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.

Loved listening to Malcolm's many insights, gaining some perspective on how he thinks, learning a bit about his process, and since I love his writing and work, getting a peak behind the curtain! Thank you.

I am most interested in writing fiction and I could tell that Malcom's knowlege went well past the world of Non Fiction. I enjoyed the class.

This is the part of Master Class where I feel the most stupid, like when you're a kid and your mom asks, "So what did you learn in school today?" and all you're thinking about is if there are any Pop-Tarts left. I enjoyed Malcolm going through his thought process. If this reflects in my own writing... I'll let you know in a year.

Great insights and not-so-secret secrets from a master storyteller. Very satisfied to have spent hours listening to him.


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 life..is 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.

Elizabeth R.

Well, self absorption related to the first person, I would argue with that one. Each individual, in my view, holds within him or herself, the human experience in a universal form. If there is one thing I feel sad about humanity for it is this perspective of who do you think you are if you choose to write about your own experience b/c you somehow aren't Einstein. Some of the most interesting work on the internet today is individual narrative written in the first person where people share their wisdom and it is actually pretty good stuff. Is the impersonal a better approach to writing--I'm sure T.S. Eliot would agree. However, for those with personality, and for those not afraid to experience it and present it artistically, I think it works. However, what is the end goal--that's the question. Do you want to report on NFL players and TBI, probably not in the first person, but if you wished to talk about your trip along the Appalachian trail, well, first person would be fine. It depends upon the effects you wish to evoke in your readers, the lessons you want your readers to walk away with, and its on that basis that you need to decide what technique to use.

A fellow student

I do like your lessons. However, I found out from the statement sent to me from my credit card that you had debited my account twice for $180 on exactly the same day. Will you please check it for me and credit $180 back to my credit card account. Thank you.

Nilce S.

These insights were great! The idea of experiencing the concept to be written is powerful and expands all possibilities of expression in a deeper, more realistic, intense and beautiful way. Great lesson.

Patrick B.

A side note: Chuck Knoblauch is the New York Yankee second baseman who forgot how to complete a simple throw to first base one season. The strangest thing about that season for Knoblauch is that he could make the difficult plays whenever he had to run or dive for the ball, then complete the throw to first base. But, when the ball was hit right at him, Knolauch would throw it over the first baseman's head or into the dirt.