Character Case Study: The Da Vinci Code

Dan Brown

Lesson time 06:20 min

Dan takes a detailed look at the characters from his best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code, to illustrate how different character types can be used to create suspense and propel the narrative.

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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The characters in "The Da Vinci Code" all serve a different purpose in the story. The story centers on a man, Robert Langdon, who is our hero. He's the one that we're following. He's trying to solve the mystery that we're trying to follow. He's our primary point of view. He is the spine, the heartbeat of the book. And when you write your thriller, you're going to have a character, maybe a couple of characters, who really define the point of view for the whole book. That's the person you're following. But guess what? They're going to meet a lot of other people. One of the key elements in a lot of thrillers is physical danger. And in "The Da Vinci Code," I wanted to put Langdon in physical danger. - He doesn't-- It ups the stakes. It's exciting for a school teacher in a foreign country to suddenly be in physical danger. It's something that we'd want to read about. And I needed to create a character who could do that. And in "The Da Vinci Code" that character became Silas. And you learn very, very quickly that he's very dangerous. He walks into the Louvre and he shoots the curator in cold blood. And that character becomes what I would refer to as the muscle. That's the person that Langdon needs to worry about being killed by. This isn't somebody who's saying you can't have what you want. This is somebody who's saying, yeah, if I see you, I'm gonna kill you. And that raises the stakes immediately. Of course, the character Silas, again, works in this moral gray area. He is somebody who is devout. There is a goodness in him. He sees the goodness in the church, the church that rescued him from an abusive childhood. And so you are sympathetic to him. And yet he's taken it too far. And so he becomes a villain. Sometimes you'll see that you really have two levels of villain. You have somebody who might be the muscle, the Silas character. But then behind the scenes, way in the background, is the puppet master, the all-powerful, faceless power broker who's moving the pieces. And part of the fun of many thrillers is figuring out who's the guy pulling the strings. Who's the person I really need to be afraid of? And when this villain, this Silas character, is finally dispatched, who's the Wizard of Oz? Who's the guy behind the curtain who's making it all happen? And that could be a tool that you use that enables you to create multiple levels of villains, multiple levels of manipulation of your plot. - Sang royal, it means royal blood. SIR LEIGH TEABING: When the legend speaks of the chalice that held the blood of Christ, it speaks, in fact, of the female womb that carried Jesus' royal bloodline. - But how could Christ have a bloodline unless-- - Mary was pregnant at the time of the crucifixion. - I was talking about the legend of the holy grail. And there's all kinds of conspiracy theory about the holy grail. I wanted to be able to present some of the crazier ideas in earnest, but not have it c...

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 liked the classes. Liked the enthusiasm with which he presented. His process isn't my process, but I learned a lot from it. My only disagreement is that it isn't as easy to get an agent as he suggests. There are other options that he didn't mention. Other than that, it was great.

Good advice, crisp lesson, clean structure and content, and very good contextualisation. Useful.

My favorite writing class thus far. Though I enjoyed them all and learned something from each instructor, I felt Dan Brown's class was more what I exp

I am now enthused and understand my process so much better. Although discouraged by the daunting timeline for writing a novel, I am committed to doing it and not abandoning it.


A fellow student

I like how he helps the reader know what he is supposed to believe or not to believe through another character.

Jacqueline B.

I have a master's degree in English, which I was certain qualified me to write a novel. Boy, was I mistaken. My fiancé—who’s data-driven and results-oriented— has sent me on a ‘find and retrieve’ mission to locate a mentor who can work with me one-on-one to make certain that my writing is focused and headed in the right direction so that I don't waste time wandering in the wilderness. Can you recommend an author who has actually published who might be willing to allow me to peer over their shoulder to see the process in action? I need to see another writer in action in order to understand how they apply the very abstract concepts involved in building a novel. I'd be happy to provide an excerpt of my work if that might help to connect me with the resources needed to complete this novel. If not, could you point me to someone who could? Thanks! Jacqueline Ballard


Oh, so glad he explained why he put the conspiracy theory in the mouth of a sub-character.


I like the way the film clips are intermingled with the lecture. This was a problem with some of the other classes. They featured clips, but they often went on too long featuring only the instructor. This is well done.

frederick P.

Dan is a great teacher! It takes skill to break this all down into short bursts of information and still have it educate the listener as to the development of characters.


Man, so good. And so glad I picked this class to watch next. They're all pretty good but some of them are freaking spectacular. Like this one.

Paul B.

When the Da Vinci Code came out, within viewing the first frames of the movie, I leaned over to my wife in the dark theater and pointed at Tom Hanks: “That is Joseph Campbell.” There was no doubt in my mind. I often use this story and the beginning of this movie when I lecture on Professor Campbell. In the last lecture I also mentioned the quote used in the equally wonderful book Origin.

Maros M.

It is unbelievable how much can Dan pull out from even the case study. I am absorbing like a sponge so much of completely utterly useful information how to sit down and start actually writing not thinking what should I do next. A big thank you.

Milad J.

Dan is a great teacher. You can tell he is really passionate about writing and teaching. A teacher who makes you passionate when you feel your creative juices disappearing is gold! More please, more in depth with Dan Brown. Take my money! :)

Donna S.

Another great lesson. He makes some excellent points, such as knowing what the purpose is of each character and that one of key elements of a thriller is danger. I also like his description of the types of characters such as the muscle, the puppet master and then there is always one in the background, the guy behind the curtain. And of course the story has to have the red herrings to misdirect the reader. I like the quote at the top of the lesson, "Some of the most fun you're going to have as a thriller writer is misdirecting your reader."