Writing

Titles

Malcolm Gladwell

Lesson time 8:28 min

For Malcolm, a title is the ultimate attention-grabber. Learn how to write powerful titles that will speak to your reader's emotions.

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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'm fascinated by that notion of capturing someone's attention. And that's what a title is. Right? A title is an even more edited attention grabber. So I think I spend enormous amounts of time thinking about the titles to my books-- "Tipping Point," "Blink," "Outliers." And no one-- for each of those titles-- well, for "Blink" and "Outliers," there were people who thought-- they tried to talk me out of those titles. And I will not-- I cannot be talked out of my titles. That is the one thing-- I can-- I will open-- I am open to criticism on every level, and I-- but not about titles, because that's the thing that I feel most strongly about. You know, my podcast, "Revisionist History" was-- no one wanted that title. I was like, nope, that's what we're going to call it. Because these are-- this is something that I've-- that I have-- that I kind of prioritize, that notion of-- because the title fr-- the title or a phrase frames something quickly in someone's mind. And that fr-- once you own the frame, you have a huge advantage in capturing their attention. Like, the title of my podcast, "Revisionist History," that's it. That's everything I want to do. Right? I want to go over the thing that you think you know, and I want to twist it. "Outliers," the-- it's one of those beautiful words that the definition of the word is in the word. I don't know if-- is there-- is there a word for that? There must be. It-- someone who lies outside of the mainstream. That's what I wanted to describe. How do you get outside? "Outliers" is this great, fantastic, one-word description. And "Blink" was about-- That's what it was about. Right? That moment. What happens in the moment? You don't need any other words if you've got that word. And so I think those-- very often in writing we leave the titles to someone else, which is, in my-- you know, a mistake. You should spend as much time, I think, thinking about titles as you do about content. In fact-- I sometimes do this. And I think I mentioned it once. I have on more than one occasion come up with the title first and realized, oh, that's a great-- that's a great story to write. I don't know what the story is, but the title's fantastic. Right? Titles and conceptual names and whatever are always more powerful when there-- there's an emotional connotation attached to them. It's like-- on the theory of titles, I once made a list of what I thought were the 20 or 25 greatest book titles of all time. And there's a very, very consistent pattern in great book titles, which is that they-- there is a-- if there are two words, the two words in the title are in tension. They are contradictions. Ralph Nader famously wrote a book about how unsafe cars were. It was about the Corvair. It was called "Unsafe at Any Speed." The title has a contradiction, right? Speed is about-- is a continuum with safety on one end and unsafety on the other. He's saying, unsafe at any speed. Meaning, the continuum doesn't w...


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.



Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I love the dichotomy of Malcolm telling how hard it is to talk in the first person and then seeing him do it so well. I think his honesty is very tangible. Thanks!

I am blown away by the insights Malcom has provided me in this class. I have been reflecting on my work while taking the class and have identified areas where I can start applying his lessons.

Malcolm's insights are simple, but powerful. I've learnt that great stories are like hidden gems. They need to be discovered not created or contrived.

I enjoy Malcom's way of putting ideas together. I like his puzzle construct and the bits and pieces he feeds you when telling a story. Loved it.


Comments

Jennie C.

One word resonates with me here regarding this lesson: Conviction... Sticking with your conviction regarding title selection..no negotiation....I love all of his titles, and they captivate every time. Immediately, I was intrigued by the title Talking to Strangers..... He stated that he selected a title in the beginning. My question is it okay or advantageous to choose a title toward the end or in the middle of the writing process?

A fellow student

Throne of glass is one of those titles that make you feel that something is “wrong” with it, because when you think of a throne you don’t think of a throne made of glass.

Ekin Ö.

A title is a hook. You may have written an extraordinary piece of text. Unless you hook the reader, you won't have a chance to show this text. In that sense, I agree with the notion that titles should trigger emotional feedback.

marissa S.

Love this lesson! Agree with him and was inspired instantly for a title of the manuscript I have been working on "Communist in a Candy Shop"

Brett G.

I used to blog (personally) a ton and the title was often my favorite part. It usually manifested itself during my writing. Now I pretty much only post blogs for work (I'm in advertising by the way - favorite spot is that old United Airlines spot where the manager of a company says they are losing clients because they lost too much of the personal relationships so he hands out plane tickets to all the sales guys and he takes off to see the client that was dropping them because of the problem). Anyway, when posting for work, I still find myself enjoying coming up with the title as much as the body of work.

Joshua S.

As someone who writes music, I can corroborate that titles are important for EVERYTHING. Titles don't work for just books or essays, but they can also hook someone into a song.

Kristi D.

We'd all do well to remember real and perceived time constraints related to communication; in doing so, it can help us to demonstrate respect for readers' busy lives and increasingly overwrought attention spans, and all the while enable us to achieve our goals as writers (to inform, entertain, persuade, stimulate, etc.)

Julie M.

I looked up the ad Gladwell refered to. It is on Youtube. Just do a search for 'Google Chrome Ad father and daughter'. Its the one with a picture of a girl in a graduation cap. One of the reasons Gladwell is so good at what he does, is that he is a collector of stories and anecdotes. He simply and beautifully introduces his point. He takes his readers on a journey and uses true life stories to prove his point. And we are captivated, the same way television watchers are captivated with good advertisements. Done right, they won't be the excuse for a bathroom break or to grab a snack. No, we want to be pulled in. We long to be entertained, convinced, and moved, yes even to tears. Good writers do this. Thank you Malcolm for doing it so well.

Tom R.

I am a nascent writer of fiction after writing a lot of marketing & ad stuff for many years. Titles and short ads are critical and always a struggle. As I've always told clients in the past, "Short is hard. Long is easy." Hard for me to remember many (and I know many were OK at best), but one tagline I wrote a few years ago (for free) for a hunger/food distribution organization (that has become a tremendous success) was "Wiping Hunger off the Face of America." Maybe illustrates the value of contradictory ideas in a title. Another quick story : an old golfing buddy of mine is a world -class Nashville songwriter and musician. Every few years, I'd (as a non-musician) send him a few verses....and he politely ignore them or suggested I stick to what I know. With no further discussion. Hell, everyone in Nashville is an aspiring songwriter or musician. Right? Then, two weeks ago, I got an idea for a song title... and wrote a few verses. He texted that I had a title but the rest needed a lot of work. Something he'd never said. So over the course of 24 hours he texted me various hints to massage my verses, and we went back and forth. I got a crash course in songwriting. Until he texted, "I'm seeing a song lyric." Now whether anything comes of what I wrote, I won't predict. But initially, he only liked the title -- and obviously knows how important the title of a song is. I'll keep you posted!

Tina K.

Titles and ads trying to capture someone's attention reminded me of resumes and personal ads. How do you stand out so you get your reader's attention. I am always reminded of a story that Hemingway had a contest with some writers (I believe) on six-word story. Hemingway's was "For sale: baby shoes. Never worn." Wow! Powerful!