From Dan Brown's MasterClass

Choosing Locations

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

Topics include: Think of Location as a Character • Look to Location for Inspiration


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

Topics include: Think of Location as a Character • Look to Location for Inspiration

Dan Brown

Teaches Writing Thrillers

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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.


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

So effective to share his knowledge in the form of a thriller. Great information, great storytelling.

EXCELLENT class! Mr. Brown brings specific ideas, examples, failures and successes, and small asides and hints that truly inspired as well as informed me as I pick up my writing process once again. THANK YOU -- this class was the best!!!

Dan Browne's teachings has helped me write better. Dan has given me more confidence in writing. Thank You.

I will commit to my process. I will create because it's in me. I may even try to monitize it! :)


A fellow student

Enjoyed this one very much. I like that Dan gets down to specifics, can show why and how a strategy works.

Pat L.

This lesson really got me excited about the book I am currently working on because it made me feel that I am on the right track with the location I chose for my story!

Rich G.

I understand his point. Several sci-fi TV shows I've watched over the years put emphasis on the technology at the expense of the characters and result was me changing the channel.


This class is giving me lots of ideas. The location as another character does not resonate with me. I am more of a science buff than a history enthusiast. The isea of looking at other elements as characters is inspiring.

John D M.

Location is an element I had paid scant attention to in the past, but I can well see now how a setting can add colour to a scene.

Maktoum A.

I think he described one of his "signature" problem : Overwhelming descriptive information. I have not completed his last two books because I felt he was going in circles and over describing places and/or subjects. It was very clear in Angels and Demons movie and caused it to feel ... stale. However, he is a fantastic writer and a better teacher. Well, at least so far in my opinion.

A fellow student

So fascinating listening to Brown talking about the writing process of Origin. I got so invested in that book! Its settled then, I must go to Mars for location research!

Whitney W.

Very interesting. I tend to leave out descriptions of place altogether. These days I'm trying to get better at that.

Tyra M.

Locations are something I struggle with. I love Google street view, it's helped me a lot. One of my New Year's resolutions is to use local setting more. I've been told multiple times to place my stories in the US for marketing purposes. So I moved the location of The Family Man from British Columbia, Canada, (RCMP) to Portland, Oregon, USA, (FBI) In my novel I picked Oregon, because of the explosion of Tech Wealth that has moved in and corrupted the state and cities. I put my character in Portland because of an article about house prices climbing and tech money buying changes to entire areas. Do I upload my exercises here?


Okay, Dan Brown has won me over. As I have been working on my craft as a novelist I started to read some of his books. I was furious. This guy went on for pages about aspects of art that he thought was interesting (lots of page skipping here) and broke most of the guidelines I have read and tried to incorporate. Personally, I think as he has gotten so famous he has gotten lazy as a writer and his editors just give him a pass. Very frustrating for someone whose rejections are based on these same issues. However, having him here as a Masterclass teacher has been fantastic. I appreciate his style, his warmth and his obvious passion. He is a great role model and a great teacher.