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.

Honestly I didn't expect I was going to enjoy this course so much. I enjoyed Malcom Gladwell classes as much I've enjoyed and learnt from all his books. His voice (its color, speed and temperature) touched me. I listened to his lessons while meditating, while walking with my dogs, while driving, while having dinner, and it game me inspiration, company and tricks. Thanks Malcolm.

This is brilliant. I've had an idea for a book but couldn't figure out how to structure it. From the first lesson I've found the key, Thank You

Great class. I enjoy Malcolm Gladwell as he encourages us to look out the window and see the blue skies.

Malcolm is an incredibly engaging and generous presenter. He communicates his points very clearly and simply by using examples from his own life and his work. Although I'm a fiction writer, his principles apply to my work. I found tremendous value in his class.


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.


Mr. Gladwell maybe a recognized author, but he is a terrible teacher. In the narrative of his class he repeatedly starts a sentence and halfway through his thought he changes direction. Completely annoying. He so overuses the word “right” like a struggling millennial trying to sound hip. I found Mr. Gladwell’s insight marginal. As an All Access fan, I found David Baldacci and Dan Brown far more articulate and informative.

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.