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Arts & Entertainment

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.

It is amazing to learn that the self-doubt I experience are actually common. Most popular writers aren't just filled to the brim with self-confidence; they struggle too. Love that. Dan Brown's advice has helped me make significant changes to the novel I'm working on and I'm really grateful that he was willing to just put it all out there. Thank you!

Yes, this was an excellent class. It answered a lot of the question I had about writing a book. It was inspiring and Dan Brown was interesting to listen to through out the class. He has a lot of good things to say.

Trust the structure of the story to develop your characters.

I have learned some general and amazing strategies about how to write thrillers. Dan is very articulate, engaging, and interesting in the way he imparts his wisdom. The course was well worth the cost. Thank you, Dan.


Sogand S.

This is the most amazing lesson! Absolutely over the top! Of all the many writing book’s I’ve read, so many lesson I’ve taken, this, is the absolute best of all! Thank you!

A fellow student

When does the contract need to happen? I'd like it to be past the midpoint.


I love this masterclass, thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. But what is really pissing me off since some lessons is his repetive suggestino to "PUT AN ATTRACTIVE FEMALE CHARAKTER" as the secondary hero. Come on, Mr. Brown, put down your gender clichés.

Sheila S.

I think listening to this a few times will really help me become more clear on how to take my readers on a journey.

A fellow student

What a fantastic educator. Thank you for understanding the exact position a new writer is in, and using pedagogy that is useful to us. So much appreciation.

Nicholas O.

Incredibly helpful to be taken through this example! Watched this lesson several times! Excellent lesson!

Fernando P.

Fantastic Lesson! I'm not currently writing a thriller but utilizing these story elements can make any story genre much more engaging. If you're writing comedy, romance or a drama... why not add a captivating thriller element alongside that story to hook your readers more?


This was so helpful and by far the best lesson that has resonated with me. Good Stuff!

Dale U.

Awesome lesson. I also think that writing the ending first is a sound idea.

Veronique R.

Such a structured, fascinating lesson! The use of a concrete example make it so easy to understand each stage of the process.