!


Great class, and I love the workbook, too. Looking forward to reading some of the reference works that were recommended, and when I start writing novels I'll do those exercises, too.

A fellow student

Loved it! Just what I expected and more. I have read some of his books. Now I want to read them all. Thanks :-)

Barbara L.

As a long-time fan of Mr. Gaiman's work, I found his Master Class to be a joy. It was a pleasure and privilege to gain insight into the process of this brilliant writer. Thank you, Neil, and Bravo!

K. M. D.

Interesting topic. I've fought with myself for years, considering various aspects of this question. For instance: I write middle-grade fantasy/sci-fi. I'm always debating how scary to make my next book. I don't want eight year olds to have nightmares (not really, anyway.) But at the same time, I don't want the fifteen year olds to yawn and toss the book across the room. What's more, I'd guess a third of my fans are adults. I want to keep them interested and I hope to have my books considered for movies, so there needs to be plenty of tension to attract the movie industry, right?

Kelly T.

I like the writing assignments and how it started many parties in my mind. I also like his voice and story telling cadence. Makes me want to be a better version of myself.