Building a Story From the Ground Up

Dan Brown

Lesson time 21:33 min

From the initial idea to the final chapter, Dan walks you through his entire process for building a story, and provides a step-by-step guide to transforming your vision into a captivating thriller.

Dan Brown
Teaches Writing Thrillers
In his first-ever online class, best-selling author Dan Brown teaches you his step-by-step process for turning ideas into page-turning novels.
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One of the things that I thought might be very helpful in this class is to walk you through the process of creating a thriller from the ground up, creating the world, asking the questions, figuring out who the characters are, and just doing that together right here. I can't tell you what your idea should be, but I'm hoping to give you an idea of the process of turning an idea into a thriller. So the first thing we're going to do is to figure out what is the world in which we want to set this thriller? How about if we choose the world of winemaking, for example? I know nothing about the world of winemaking. I love wine. But I do know that the world is filled with a lot of ego, a lot of money, eccentric characters. There's a lot of possibilities in that world. So let's right now just choose winemaking. That's the world in which we're going to set this thriller. So now that we have a world, let's figure out what this question is. What's the moral gray area that we're going to be writing in? In the world of winemaking, it may be using pesticides that could hurt people. Maybe it's that you're promoting a product that's addictive. Another idea might be your moral obligation of how to use your land. Can you use your land however you want? What if that's hurting other people? If there is a river flowing through your property, can you use all of that water to water your vineyard, leaving nothing for the vineyard next door? Or is there a moral obligation, maybe even a legal obligation, to let some of that river flow on to your neighbor's? Doesn't sound like a thriller yet. Sounds kind of boring. But you've got an interesting world. You've got kind of a subtle gray area. Now let's try to turn it into a thriller. So we've got our world, and we've got this moral gray area. Let's come up with a hero. You're in the world of winemaking. An obvious hero would be a vintner, a winemaker. Let's create a hero who is a superb winemaker, maybe world renowned, one of the best winemakers. He has a little boutique vineyard. He's got vines that have come over from Europe three generations ago. His family has been making wine for a long time. And last year, tragically, his wife was driving the airport to pick up his parents, and on the way home they had a car accident. His parents are gone. His wife is gone. He's a widower. He has two kids that he needs to feed. So there's our hero. He's not really heroic until there's a lot of pressure applied to him. We need somebody to apply pressure. We need a villain. We need some extraordinary set of circumstances to apply pressure to this ordinary person. In comes the villain. In this case, why don't we make it some huge corporate agro business that has bought all the land just upstream from him. And maybe they've decided to take all the water in that stream and use it for their business. And all of a sudden you have a hero with two kids to feed who's running a vineyard. And he walks out, and one day ...

Craft page-turning suspense

Packed with secret symbols and high-stakes suspense, Dan Brown’s thrillers have sold more than 250 million copies and include one of the world’s best-selling novels, The Da Vinci Code. In his writing class, Dan unveils his step-by-step process for turning ideas into gripping narratives. Learn his methods for researching like a pro, crafting characters, and sustaining suspense all the way to a dramatic surprise ending.


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

I am close to the end of the first draft of my ninth novel. I know how it will end but I'm unhappy with some of it, especially the setup of the climax. I was worried this class would get me sidetracked, but I was hoping for the right tip. Dan's presentation is so logical, so clear. Just the right coaching at just the right time. Thank you.

Dan is an amazing teacher. He really connects with class and doesn't talk down to you. 10 out of 10

would have liked a bit more detail on his research process. overall, great course.

I have tools to help me create my process and get my writing project finished



The punishment fitting the crime is very powerful. I found Being John Malkovich so unsatisfying BECAUSE each character was punished in INVERSE proportion to what they had done during the film. I have a question about gender: as humans we shy away from punishing women for crimes. Is it actually possible to get away with proportionately punishing a female character in fiction?

Michael S.

Excellent walk through the process. This lesson, with its examples, really makes concrete all the advice that's circulating out there.

Mary W.

That is one of the best classes I have taken in the masterclass. Loved reading Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. I really hope I could write a book using some of these things. Fined words and great lessons!


Love this one. No. Wait. I loved the other one. But then there's that one before the other one I really liked, and then there's the one before that . . . Ok, fine. Time to tell the truth. They're all pretty amazing!!! Going to go finish writing my book now. :-) It's a love story with conflict. Great Scott! what love story doesn't have conflict? Oh. That's right. It's not the what, it's the how.

Alicja B.

I have chosen my world and established a grey area, now the process for building the story shall begin. Thank you for this excellent step-by-step guide. It does wonders!

Floren D.

One of the best lessons on writing a Novel that I've ever studied! Dan Brown is a true Novelist, a Master Craftsman.

Alan K.

Awesome lesson Mr. Brown! This is an encouragement to me personally. Love this lesson!

Fülöp B.

This was good! No, but seriously, Dan Brown is EVIL. I have always kind of laughed at the "writers are evil" crowd (a good part of which write themselves), until I've sat down to watch this video series. There is just thing about watching him planning out in great detail how to torture his main character just a little more and 1) being very effective at it and 2) having so much fun... Idk. Maybe I've read too much fantasy, but we really should be grateful that thriller writers are on our side. And that they don't have any power over the Real World.

Terry M.

Your story about the family's vineyard is excellent. It makes the writing concepts easier to understand.

Kjetill O.

It wasn't possible to download the pdf. Please send to ken.oftedal@gmail.com.