From Neil Gaiman's MasterClass

Worldbuilding

Learn Neil’s philosophy of worldbuilding, including how to create compelling and believable settings for your novel, and how to avoid the common pitfalls many inexperienced writers make.

Topics include: Smuggle in Details From Your Own Life · Moments of Reality Create Credibility · Allow Your Characters to Discover the Rules · Do Your Homework · Worldbuilding Influences

Play

Learn Neil’s philosophy of worldbuilding, including how to create compelling and believable settings for your novel, and how to avoid the common pitfalls many inexperienced writers make.

Topics include: Smuggle in Details From Your Own Life · Moments of Reality Create Credibility · Allow Your Characters to Discover the Rules · Do Your Homework · Worldbuilding Influences

Neil Gaiman

Teaches the Art of Storytelling

Learn More

Preview

I think that the joy of worldbuilding in fiction is honestly the joy of getting to play god. Because as an author, you get to build the world. Some authors do it a little more invisibly than others. In the same way, as far as I'm concerned, all fiction is fantasy. It is all made up. You are creating people who didn't exist or didn't exist like that, and putting them into situations that they were never in, making them say things they never said. It is an act of magical creation to do that. When you're starting out as a young writer, especially a young writer wanting to explore the fantastic, wanting to create places that are not, the urge, which you should always try and push back against, the urge is to take places from fiction. You know, it's the urge, the fan fiction urge. And fan fiction is great in its place, but if you are going to be a young writer and you are going to want to create a world, you do not want a world that you borrowed from Tolkien. What you want to do is look at the world outside. Look at the world outside your window. Get out there onto the streets. Look at places. Think about the places that you've been, and then change them. Make them bigger. Make them smaller. If you're somebody who's only ever been to school and you think you have nothing to write about except school, what would that school be like if it covered an entire city? What would that school be like if it was an island? What would that school be like if it was floating in the sky, and people only got to visit it dragged on the backs of enormous birds? How do you get into that school? That gives you a place, but it gives you a place grounded in realism. Because the moment that you start describing a school, if you know a school, you know the things that make schools weird and unusual. The smell of cooking cabbage, or the smell of sports clothes unwashed in lockers. You know what that place is. You know what kinds of people are there. Every little detail that you can steal from the world and smuggle with you into your fiction is something that makes your world more real for your reader. But much more important, it makes it more real for you. You need to be the one who believes in your story. You need to be able to believe in your places. If you are building a world, you have to care about the world. And sometimes, you're also going to have to stop and ask yourself weird questions. Even if those questions are not answered in the text, it's always good for you to know. Where do these people go to the toilet? Where do they get their food from? How much food does it take to feed a small city? How much farm land? Where are these farms? Where does the food come from? Where does it come in? And suddenly, you're asking yourself questions that it's good for you to know, even if you don't want ever to turn your book into a treatise on medieval economics. If you're writing something set in medieval times, do your homework. Go and look at pla...

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.

Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

This class gave me a lot of tools to begin work on my next novel (where I've been stuck). It was also very nice to have all of these tools provided in Neil Gamain's voice and his encouraging manner.

Neil Gaiman has inspired me to write, to finish things, to LIVE, to ensure my stories 'say' something... He has renewed my belief in myself and has encouraged me to continue. Hands down the best class ever.

What an incredible teacher Neil Gaiman is, and what a priceless gift he has given us with this Masterclass. Learning from him is a true privilege.

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

Comments

Junaid M.

Valuable insights into creating my worlds, my reality. Thanks, Prof. Gaiman.

Victoria

I am, what Mr Gaiman might call, a "young" writer. I'm just about to turn 60. So I am a work in progress. Writing, stories, experiences, has always been a dream of mine. Something other people did, not me. Now, and for about the last 12 months I've been practising, imagining and writing. This series of lectures has perhaps pushed me over the edge to a place of believing that I, like other people, I'm a writer. Thanks Mr Gaiman for your encouragement.

Myriam B.

Writing has always seemed like a wilderness to me. This kind of advice is hacking a pathway through the thorny undergrowth for me.

A fellow student

Neil's mention of the trope in the Arabian Nights of people getting separated at city gates was an interesting fact for me, as one of my favourite childhood stories was C. S. Lewis' The Horse and His Boy, but it always puzzled me how the children managed to get separated at the city gates seemingly 'so easily'. I now see that perhaps Lewis took inspiration from Arabian Nights.

A fellow student

Only you, Niel Gaiman, to teach how to make a story on somebody gets to learn better... it is so motivating and deep. I am touched. Thank you

Eric C.

When Neil talks about creating your own world instead of trying to mimic another world in a popular genre I remembered my creative writing class from almost 20 years ago. Pulp Fiction had been a huge cult success and as a result half of the students in the class I was in were trying to emulate that same world. What a mistake! In fact, I had a chat with the prof, who later became somewhat of a friend, and he told me as great as the film was he thought it might have ruined amateur creative writers for at least a decade. We sat through story after story about gangs and killers and mobbed up "babes," (forgive me, ladies, as I don't look at you in this light.) Paul, the prof, was shaking his head after one student read his story and said, "Sometimes while trying to copy styles that follow drug users and gang members and fast and loose players, the authors tend to want to write while under the influence of coke or something more... And I think that's what we have here." DO NOT try to be the next Quentin Tarantino or J K Rowling or George Lucas. Do you know what happens to the people who are compared to another better author? Nothing. Be the next Bob Fibber or Julie Hibiscus or Eric M Christians. (Wait. Don't become the next Eric M Christians. Give me a shot at it first.)

Eric C.

William Faulkner is not my favorite author, maybe because his stream of thought style is too distracting to me... But I do admire him as an original. You can pick out perhaps two or three paragraphs of a novel of his and very quickly identify his style. Another thing that came to mind while I listened to this lesson is that he created a world, or more precisely a community he used in several of his works. So once he had established the boundaries and geography it would be a very simple leap from on novel to the next to know where he was. He didn't slap the reader in the face and say, "This is the same town as Intruder in the Dust." In fact, a reader might not notice his world, and really it wouldn't be all that important if he or she did or didn't. But he knew. That's what resonated in my mind while Neil said you don't have to tell the reader... but you need to know it. While I may not have been Faulkner's greatest fan, the stories were fluid enough without a lot of geographical backstory for me to get the major ideas. And I'm not so sure critics even knew about this community at first. Once you read his work and see the layout, it all falls into place... without a lot of hoopla.

Kim W.

I think I took the most out of this class than the others so far. I feel like a lot of what he's said I've already been doing (at least, I certainly hope so - though one of the problems with this class is that there is no feedback, so it's impossible to know if I *am* already doing it or not, if even doing it right) but it certainly presented some thoughts on the actual details behind building the world and characters that had never occurred to me. I've copied the list of questions at the end and put them in a *very* prominent place - they won't escape me again! I love this course so freaking much, it hurts.

Andrea L.

I believe I was looking forward to this particular lesson the most. It did not disappoint. I started writing 20 years ago, at a young 16 years old. I lost that first novel due to a computer virus, and have been considering rewrite. Even after 20 years, I've found difficulty in picking it back up. I too have wanted to get better before continuing with it again. I've written other things, obtained my BA in English, accumulated 2 decades of research, and still haven't picked it back up again. There's something very human about these lessons. It doesn't feel detached like so many other informational sources I've come across. The writing process shared here about the graveyard story spoke directly to my own experiences. However, this one point was far from the only point I still needed to learn in this lesson alone. Thank you for a valuable learning opportunity.

Vicki K.

This masterclass continues to deliver amazing insights and 'aha' moments for me. I'm going through it slowly and rarely commenting, but I wanted to comment on this class because something Neil said just really struck me in the chest. When he spoke about The Graveyard Book and said (and I'm paraphrasing) "the idea was better than I was a writer". Something about that just really struck me. The fact that he put it aside to work on his craft and become worthy of the idea was something I never thought of doing. My first book I think is one of those - where it is an idea that just captured my imagination and was bigger than my ability to tell it. I have an agent shopping it around, but I wonder now if I had left it for a while and come back to it after writing other things, whether I'd have done a much better job. Thanks Neil. So much to think about again.