From Malcolm Gladwell's MasterClass

Developing the Story

Learn how Malcolm grows the idea of a story, and how he tests new ideas with family and friends.

Topics include: Test the Idea Itself • Grow the Idea • Experience the Story


Learn how Malcolm grows the idea of a story, and how he tests new ideas with family and friends.

Topics include: Test the Idea Itself • Grow the Idea • Experience the Story

Malcolm Gladwell

Teaches Writing

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The act of explaining an idea to somebody else is a really good way to figure out how to tell the story and what parts of the story work and don't. So I will very often, when I'm working on something, tell it over and over again to different people. And each time I tell it, I look to see, do they find it interesting or not. And if they don't find it interesting, why? When do their eyes glaze over? When do they change the subject? When do they jump in with questions? When do they-- what are they saying next after hearing it? All those things are-- that's incredibly valuable information. Because they are stand-ins for my eventual audience. And people, when you tell a story-- in my experience-- to them in person, are much more honest in their feedback than if you, you know, have them read a draft. When they're reading a draft, they're-- first of all, you're asking a lot of them. Only a few people will do it. They're concerned about your feelings. They know that you've gone to all this work. And so for you to say to them, "Oh, this is all crap," is really hard. But if I'm just randomly telling you a story, you can say, "Malcolm, this is super boring." Or, "I read that somewhere." Or, "Why would you--" or, "I don't believe that." Or, "Wait a minute. You're going to say something that offensive?" Or there's a million different responses that are incredibly useful to me, that people will freely give you if you lower the bar-- if you make it easy for them. And that's what-- I mean I have specific friends who I'm sure I bore to death. Because I, I will come back to the same thing, and tell it a different way each time I see them until I think I've got it in a form that they'll like. And also I always be careful that, you know, the things that I find interesting and the things the world finds interesting, I know from past experience they overlap. But they do not overlap perfectly. So, you know, I can talk forever about running. It is quite clear to me that my audience does not care about running the way I do. And so I need to be careful if I'm going to write about that, to do it in such a way that will appeal to them. [MUSIC PLAYING] If everyone has that shelf in their head full of random things, then why limit yourself to your shelf? People got stuff on their shelves that they will give you, quite happily, because they don't know what to do with it. They'll just toss it your way. And so the most common reaction, from anyone, when you tell them a story is, "Oh, that reminds me of," right? That phrase is uttered trillions of times every day around the world. Listen. I spend a lot of time working in coffee shops, which means I spent a lot of time listening to people talk. And in conversation, you'd be stunned. That's what conversation is. I tell a story from my head, and you respond with a analogous, or tangentially connected story from your head. And we go back and forth, right? And we build a conversational stream. ...

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.

Malcolm Gladwell challenges me to think in different ways and for this I'm grateful of his existence. The class motivated me to write more and to continue to love the art of thinking and writing creatively.

MG's clarity, his joyful presentation and sense of humor, and the details that he presented in what he believes good writing to be all blend to make an informative and pleasant experience for this audience member. thank you, sir, for your insights, your integrity, and your happy countenance.

I am in the process of writing my first book and this class is timely and applicable is every step of the process of doing so. Educating and inspiring

I've been writing since I was in third grade, and the insights I gained from this class have definitely caused me to look at my writing in different ways. That's the best outcome I could have hoped for with this class.


Cindy M.

This was my favorite lesson so far, though I have found them all interesting and helpful. Experience the story! I remember, though vaguely, how the music trio, The Dixie Chicks, commented once how their songs reached a much more intense level of depth when they started singing about their own experiences instead of what they thought others would want to hear.

mark S.

If ppl are having difficulty downloading the pdf and are getting html errors try refreshing your page. This seems to be working for me

muriel O.

Ok. Let’s get on with it. Why is it so damn hard to find the lesson every time I want to continue? Help.

teresa C.

thank you, Mr. Gladwell. This is the very reason why I enjoy writing creative non-fiction.

Jody P.

The art of story telling is endless in history. The use of it as a way to hone skills is fantastic.

Joshua S.

Is it just me, or is Malcolm judging those of us who do nothing but talk? Also, his description of the difference between panic and choking was fascinating

Paul K.

Amazing description of the art of failure, which is the way to the art of success once you understand your own mecanism. Brilliant. A masterpiece in psychology and life. This man "gets it".

Katie M.

I think it's awesome the ways Malcom invites you (the author of any book) to explore, critique and develop the story you might have in your mind. Drawing on past literature and information, personal interests, the people in your life. I am such a communicator and an open book so I particularly love his prompt to just have a conversation with others about a "story". It's hard to just come out and start talking about it, but when you do, and when you're open to hearing what that other person has to say (bad or's ALL good) it's extremely liberating and empowering!

Julie M.

The best thing I took away from this lesson was the practice of telling my story. Gladwell is right, when asking for feedback on a rough draft, I would usually get the candy-coated version of someone's opinion. They cushion the blow and I doubt I know how they truly feel. But when I speak my idea, my opinion, my story, people are much more likely to chime in and tell me that they think.

Paul H.

I look forward to boring my friend with my stories until I hone them into something engaging.