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.

This class gave me a new perspective on how to research, compose and edit my writing.

I am an aspiring writer who wishes to do so many things that Malcolm does so well. In the end, it is always about connection, relationships, and shared experiences. Thank you for your inspiration.

Malcom's energy and experience has been inspiring. I greatly admire his work and will use this study to inform my own.

Malcolm's personal insights (just as he displays in his writing) are fascinating and instructive. Thanks for this class!


Comments

A fellow student

Great lesson. Some people start with content right away, others with the title. I wonder if the order is reversed, would that hurt the story you want to write.

Brian Francis Hume

As one formerly in the publishing industry working with authors, the debate over book titles was hotly contested. My experience certainly affirms the high value that Malcolm acknowledges that titles have in the overall success of a book. A great title is an absolute must. But I would challenge the assumption that the writer knows best in terms of a title. (Trust me, it pains my heart to write that as I am now on the other side of the fence as an aspiring author.) Obviously Malcolm is one who has a creative bent in him so securing a unique title that captures the essence of the book is what he absolutely enjoys. However, there are some who simply are not wired like that. Instead they offer up a bland, lifeless, generic title that feels like a forced consumption of Pepto-Bismol (which I abhorred as a child). Some writers need to recognize their limitations in capturing a title that differentiates their book within a glutted industry that hooks potential readers. Such humility is essential so that the writer will be secure to receive constructive criticism and feedback on the title from others involved in the process.

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.