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Arts & Entertainment

Developing the Story

Malcolm Gladwell

Lesson time 12:37 min

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

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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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.

I've just watched all of Malcolm Gladwell's Masterclasses and I am left in awe. What a profoundly engaging communicator. His ability to keep me locked to the screen from one lesson to the next is something that not many (if any) teachers in the past have accomplished.

amazing and very different from other masterclasses - i loved his style and his ability to enthuse

Plenty of insight about working on my content, even if I'm not a writer

Thank you, Malcolm. My writing energy is charged!


Brian H.

2:19 Good book about running: “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami (also an example of a memoir that is actually interesting and worth reading!)


This marvelous lesson makes me feel incapable. As I listened to Mr. Gladwell, I realized that a chat with him, on any topic, would be interesting. I would look for other people to tell about our chat. I would remember it for a long time. Then I thought about his objective. He intends to help me write. But his writing reflects interesting speaker, with language that draws my interest. But I am not Mr. Gladwell, and I have not spent a lifetime cultivating his skills. I doubt that I can make my writing appeal to a reader if I can't make a fascinating conversation.


Appreciate the wise words around first person. When writing about something new and personal, I've found this to be challenging, but this challenge has inspired me to find and seek out those other stories with more rigor. In finding them, I learn something and am able to draw the lessons to my personal experience which make for a richer connection with the audience - that we can apply the wow factors of someone else's strategies and experiences to our own...

Maria S.

I am loving Gladwell's lessons, the relevance of the content, as well as his teaching style, and his enthusiasm.

Jan B.

I was thoroughly captivated, even jotting a few notes. Plan to return to listen again.

Russell H.

The most important take away for me was experience the story. If, as a writer, you experience the story then with approproate skill, you can convey to the reader directly, and authentically, the immediate scene, the scene's wider setting, the surrounding imagery, the sensory experience of it and the feelings arising from within that moment. This transforms the reader's experience from one of simply taking in factual reportage and description to that of being a particpant within a momentary emotional experience created by the skill of the writer.

A fellow student

Wouldn't it be wonderful to be one of Mr. Gladwell's "friends"? I could listen to his thought train forever, I think.

A fellow student

this is a great Master Class. I love writing and the conversation pulls me toward better research, conversations and hopefully improved articles. Danny Gammage

A fellow student

I found the information about talking about the character as your self extremely useful, I am talking about my self in my writing, my life lessons, tough, but learned so much from that and it changed me, for the better, I have a good not the ending tho, am still learning new lessons at 56 years old and an immigrant woman. Life could’ve been so different for me, early on I chose to be different and be independent and make my own decisions. I want teach what I have learned, but I am an unknown person, how do I separate my self from others who have similar stories....?

Raju M.

Looked up "Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own impagination." There is a similar quote dedicated to John Barth and it says "Everyone is necessarily the hero his own story." It would be nice to know who owns it.