Chapter 7 of 24 from Malcolm Gladwell

Developing the Story

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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

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, these ordinary subjects have helped millions of readers devour 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 craft online for the first time. Write stories that captivate by learning how Malcolm researches topics, crafts characters, and distills big ideas into simple, powerful narratives.

Learn Malcolm’s writing practices—including how he finds stories in unexpected places—through on-demand video lessons.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps, assignments, and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Malcolm will also answer select student questions.

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Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing