Summary of Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass on the Art of Storytelling
25 key takeaways from the author of American Gods and Coraline
- Story isn’t about the facts, it’s about the message. In Little Red Riding Hood, we know that the facts aren’t real. Wolves can’t talk, and a little girl can’t possibly mistake a wolf for her grandma, even if the wolf is dressed in her grandma’s clothes. The message behind the story, however, is very real. It’s the message that some people in the world, when they pretend to be dear to us, don’t actually have our best interests in mind.
- Observe your life to find inspiration. Neil realized that when got stung by a swarm of bees, it wasn’t scary, but going back to the same place where he got stung, that was scary. It was then that he knew how he’d have to structure the plot of Coraline. It was having Coraline go back into the scary place that made it truly terrifying.
- Look at stories as a craftsperson, not as an audience. An audience will look at a story and say oh I like this, I don’t like that. A craftsperson of a story will look at it on a much deeper level, at its construct, its weaving.
- When you don’t worry about being judged, the ironic thing is that people will actually judge you better. If you’re worried about being judged, your writing will be blocked. You have to be ready to do the literary equivalent of walking down the street naked. Aim to write just a little more honestly than you are comfortable with.
- Open yourself up to everything. Your influences are not necessarily what you think they are. Everything that makes an impression on you at some point in your life goes into a compost bin in your mind, and overtime, story ideas grow out of them.
- Take something you already know, and look at it as if for the first time. Turn it around, examine it from odd angles, and suddenly it can open up into a new story. Snow White, looked at from another angle, is a story about a vampire princess and necrophiliac prince, and a good step-mother trying to save everyone from the destruction they’re causing. That’s where the story of Maleficent came from.
- Go into a train station or coffee shop, and look at all the disparate people there. Take some other situation and imagine all the people there were thrown into it…