From Malcolm Gladwell's MasterClass

Holding Readers: Controlling Information

Learn how to use surprises, guessing games, and suspense to invite readers into your story.

Topics include: Cultivate Surprise • Invite Readers to Guess • Invite Readers to Identify Themselves • Withhold Information With a Purpose • Play Surprise and Suspense Games

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Learn how to use surprises, guessing games, and suspense to invite readers into your story.

Topics include: Cultivate Surprise • Invite Readers to Guess • Invite Readers to Identify Themselves • Withhold Information With a Purpose • Play Surprise and Suspense Games

Malcolm Gladwell

Teaches Writing

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I have a very good friend who does this thing which drives me crazy, which is that when you say something to her and you're pretty sure you're telling her something interesting and new, she will always act as if she knew it all along. Or, that it's not a surprise. She will essentially say, yes, of course. And that, Am makes me unwilling to tell her other interesting things because I don't get the reward. The reason we tell people funny, interesting stories is we want the reward of them having that look on their face and being surprised and being pleased at hearing something new. And there is no greater encouragement than me going, really? That's amazing, right? That keeps you going. As a writer, your job is to get people to keep going. So just even if you don't feel it, even if you've heard it before, you need to say, wow. You need to practice that openness in the face of someone taking the risk of telling you a story. Story in conversation is a risk. I am telling you something without knowing how it will be greeted. Whether you'll greeted with disdain, disgust, enthusiasm, boredom, excitement. Conversation works because we're risk takers. And if we continually are met with disdain and boredom or disgust, we stop engaging in conversation, in meaningful conversation, right? It shuts down. So your job as a writer is to create an environment where stories can be told. Part of that, sometimes that requires faking it. But actually 99.9% of the time it requires an honest examination of what you really did know. The easiest thing is for you to say, you tell me a story, and for me to say, well, I knew 75% of that, so what I'm going to do is I'm going to take credit for knowing all of it, right? That's your ego speaking. Oh, they had this little bit of insight which I didn't have, but I'm going to fake it and say, oh, I knew that. The first thing you have to do is to stop that impulse, is to understand that even if that little piece you did know is only 2% is to say, oh, you added to my knowledge of this crucial subject by 2%, and that's meaningful. I now look at the world from a slightly different angle as I did before. So cultivating surprise, I think, is a central part of what it means to be a writer in the world, a writer about ideas at least in the world. And I have always-- the more I know, in a certain sense, the easier it is for me to be surprised, right? Because I get better and better and better at identifying a little piece that I didn't understand before. The more opportunities you build into your pieces for reactions, the better off you're going to be, the more engaged and memorable-- engaged they'll be with the reading process and more memorable what you've written will become. So I did it more when I was starting out than I do now, but I was like, if there is any opportunity I can give to let the reader, to invite the reader into the same thought process I'm going through, then I do it. You know, in the thing I'm run...

Transform the ordinary

Ketchup. Crime. Quarterbacks. Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, these ordinary subjects have helped millions of readers grasp complex ideas like behavioral economics and performance prediction. Now, the renowned storyteller and best-selling author of Blink and The Tipping Point is teaching his first online writing class. Craft stories that captivate by learning how Malcolm researches topics, crafts characters, and distills big ideas into simple, powerful narratives.

Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I loved Malcolm's perspectives on ... everything! I definitely have some new tools in my toolbox after reviewing this class.

Malcolm was engaging, personable, and super insightful. I took a lot from this session that I will use immediately.

It´s very interesting the way he explains . He is very carismatic and uses greats comparisons to help us to understand his method. Thank you for share

Wonderful anecdotes and insights. Value of humility and differences between humor and melancholy are two tings that stood out to me.

Comments

Blake W.

Never considered the difference between surprise and suspense. Now I understand why episode 3 of GOT's season six used suspense so brilliantly

Blake W.

Withholding what you're not going to say seems counterintuitive to the viewer, but to the writer that must be the exact reason why its so powerful

Graeme R.

Malcolm Gladwell is a superb communicator in person too; his eyes look to us, widen, and invite us inside his head.

Dianna Z.

Hadn't considered the difference between surprise and suspense before - I tend to do a lot of surprises, but not so much suspense. Gotta figure out how to play around with that.

Marcuscolemanlaw

The part of the discussion in which Malcolm talks about....the reward of telling someone, something..which they didn't already know...is very powerful. Additionally, trying to find a way to surprise the reader...by revealing X..when you were expected to reveal Y....is genius. I am a trial lawyer and an aspiring writer....I am trying to learn to master the art of the surprise...in both fields. Great lesson !

Fred K.

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Ramanathan S.

Quite a lot. First is his passion. And then his clarity as to why he was doing whatever he was doing.

Diana

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Stephen G.

I love the suspense piece and realize now I canuse it in my non-fiction writing... great tool to hold the reader's attention.

Lisa P.

The section on selectively withheld information was enlightening. I spent weeks searching for a way to teach fledgling artists how to draw a foreshortened object. Finally, I placed a vibrant background behind a chair, and told the students to draw only the background, and nothing of the chair. Every student produced a vividly-dimensional rendering of the chair by purposefully ignoring what was supposed to be the most important object in the scene.