MasterClass: Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling (2019): Season 1, Episode 17 - Editing - full transcript

Neil gives advice about the editing process, including why it's important to take time away from a project and to get feedback from a trusted reader.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it - foodval.com
---
[MUSIC PLAYING]

To be an artist
and particularly

to be a writer, what you are
doing is a twofold process.

And to put it very simply,
it's a process of creating.

And then it's a process
of fixing or of editing.

The first thing you do as
a writer is you explode.

You explode like
a bomb explodes.

You explode onto the page.

The story is an explosion.

And you get to the end of it.

And once it's done, then
you get to walk around it.



And you get to look at the
shrapnel and the damage it did.

And you get to see who died.

And you get to
see how it worked.

And you get to
see how it worked.

And that's the point where
you get to think about it.

You get to think about what
works and what doesn't work.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

For me, once I finished
writing something,

whether it's a short story, or
a novel, or a script, what I do,

whether it's a short story, or
a novel, or a script, what I do,

if I can, is I leave it.

Walk away.

Do something else.

And then maybe a week
later, maybe 10 days later,



print it out.

Come back to it and
try and pretend.

And pretend like a method actor.

Pretend like this is
the most important thing

in the world to me.

in the world to me.

Pretend that I've
never read it before,

and I know nothing about it.

And then I read it.

And it's very easy.

It gets easier the
longer it goes, I think.

For me, just to
pretend that I never--

I don't know anything
about this thing.

I'm reading it as best
I can as a reader.

And I do it, print
it out, because I

have a pen or a pencil with me.

have a pen or a pencil with me.

And I am not vicious, not
cruel, but I'm a reader.

And I will make notes in the
margin of anything that doesn't

work for me as a reader.

Some of the time, it's things
that I thought I could get away

with as a writer.

There's that point
where you're a writer,

and you go, "well, I don't
need to write the whole battle,

and you go, "well, I don't
need to write the whole battle,

do I?

I can just sort of--

I can imply that
it's happening."

And you go, "yeah,
nobody's going to mind."

And then you're sitting
there as a reader going,

"but I was expecting
that battle.

You've led everything
up to this battle.

And you don't even--

oh.

Oh."

And then it's like, oh.

So you write the note
saying, "needs a battle."

And then you try and
pretend that you as a writer

and you as a reader are
two different people.

Because you're going to look
at your notes at the end.

Because you're going to look
at your notes at the end.

And that's what is going
to really guide you.

That is going to be the primary
engine through a second draft,

through an edit, through a fix.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

When you get to the end of
your first draft of whatever it

is, whether it's a short
story, whether it's a novel,

then you read it.

And you read it pretending
you've never read it before.

And you read it pretending
you've never read it before.

You read it with new eyes.

And one of the questions
that you ask yourself

when you get to the end is,
"okay, what was that about?"

And that's the most
important question

that you can ask yourself.

Because the difference
between what

you're going to do
in the first draft

and the second draft
can often be tiny,

but it's the most
important draft.

It's getting to
that second draft.

It's getting to
that second draft.

And the question,
"what is this about"

is what gets you from the first
draft to the second draft.

Because what you're then
doing is you're going,

"okay, in which case,
what I have to do now

is buttress what the story
is about and eliminate those

places where I'm
writing stuff that

isn't what the story is about."

And it gives you just a
wonderful, easy yardstick

And it gives you just a
wonderful, easy yardstick

for what stays in
and what goes out.

It's just the idea of
what is my story about.

You've now written it.

What you thought it was about
probably isn't what it's about,

or it's only part
of what it's about.

And now, it can become
very, very obvious

that this little bit of plot
that you loved actually just

has nothing to do with
what the story is about.

has nothing to do with
what the story is about.

And that's good.

And you can let it go.

You can cut it out.

You can save it in a file
where you save things

that may come in useful later.

But it's okay.

There is never any
heartache at letting

that go, because you're going,
"this is what it's about."

And by the same token,
you're buttressing.

You're going, "here, I
sort of did that thing.

This is where I didn't
quite know what I was doing.

But I seemed to be
talking about the theme.

But I seemed to be
talking about the theme.

So let me go in to
make that stronger.

Now that I know
what this is about.

Let me go in and just sort
of shore up the sides."

The process of doing
your second draft

is a process of making
it look like you knew

what you were doing all along.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

You always have to remember
when people tell you

that something doesn't work
for them that they're right.

that something doesn't work
for them that they're right.

It doesn't work for them.

And that is incredibly
important information.

You also have to remember
that when people tell you

what they think is wrong and how
you should fix it that they're

almost always wrong.

Sometimes, they're right.

Sometimes, they say,
"hey, this doesn't work.

But you could do this."

And you go, "whoa, thank you.

You just--" but most of the
time, when someone goes,

"this didn't work for me.

Maybe we need this or
this," you have to go,

Maybe we need this or
this," you have to go,

"right, that doesn't
work for you."

That's the important
information.

And you think this
or this would fix it.

But actually, normally,
the problem is earlier.

Normally, the problem
is earlier in the text.

Sometimes, it's something
that needs to go away.

Sometimes, it's something
that needs to be

written to set something up.

It is really important knowing
and absolutely accepting

in faith when things
do not work for people.

But do not ever take that as
anything more than information

But do not ever take that as
anything more than information

that something doesn't
work for people.

Because if you try and
fix things their way,

you'll be writing their story.

And you have to write yours.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Long, long ago, on
"Sandman," I wanted

it to be colored by a man
called Steve Whitaker.

Steve's now dead.

Terrific artist,
really good colorist.

Terrific artist,
really good colorist.

He colored "V For Vendetta."

Steve was a perfectionist.

And I gave him the pages of
Sandman, black and white pages.

And his job was simply
to color a few of them

in and send them in to show
the editor that he could do it.

The job was his.

All he had to do was
send in those pages.

And he never did.

And he never did.

Steve would show me some of his
pages, and they were beautiful.

And I would say, "great!

Send them in!"

And he would say, "no, no, no.

Not yet.

They're not quite right.

They're not perfect."

And he was trying to
make them perfect.

And the people at DC
Comics hired a colorist,

because Steve's
pages never came in.

Perfect does not happen
in this universe.

Perfect is an ideal.

Perfect is an ideal.

Perfection is the goal.

Perfection is the mountain
that we are heading towards.

It's the gleaming Crystal City
on the hill to which we aspire.

But we also have to
know that anything we do

is going to contain its
share of errors and mistakes.

And we cannot be
crippled by that.

We cannot be afraid of that.

We cannot be afraid of that.

If you write something,
it can be improved.

The problem is you cannot
fix a blank piece of paper.

You can fix a short
story that doesn't work.

You can fix dialogue
that isn't quite there.

You can fix the
beginning of something.

But you cannot fix nothingness.

So you have to be brave.

You have to just start.

You have to just start.

You have to be willing to let
the process carry you through.

And you have to be
willing for it, sometimes,

to land you on the rocks,
for it not to work.

And the truth is I'm sitting
here as an instructor.

I'm sitting here as a teacher.

I'm not sure I have much
more of an idea of what

I'm doing now than I did
when I started, 30 something

years ago.

I know that if I'm going
to write something,

I know that if I'm going
to write something,

some things are going to be
better than other things.

And I won't
necessarily know why.

But I do know that I need to
have faith in the process.

I do know that if I
don't write the story,

there is no chance
that it's going

to be one of the good ones,
one of the loved ones.

One of the ones that win
the awards, one of the ones

that becomes famous,
one of the ones

I can read at a public
reading that people will love.

I can read at a public
reading that people will love.

If I don't write it, it
will never be that thing.

And if I obsess and
worry about the ones

that I write while I
look at it and go, "oh,

I thought you were
going to be better.

You were such a lovely idea,
and you're not really magic,"

then that feels like
I'm also closing

the doors on the
ones where I go,

"I had no idea you were
going to be so beautiful."