Don’t Complete The Puzzle!

Don’t complete the puzzle! So says Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, The Tipping Point and countless New Yorker articles.

If you’ve read any of his books or articles you’ll know what he means. A perfect argument is too obvious and boring and doesn’t engage people. Maybe the first 3 paragraphs will, but that’s as far as people will get before moving on to another article.

I can attest to this – the article has got to grab me in the first paragraph, never mind 3, for me to stay with it. I need some large puzzle pieces to be left for me to figure out where they’ll fit.

I began Malcolm Gladwell’s Writing Masterclass this week. He’s an incredible storyteller, and demonstrates the imperfect narrative in his stories, as he meanders from one story to the next until, finally, he comes full circle to where he began only to leave the listener, or reader with an open-ending, for the listener, or reader, to figure out for themselves.

This is irritating but it’s what keeps people talking about the article long after they’ve finished reading it, trying to put the puzzle pieces together. Humans love puzzles because we have a need for things to fit just so, but life isn’t always a neat puzzle.

So the key to memorable writing is to write an incomplete puzzle, an imperfect narrative that draws people in and keeps them talking long after they’re done with it as they try to solve it and make it fit just so.