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Arts & Entertainment

Choosing Locations

Dan Brown

Lesson time 04:28 min

Learn how to use location to create interest, generate suspense, and build the structure of your book.

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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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Preview

When I sit down and write a book, I think of location as a character. I think that if I choose the right location, it's going to do a lot of the heavy lifting for me. I can write a conversation that takes place in a Denny's Restaurant. If I set that same conversation, and put it in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao in the shadow of a 30-foot tall black widow spider, suddenly, that conversation feels more interesting. The information itself may not literally be more interesting. But the effect on your reader is that this entire scene is more interesting. And I would encourage you, as you try to figure out where am I going to set my novels, what are the locations, choose places that excite you personally. And the fun thing about that is that you can go there, or you can go online and research the place. And so when you sit down to write the scene, there's some inherent enthusiasm about what you're writing. And that's going to come through to your reader. Location not only functions as a character in that it has a personality. It can function as the pillars of your structure, in that you can use location to start to frame your book. You say, I'm not really sure what the action is, but in the case of "Origin," for example, I know I want it to take place at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Casa Mila in Barcelona, Sagrada Familia, the Supercomputing Center. So I've picked these locations that I say, I know I want something to happen there. I don't know what it is yet. But I'm going to put them in an order that kind of makes sense. Maybe geographically, it makes more sense to move in this direction. Or maybe thematically, it makes more sense to move from the world of art toward the world of technology, the Supercomputing Center at the end. Location is going to be an enormous tool for you as a writer to build suspense, build interest, but also build the structure of your book. One other thing that location can do for you is it can inspire you. It can actually tell you, this is a plot point that you need. When I had researched Sagrada Familia, I'd been there three times. I had actually written a scene at the end of "Origin." The scene was done. And I went back a fourth time to sort of check something, and I found a stairwell-- a very steep, spiral staircase that I'd never seen. And a light went off, and I said, oh, no. Somebody has got to die in there. And the funny thing about that moment is, I'd been having trouble with the end of the book. I had too many secrets to tell, too many promises to keep. And the big finale at the Supercomputing Center was going to include the death of Luis Avila, who'd been tracking Langdon. It was too much for the end. And I said, you know what? I need to kill Avila earlier. I need to make that promise, tie up that loose end so I can move on, and focus on the ending, which was a little unusual. Usually the killer doesn't die quite that early in most stories. But I saw that stairwell, and I thou...


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.



Reviews

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

Dan Brown is an excellent teacher. I particularly liked his 3 Cs, and his advice about research.

I have learned that sticking to the work and having a process, even for creative work like writing, is key. I really liked Dan Brown's discussion style and content. Lots of great writing exercises provided in an approachable way.

Thoughtful advice on the art of storytelling and on the discipline of writing. Thanks for sharing your valuable experience, Mr. Brown.

Thank you Dan Brown. You gave me a lot of insights that I needed. I like how this lesson was tailored to writing thrillers but could also be applied to general novels.


Comments

A fellow student

He gave me so many ideas that I got a whopping headache!! Good job and now I've got work to do!

Laura

Oh Gosh! I love all the lessons but this one had spoilers in it and I hadn't read the book he used as an example yet. Oh, well. Dan Brown's books are so well written I don't care if I know some of the details and a little suspense is gone... There is plenty of suspense to go around!

Dale U.

My ultimate goal is to write a series of private eye novels set in Orlando, Florida. Dan's lesson is spot on as I have lived there in the past and plan on moving back. I am very familiar with the city but thanks to Dan's teachings I will not turn my books into a travel guide and keep my focus on the characters. Many thanks Dan.

Mike

What I love about Dan's novels is that his settings are indeed like characters in the stories. I have the travel bug to go to places like Rome (check), the Vatican (check), France, Washington, D.C., Florence, Venice, and Spain (all on the bucket list) thanks to his books. He strikes a perfect balance between describing the locales and their history, but keeping the action and plot of his stories moving forward, and this lesson gives you the tricks on how to do that. Being passionate about your setting, and then editing to make sure you don't overdo it, is a key part of the process. I have found in some of the classics, or even some bestsellers - I'll mention JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Tom Clancy's books - all great, successful stories that I enjoy - in places do tend to get carried away with the description of setting or features, and thus bog the reader down at times. Dan strikes a great balance in introducing his settings but also reminding us that his stories are really about Robert Langdon and his adventures.

Sarah R.

Wow this comes at the perfect time! Working on my sequel and struggling with the setting as it's much different than the first book's. This explains why I'm having the struggle. Thank you thank you, Dan Brown!

Enoch N.

This has been a really helpful lesson! It actually got me thinking that I need to change the location of my novel. Currently, it's in a futuristic megacity on the West Coast named Pacific City. it's a city that spans from Seattle to San Diego. But I really know nothing about the West Coast. I do, however, know about the East Coast. I am from New York. And so, I feel that I can change the locations and move it to the East Coast and New York City. And that will have a great impact on the story, especially because I am intimately familiar with it.

Gareth M.

Great - I love the idea of trying to bring out the character of a location. I've used Hadrian's Wall (UK) in a couple of my novels as it has such a sense of a past of facing threats out of the mist, being cold and lost and remote from civilisation but offering some sense of safety in the middle of all of that. Dan's helped me realise that the right string of locations not only add interest and excitement to a book but also help reinforce theme and atmosphere but you have to get all that across without turning it into a travelogue.

Sam

For my own novel, it takes place in a different world, so the places in it are made up. However, I've taken inspiration from the Rockies and a lot of the wilderness in British Columbia since that's the kind of environment my characters live in and travel through.

Brenda C.

Wonderful idea about searching for the top ten things to see in any given place. Location is a character.

Barbara R.

The Book Trail https://www.thebooktrail.com/ is an amazing and fun site! What a great resource.