Neil Gaiman on Storytelling

My MasterClass Notes and Review

“W”riting fiction is telling good lies,” Neil says in MasterClass.

Take Little Red Riding Hood — some wolves are hairy on the inside, some on the outside. You are using lies to teach and tell a story. Wolves don’t eat grandmothers. Wolves don’t talk. But humans are really good at taking information, giving you something big and true and important that you might not otherwise get so you can tell it to your children and your children’s children.

This is storytelling — telling good lies.

Why do we believe the notion that… “Dragons can be defeated?”

Storytelling. Our life is a story. Our hope comes from stories. Dragons aren’t fire breathing beasts in real life — they are newborn children, teenagers going through puberty, beating cancer, paying off debt and bills, and getting your kids to school on time when you haven’t slept. It is facing your fears and defeating them.

When Neil was writing Caroline, he moved to America and everything became busier. There was no free time. But more importantly, there was no desire for him to write with so many dragons to slay. He tells a story about the hive of yellow jackets stinging him and his children on their walk through the forest. He tells them to run and he stays.

This isn’t bravery, he says. Going back to get your glasses the next day when you realized you dropped them on the yellow jackets hive is. Being brave is not getting stung while you tell your kids to run away. The moment of awareness that comes from storytelling allows us to face our own fears through fiction is the beginning of why we tell stories. His yellow jacket story was about facing dragons — and he understood that the message of Caroline was that being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t scared.

It means going back to get your glasses when you are. Realizing this gave him a place to work and walk with Caroline. He stopped putting it the work, overcame his fears, and started writing it.

Like Stephen Pressfield in the War of Art sums up, fears come in all shapes and forms of mental, spiritual, and physical resistance.

Neil talks about what happens in our imaginations; how people attach to the lies and made up stories of fiction; how people take the truth of fiction with them through their lives.

This is why, he says, when you write, just be honest. All fiction has to be as honest as possible. Write as honest as you can. Readers resonate with the honesty. This means you have to be ready to walk down a street naked (not literally). You have to a bit more honest than you were comfortable with, and deal with it. Live with the awkward feelings of being honest. Your expectations of being judged or criticized are usually more about you than about the audience.

This is the start to good story telling.

I highly recommend this class and am a MasterClass purveyor of notes, affiliate commissions, and basically just love their courses like my younger brother.

These are my personal notes taken from Neil Gaiman’s MasterClass.

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