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

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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

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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.

It gave me ideas on how to move forward to becomde a good writer

It gave me inspiration and things I can try. It motivated me to work and write fiction.

I learned to believe. I learned to trust in myself and the process. I learned that with those things, and with a point of view based in your truth, anything is possible. We are all storytellers.

Fantastic class and has given me a lot to think about. I also realized I need to finish more of the ideas I come up with instead of endlessly talk about the ideas.

Comments

Jorge R.

This simply the best lesson. I really loved and ended a long white page period.

Vivian O.

Lovely concepts here. It’s important to pull from personal experiences. I can remember at the hardest moments in my life thinking... remember this, you’ll use it one day. It’s that thought that helped me find meaning in it all.

Donna S.

I love the way he explains concepts, such as looking out the window at your surroundings, then change it. Make it bigger, make it smaller, etc.

anagha K.

I really found this lesson helpful.I would also like to ask a question to Neil.What tips would you give if I had to create a world with an entirely different purpose,and religion;as in the Harry Potter world or the world in Lord of the Rings?

Christa A.

I've often wanted to draw out a map of the world of my novel, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, especially because part of it takes place on the streets of NYC and part of it takes place below ground in a fantastical world. Very inspired by Neil's story about The Graveyard Book and how he put it away for so many years but continued to visit graveyards to build his world.

Emilia B.

I started to write a story in the Middle Ages about 16 years ago. Since then I stopped and pause the story due to lack of references from anything on Middle ages, besides games or movies. Then I went on visiting those places, several locations in Italy, Spain, Norway, and it was amazing how it changed my storytelling. When he said that it took him 20 years to start writing The Graveyard Book it made me feel so much better.

Fülöp B.

Ok, this made me realise that I need to put A LOT of work into my worldbuilding.

Lou Nell G.

I was struck by the discussion of rules, that the world we build has rules and how interesting it can be to reveal those rules through your characters' own learning processes and error and consequences. I actually had an idea for a story that popped up as I listened so quickly paused it and jotted it down in what I call my snippets notebook...sort of akin to the "Compost Heap". Anyway, I now plan to revise some stories I've written to see if I'm slapping readers in the face with rules, neglecting rules altogether or if my characters get to discover them...which seems so much more real. Once again, thank you Neil!

Wendy W.

I like how Neil talks about knowing the rules. Know the rules, but don't feel like you have to tell all of them. Let the character discover them-- his word, "allow" them to discover them. I appreciate all the discussion of making places feel real. Anchor them in the reality of what you know. Give the story its true moments. I also like the idea of doing "research" as the discovery of going somewhere, exploring, taking a walk, "see things" and letting those experiences and our eyes give shape on how to worldbuild.

Junaid M.

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