MasterClass Review: The Art of Storytelling by Neil Gaiman

Summary of Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass:

“Humans are fundamentally storytelling creatures. Whether you’re talking to a friend or penning a novel, you’re using the same tools to form a connection with people, to entertain them, and to make them think differently about the world. As a writer, Neil is an explorer. His approach to writing encompasses a broad range of storytelling skills and offers useful tools for all kinds of writers at all stages of development. This MasterClass will give you access to Neil’s literary toolbox, which contains quite a complex collection…

Most of all, you’ll learn the signature aspects of Neil’s craft: how to push your story beyond a single genre or influence, how to subvert the expected, and how to weave disparate ideas into something unique and fresh…

Throughout, Neil sends a plumb line into writing’s deeper subjects—the social importance of storytelling, where inspiration comes from, and what to make of the great contradiction of using lies to reveal the truth. These questions, which lie at the center of writing, can often reveal just the right thing to the writer who has become stuck or who is looking for an evolution of their craft.” (Excerpt from Neil Gaiman’s workbook, MasterClass

Our Review:

The online class with Neil Gaiman was our first experience with MasterClass, and what a great choice! To be fair, we were just going to go down the list and he was the first class. But still, what a great opener. 

For one, he is a great speaker. We didn’t know he actually lectures at post-secondary institutions, but it definitely shows. 

Before his Master Class we had only read a handful of his novels. Afterwards, we ended up devouring a bunch more of his books. The interesting part about reading his novels after taking his class was actually seeing the advice he gave at work on the page. 

His class had a lot to offer on how to tell stories, how to build tension, subverting expectations, editing, and so much more. The MasterClass also came with a workbook with writing exercises, tips, book recommendations, and a whole lot more fun and helpful tidbits that have definitely changed the way we look at and approach writing. So, if you are looking for added value, these workbooks are a real bonus!

Top Three Tips

Gold: Funny Hats

Such a great tip when you are faced with multiple characters! As any current or aspiring writer knows, or will soon know, it is important to make your characters different enough that your reader doesn’t get confused. “Funny Hats”, as Gaiman refers to it, is one way to do just that. Essentially, besides giving your character a name, give them an interesting feature that will distinguish them from other characters. And yes, you can do this in all forms of fiction. 

“There are four simple ways for the observant to tell Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar apart: first, Mr. Vandemar is two and a half heads taller than Mr. Croup; second, mr. Croup has eyes of a faded china blue, while Mr. Vandemar’s eyes are brown; third, while Mr. Vandemar fashioned the rings he wears on his right hand out of the skulls of four ravens, Mr. Croup has no obvious jewelry; fourth, Mr. Croup likes words, while Mr. Vandemar is always hungry. Also, they look nothing at all alike.”

Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman (page 8)

Silver: Dealing With Rejection

Listen, I don’t care who you are, you are afraid of this one. When beginning your writing journey, we dig and dig for tips and tricks to help us write a New York Times Bestseller. And, since the Internet never disappoints, we find all of this in abundance. However, what we don’t often find are ways of dealing with rejection. It’s inevitable, folks. We both really appreciated Gaiman touching on this very important aspect of the writing process. He reminds us that you will always be rejected, but you need to maintain a certain level of humility and arrogance (“I’ll set the world on fire!”) because that is what will get you through. Basically, you need to think you are brilliant. Enough said. 

“A crazed attitude — to write something so good, no one could ever reject it”

Neil Gaiman, MasterClass

Bronze: Take Short Journeys

Before tackling a big novel, tackle short stories. The important thing here is that you wrote something and therefore you learned something. Gaiman says that when writing short stories, only one thing needs to happen. Through this approach he says that you will soon develop your own style and personality. When writing a short story, you need to understand that the character(s) have already existed and the short story takes place at a time where you are going to understand everything.

“The best short stories are the last chapter to a novel I didn’t write.”

Neil Gaiman, MasterClass

Top Quotes

Okay, so honestly, everything that came out of his mouth in this MasterClass could be considered a top quote, but since we can’t write down the whole thing, here’s some of our absolute favourite words from Neil Gaiman:

“You learn more from finishing a failure than you do from writing a success.”

“If you’re going to write… you have to be willing to do the equivalent of walking down a street naked. You have to be able to show too much of yourself. You have to be just a little bit more honest than you’re comfortable with…”

“There’s always a tiny part of you, as a writer, who, metaphorically, or really, is standing there with a notebook, just taking notes.”

“Always know more than you tell.”

“Know safely what the rules are, and then break them with joy.”

Books We’ve Read by Neil Gaiman: 

Stardust (Book Club It)

Coraline (Borrow It)

The Graveyard Book (Donate It)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Donate It)

Neverwhere (Book Club It)

Norse Mythology (Own It)

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (co-wrote with Terry Pratchett (Book Club It)

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6 Comments

    1. Yeah! He really love to share what he knows which is so nice. Some authors keep there tricks so close to their heart, and I feel like he really just wants to help everyone be writers. Gaiman is slowly becoming one of my favourite writers, but at the same time I find I either love or really don’t like his books. I have no middle ground with him. But as a writer I find his style so refreshing and clever and there isn’t really anyone like him. Why do you have a rocky relationship with him? – Amber

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I totally agree! I think his writing style is something that so appreciate, especially since it seem more modern books don care about their actually writing style if they have a cool plot. My relationship is rocky pretty much just because I’ve loved 2 of the 5 books I’ve read of his and hated 2 of those 5 as well lol

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I agree, most books these days don’t seem to care as much about the style. It’s very cookie cutter. I read a lot of fantasy and I feel like it’s all the same, so he’s really refreshing for me. And ah yeah that makes sense. I also 2 of his books that I read. For me it’s like I love it more than anything or I wish I hadn’t read it.

          Liked by 1 person

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