The Words that Built the Story: A Study of Neil Gaiman’s Writing Style

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The Words that Built the Story is a feature in which I dissect and discuss an author’s writing style. Today’s study is on Neil Gaiman.

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Image from Ideal Bookshelf

There are many big names in fantasy, but Gaiman is one of the few I hold closest to my heart. He’s released some of the most popular fantasy novels, many of which have been adapted into movies and TV shows. He’s worked with other fantasy giants, including Terry Pratchett. Now he offers a MasterClass in writing. The man is basically a god.

Of course, he wouldn’t have gotten as far as he has without talent. And part of that talent is his writing style. Though Gaiman’s writing is fairly straightforward, he’s able to weave in unique concepts and humor that makes it stand out.

Gaiman uses these to build a different atmosphere in each book. The Graveyard Book feels childlike and nostalgic, while Neverwhere feels magical and whimsical. The way in which he alters his writing helps bring each story to life. Gaiman chooses his words based on which tone he wants his story to have.

This is something all good writers do, but Gaiman takes it to the next level. It isn’t just scene-by-scene, it’s the whole novel. While each scene may vary in tone and mood, the entire book retains one distinct feel. Even at its most dire, Good Omens is always tongue-in-cheek. Why? Because Gaiman (and Pratchett, in this case) is able to find a perfect balance between sincerity and humor.

In fact, Gaiman uses humor a lot to enhance his stories and characters. Despite none of his books being comedies, you’re almost guaranteed to laugh out loud at least once while reading his works. This is how he breathes life and flavor into his stories. This is where the Touch of Gaiman™ comes out. Every author leaves their mark on their work, something personal that ties them intrinsically to the story. For Gaiman, that mark is his humor.

Additionally, the concepts Gaiman comes up with impact his writing style in any given novel. The Graveyard Book is a reimagining of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, so the story is more episodic. The writing style, in turn, takes a page out of classic novels.

Neverwhere, on the other hand, is a wholly original world. Because Gaiman was aiming to write an adult version of Wonderland or Narnia, he’s able to play around with his writing style a little more. He can make it a little more lyrical and filled with whimsy. In essence, Gaiman is a chameleon, his writing style adhering to whatever story he’s trying to tell.

Moreover, Gaiman’s works are character-driven. It can sometimes be difficult to pick out a distinct plot because it’s so dependent on what the characters say and do. While this may be a flaw in other books, Gaiman makes it work. He crafts his characters so well that you don’t even realize you love them until you’re halfway through the book and they’re in dire straits. It’s easy to follow structure-less stories about characters you adore.

The characters often have quirks applicable to whatever world they’re in. Bod is a young boy longing for adventure because he’s grown up in a graveyard. He knows his life is abnormal and that perhaps it will allow him to adjust to the real world in ways ordinary people can’t.

Richard is a young businessman who’s tired of the mundane and has a collection of troll dolls simply because people keep giving him troll dolls. He’s just odd enough that he can serve as a straight man in the bizarre London Below, but doesn’t belong in the dull reality of London Above.

Crowley is a free-wheeling, hedonistic demon who’s grown to like life on earth. His methods of torture are cruel in their modernity. He’s bad at being a demon, but he’s not good at anything else. Each character fits perfectly into their own world, but wouldn’t fit anywhere else.

If you’ve spent the last couple of months on my blog, you know that Gaiman has become one of my favorite writers. How did he worm his way into my heart so quickly? Because he’s a damn good writer whose worlds and characters are right up my alley. He peppers his trademark sense of humor, the cherry on top of the literary sundae. Gaiman’s writing style is a shapeshifter, constantly changing to fit whatever atmosphere he’s creating. With as eclectic as his words and stories are, it’s no wonder this Brit has been able to touch hearts all across the globe.


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5 thoughts on “The Words that Built the Story: A Study of Neil Gaiman’s Writing Style

    1. Thank you! I’ve also done Cassandra Clare, V.E. Schwab, Laini Taylor, and Sarah J. Maas if you’re interested. I’m a big writing style nerd too and took several creative writing classes in college (hell, that was my major) so it’s something I pay attention to.

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  1. I adore Neil Gaiman,, he’s one of my must read writers. Oddly (and it really does seem odd to say this) I don’t think he’s a great writer (that doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s a good writer, he’s very ‘commercial’ with non commercial stories). He writes well and easily and conveys the story but what he is a master at is storytelling and I will follow his books to the ends of the world for the story and the unique way that he conveys it.

    I always feel bad saying that I don’t think Neil Gaiman is a *great* writer because I adore him and he’s actually my favourite writer and I love his mind.

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