Chapter 2 of 24 from Malcolm Gladwell

Structuring Narrative: The Imperfect Puzzle

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Malcolm likes an imperfect argument—the perfect argument is too obvious. Learn how Malcolm builds an open-ended puzzle into his story, “The Ketchup Conundrum.”

Topics include: Don't Complete the Puzzle • Make Promises You Don't Keep • Case Study: Juvenile Delinquents • Case Study: Howard Moskowitz • Number Sections to Connect Disparate Pieces

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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So I liked to do puzzles as a child, jigsaw puzzles. But I always-- I always wondered why I liked doing jigsaw puzzles. It's not obvious why. To this day I find jigsaw puzzles baffling for this very reason. I am drawn to them, and I see other people are drawn to them. In fact, this summer my family took a big vacation. There was an incredibly complicated jigsaw puzzle. And it was-- we were in the French countryside. It was gorgeous. There was, like, castles. There were walks to do. And huge numbers of hours were spent in this, kind of, dark and dingy living room of this house we were in, working on a puzzle that we could have worked on anywhere. Right? The puzzle was more fascinating to us than the French countryside. Now that's pretty powerful stuff, right? That suggests there's something about a puzzle that is-- that has a hold over our imagination in a way that's not obvious. I mean, simply putting pieces together-- and by the way, the puzzle is not even a grand-- like, there are certain kinds of challenges that draw you in because there is a reasonable chance the problem can't be solved. A puzzle, there is a 100% chance it can be solved. It was once a full-- in fact, you have the picture in front of you. Right? So it's not even like it's some magical, kind of, high-end Einstein-level problem you're dealing with. No, no, no, no. It's a problem that has been solved for you. And they've given you a picture. And all you have to do is, like-- so-- but even that draws you in, right? So it's, like, that is, I guess, how strongly some of us are hardwired to want to just make the pieces fit. And I think on some level the-- writing, or my kind of writing, is about making the pieces fit. So I have-- like, I have my little shelf of objects. And I want to arrange them in a way that's compelling to readers. And it's the same-- it gives me the same kind of satisfaction as finishing a puzzle does, except that I don't have the picture in front of me from the very beginning. I have to kind of construct the picture. So it's a little, you know, maybe it's a little bit higher order puzzle, but it has-- it satisfies-- it satisfies me in the same way. There's that thing in puzzles where there are pieces that don't actually fit, but you convince yourself that they fit. Right? Like, and then you look, and you realize there's, like, a little tiny gap. And there shouldn't be a gap. And it doesn't quite-- Well, the one thing with writing is that you can-- you can actually-- if they don't naturally fit, you can kind of make them fit just by the way you write the-- you can kind of write your way out of the problem. And that always-- I'm always-- that part is always really fun to me. And it's a reminder of this really important principle, which is that the best kind of arguments are the arguments that are imperfect, because the perfect argument is too obvious. It's like saying-- the rule of the simile, or the analogy-- actually the rule of t...

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