Most writers consider themselves fortunate if they get to hear advice on writing from one of their idols. In my case, I've now benefitted from listening to two masters of their craft.
In the summer of 2014, I got the chance to hear from the late great Stan Lee at Houston's Comicpalooza convention.
This weekend, I got to see the still-great Neil Gaiman at Houston's Jones Hall for the Performing Arts.
"Shadows", "Saucers", "Bananas" and an "Orange"
In an era where big-budget superhero blockbusters draw record numbers of eyeballs, much of the audience likely found it refreshing to hear a single person on a bare stage stand at a podium and read aloud from their novels, poetry, and short stories.
Gaiman shared several of his reading selections, including:
"Professor Bananas": An experiment involving cherries, lemonade, and grass clippings makes its subject grow so large that he can wear the universe as an overcoat.
"The Price": An injured black cat brings the family who takes him in an entirely different type of bad luck.
"Watching from the Shadows": Gaiman relates his lifelong love affair with Batman. He dedicated the reading to the late Batman artist Neal Adams.
"Orange": A teenage girl must answer a questionnaire about how an alien presence has taken over her sister's body through a unique self-tanning lotion.
"The Day the Saucers Came": A young lover misses out on multiple apocalyptic events as they wait by the phone.
"Click-clack the Rattlebag": A young man gets caught up in a "bedtime story" from his girlfriend's eight-year-old brother.
The Ocean, Omens, and Odd
He told the story of how he struggled for years to get The Sandman audio drama off the ground. When the programs launched on Audible, Act I and Act II became the top two fastest-selling audio dramas in the platform's history, outperforming the "Harry Potter" series.
He related how he teared up at a rehearsal for the stage adaptation of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. He noted how the premiere performance brought both he and his wife to tears, along with his surprise at how it affected the Daily Telegraph drama critic sitting next to them.
Gaiman also talked about his collaboration with the late Sir Terry Pratchett on his novel Good Omens. He related that he took his inspiration for the best-selling book (and eventual hit TV series) from numerous elements, including the Christopher Marlowe play The Jew of Malta and the 1976 supernatural horror film The Omen.
While many of his novels leave room for sequels, he claims that he gets "too distracted" to follow through on the subsequent stories. However, he mentioned the sequel to his 1996 best-seller Neverwhere, the 2021 release The Seven Sisters, and an eventual sequel to his children's book Odd and the Frost Giants.
Fountain Pens and Vocal Care
As for his personal habits, he prefers using fountain pens and notebooks to typewriters or computer software. When Moleskine went to a cheaper grade of paper several years ago, he switched to Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks to ensure that the fountain pen ink wouldn't leak through to the other side of the page.
A short story collection by fellow legendary British comics writer Alan Moore (V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Batman: The Killing Joke) sits on his nightstand.
He doesn't have a vocal care routine, even after reading aloud for two hours a night through seventeen cities in less than thirty days. (NOTE: If anyone could give him advice on taking care of his voice, it would be his wife, singer/songwriter Amanda Palmer.)
As for his screenwriting career, he said that he turned in four episodes of Season One and the opening episode of Season Two for the TV adaptation of his novel American Gods. After that, the showrunners "did what they did" to his scripts.
He also offered some helpful advice for aspiring writers. For instance, when choosing whether to write for yourself or for the audience, you should write for yourself. If the writing fulfills you as a writer, it should also connect with the audience as a listener. If the writer doesn't find fulfillment in the writing process, the audience won't get what they need out of reading it.
One of the biggest takeaways for writers occurred when he stated his belief that creators should favor consistency over perfection.
Gaiman remarked how he had admired colorist Steve Whittaker's work on Alan Moore's V for Vendetta and that he wanted Whittaker for The Sandman. However, Whittaker's relentless perfectionism prevented him from turning in the finished pages on time, so Robbie Busch handled the coloring duties for the first story arc, "Preludes and Nocturnes".
Gaiman used this example to illustrate how the pursuit of perfection can inhibit actual progress, both professionally and creatively. He stressed that artists should "keep moving forward" if they want to grow in their craft.
If you're a screenwriter who wants to "keep moving forward" with your scripts, Story Into Screenplay can help.
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