Holding Readers: Controlling Information

Malcolm Gladwell

Lesson time 13:24 min

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

Malcolm Gladwell
Teaches Writing
In 24 lessons, the author of Blink and The Tipping Point teaches you how to find, research, and write stories that capture big ideas.
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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.


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

I have gotten so much from this class! I love this Masterclass! I've really enjoyed his examples, stories and his thoughts behind his choices. He's so enjoyable to watch and spend time with Malcolm.. a real treat that I will savour! Thank you!

Malcolm Gladwell has been my favorite writer since I first read “Blink” many years ago. To get insight into his thinking techniques and methods of success, beyond his written words, further inspires me to be a productive writer.

Great class! Love the idea of Candy and think it's brilliant

I really enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell's course. His honestly with creating a concept for a book really impacted by perspective and made me consider my work in a different way. I appreciated how he talked about the respect that a writer should have for the stories of others. Great course!


Stephen G.

As a fellow non-fiction author with some success (my books are in 18 languages), Malcolm Gladwell is a writing GENIUS. I am blown away by the value in this course so far. Many notes have been taken! I believe what I'm learning here will make my next book my best yet. The clarity with which Malcolm understands these concepts AND conveys them is remarkable. It's easy to see why he's been so successful as a journalist and author. If he wants to get really meta in this course, he'll tell us how he so effortlessly (or not) breaks down complex information. The most likely answer to that? Decades of practice. ~ Stephen Guise (author of Mini Habits)

A fellow student

Malcom does an immensely amazing and captivating job at engaging the viewer/listener on the key concepts that make a story work.

John G.

I liked this lesson immensely. I have written the basic outline of my book, and I know my arguments. Now I need to implement his strategy to make it enticing.

A fellow student

I loved this lesson. I just finished a 250 page family history book along with three cousins. I so wish I had put some candy in it. Gladwell's books are never boring and I see this is one of the reasons why.

syl F.

Syl Furmanek, i enjoy putting my thoughts on paper. This class organizes my thought patterns from titles to subjects and having the end in mind at the onset of the story. How do we post our writing?

Karen B.

I'm really enjoying Mr. Gladwell's classes despite the fact that I feel I'm in water way over my head. He makes learning very interesting and fun and as an inexperienced writing working on my memoir I feel hopeful.

A fellow student

I hadn't really thought about Malcolm's writing as suspenseful, but now I realize that his digressions and analogies also serve the purpose of creating suspense. I think a challenge in executing this technique is learning how much you can push your audience and how much you can withhold information without frustrating the reader.

Olwam M.

Malcolm is truly my favourite author. I like how he reads society and literature to develop his own views.

Tracy H.

The course feels like he's a friend who came over, and just happened to seize the microphone and give a few soliloquies about writing. Bravo.


Gladwell speaks haltingly for sure, but, there's a great deal of content in each lesson. As for saying "right" frequently, it's an ingrained manner of some Canadians' speech, like "erm" is British or "like" is North American teenage speak. After a while you don't hear it. I find these lessons fascinating with tips I can use in future. Two of his books are on my bookshelf, waiting to be read by me, having already been read by my husband. We read completely different genres but these lessons have piqued my interest.