Notes and ideas from the Art of Storytelling Masterclass by Neil Gaiman
14 Aug 2019
- Introduction - Why he loves to teach and how he wants to encourage you to tell stories that matter.
- Truth in fiction - One of the central tools of literature is to use the 'lie' of a made-up story to tell a human truth. Neil shows you how to make your stories world feel real to your readers.
- Sources of inspiration - Old stories can be approached from new angles. Create a compost heap of inspiration and how to draw from your experiences to make a story uniquely your own.
- Finding your voice - Learn how to develop your writer's voice so that readers will recognise you, and learn how to overcome the fear of making mistakes.
- Developing the Story - Every story has a big idea. Learn how to find a big idea that's meaningful to you, as well as how to create a conflict and compelling stakes for your characters.
- Story Case Study: The Graveyard Book - Neil illustrates how character motivations serve as the essential building blocks of a compelling plot.
- Short fiction - The short story is an ideal format for risk-taking. Neil teaches you how to focus your scenes and descriptions for maximum impact.
- Short fiction case study: "March Tale" - Neil shows you how to expand your narrative by creating conflict for your protagonist, and how to bring your story to a satisfying climax.
- Dialogue and character - Neil teaches you how to write realistic dialogue, how to listen to and trust your characters, and techniques to help readers remember your characters.
- Character case study: "October Tale" - Neil explains the technique of bringing a character to life by putting them in an unfamiliar situation that creates tension.
- Worldbuilding - Neils philosophy of worldbuilding, including how to create compelling and believable settings for your novel and how to avoid the common pitfalls that many inexperienced writers make.
- Descriptions - techniques for livening up descriptive prose, including cold opens, withholding information, finding emotional weight, and choosing memorable details.
- Humour - How he uses humour in his work, including personal techniques like "sherbert lemons" and "figgins".
- Genre - readers expectations are tied to genre, Neil explains how an understanding of your story's genre can help you provide delightful surprises to your audience.
- Comics - Neil demonstrates his process for writing comic.
- Dealing with writer's block - Some difficulties of the writing life and ideas for getting through them.
- Editing - Advice about the editing process, and why it's important to take time away and to get feedback from a trusted reader.
- Rules for writers - Striking the right balance between humility and confidence, as well as the need to stay organized and devoted to daily work.
- The writers responsibilities - deeply personal discussion about responsibilities that people who create art have to their audience and what this means for humans as a whole.
This masterclass gives you access to Neil's literary toolbox, including:
- Developing characters
- Creating conflice
- Determining your story's main themes and concerns
- Use short stories to learn about economy and backstory
- How to push your story beyond a single genre or influence.
- How to subvert the expected
- How to weave disparate ideas into something new and fresh
- Tackly the deeply woven aspects of dialogue and character
- Build the world of your story
- The process of drafting stories in comic format
- Overcoming writer's block
- The social importance of storytelling
- Where inspiration comes from
- Using lies to reveal the truth
- Story: Substance, Structue, Style, and the principles of screenwriting by Robert McKee (1997)
- The art of the short story: 52 great authors, their best short fiction and their insights on writing by Dana Gioia and R.S. Gwynn (ed.) (2005)
- The making of a story: A norton guide to creative writing (2007) by Alice LaPlante
He wants to take us to his toolshed at the bottom of the garden and take down the tools one by one and say "that's a spade", "that's a shovel" and "that's a spanner".
He also want to show us where all the pitfalls are and say "yeah don't do that", because if you do it'll all just stop.
IDEA - learn to create a video course in the same way that a masterclass video is presented
Truth in fiction
"We're using memorable lies. We are taking people who do not exist and things that did not happen to those people, in placesthat aren't, and we are using those things to communicate true things."
Using a 'lie' of a made-up story to reach a human truth is one of the central tools of literature. It doesn't matter how outlandish the world of your story is, it should feel real to the reader, known as verisimilitude
Provide specific, concrete sensory details
You can make up an underground tunnel that doesn't exist, but if you describe the smell of sewage and the persistent dripping of water, you draw your reader into a concrete experience that contributes to the sense of reality.
Focus on emotions that are true to your characters
You hero might be fighting an impossible beast, but everyone will be able to relate to their fear.
Incorporate the familiar alongside the unfamiliar
Keeping the reader grounded in things they recognize is just as important as introducing new and interesting elements.
Avoid technical mistakes
If you're writing about the real world, get the facts straight. If you're writing a magical world, stay consistent with the laws of your creation.
Take time to cover objections
If something isn't right in your world, let your characters notice that is isn't right for them either.
To understand verisimilitude, study books about counterfactual genre. These books tackle "what if" questions, such as "What if Hitler had won the war?". They set theri stories in a familiar reality that is twisted in some meaninful way.
- Choose a page or scene from any of the counterfactual books listed (I'm thinking Fatherland (1992) by Robert Harris and answer the following questions: 1) Are your descriptive details specific? Can you make them sensory? 2) Is your character's behavior in line with their personality? Do their responses make sense for them? 3) Can you fact-check anything? If so, do it now.
- Pick one of the essays from the list in the PDF and as yourself whether you agree with the author's opinions. If not, write a response or an essay of your own. Try to "show too much of yourself".
- To practice honesty in your writing, choose one of the moments listed and write a few paragraphs about it. Pay attention to your inner register about what you are writing, noting the particular things that make you uneasy. Try to be "a little more honest than you are comfortable with". Afterwards, read the work aloud to someone you trust. Listen to the way you sound and pay attention to the sensations in your body as you're reading the difficult moment. Consider what you're afriad of being judged for, or afraid of saying out loud. Write those things down.
- A time when you were deeply embarrassed (Dave)
- When you regret something you did
- The saddest moment of your life
- A secret you are afraid to talk about
- Write a few short, realistic stories about Berry, observing his behavior
- Write a story about Stix, the environment as it is. Bring the pain points to life, show the real ways that the Q-Pack solves those problems in real ways that the user can really connect to.
- Describe a fantasy animal with realistic 'catlike' characteristics. Go to a zoo, or watch animal videos, fish documentaries and do the same. Think about animals that elicit fear and describe why
- Write short what if stories where you made different decisions in your life, or just alternate realities.
- Write an essay about what minimalism means to me, using storytelling. Maybe a scene of joy from playing on the beach at night.
- Show too much of myself by explaining how I feel at work when I am frustrated and feel like I'm not good enough at what I do
Sources of Inspiration
All writers have a compost heap that rots down that creates fertilizer that helps you grow a beautiful garden. Most people can point to the things that are similar to them in their own field, but it's a different thing entirely to point to the things that influence you from different fields entirely
- Come up with a things that influence you from different fields, and write about how exactly they have influenced you. E.g. minimalism
Writing in progress...