Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Creating Heroes and Villains

Dan Brown

Lesson time 12:51 min

Dan teaches his techniques for crafting heroes that your readers will connect with on a human level. Then, learn how to create complex villains who function as catalysts for action and conflict.

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

Topics include: Choose a Hero That is Suited to Your World • Start With Your Villain • Give Villains Relatable Motivations • Introduce Villains With a Bang • Give Your Heroes Flaws to Make Them Human • Put Yourself Into Your Heroes • Create Stakes That Matter to Your Hero • You Can Be Easy on Your Villain, Not Your Hero


So you've created your world, and you have this fundamental question. It's time to populate this world with characters. That's an incredibly fun process to decide, who are the people I'm going to spend the next couple years with? They better be pretty interesting people. You might think that the characters in thrillers have to be different than the characters, say, in a classic novel, or a more literary piece of fiction. They really don't. Thrillers can be made out of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. One thing that you absolutely have to do is you have to choose a hero that's suited to the world. If you've chosen the world of underwater archeology, for example, my guess is you're hero is not an accountant. He's probably a diver, or an archeologist, or a scientist of some sort, or an historian who thinks that they found Atlantis. Whatever it is, it's somebody who's suited to that world. If you're writing a book that takes place in an intelligence agency, your hero should be someone who has a familiarity and an expertise in spycraft, or in analysis, or in global politics. You wouldn't want to take a baker and put him in an intelligence agency. He doesn't have a take. You want somebody who's perspective and world experience serves that world. When we're talking about populating a world with characters, I would argue you might want to write your villain first, because your villain is the one who's going to define your hero. Nobody is heroic until they have to come up against an obstacle, because it is the hardship, the obstacles, and the challenges, that make him or her heroic. A college professor is not heroic necessarily until he has to save the Vatican from an anti-matter bomb. It is the challenge that makes him superhuman and heroic. So a lot of the way that you define a hero is through the villain. It's the pressure that's applied to the hero that creates his or her character. And that should be very, very helpful to you to, say, well, how do I make somebody heroic? Well, guess what. Create a worthy opponent. The villain is the one who will be the catalyst for everything. And so it might be very, very helpful to think in terms of creating your villain first. You've got your world. Who is it? And what does he or she want that's going to make it impossible for another character to achieve their goal? Villains are always more interesting when they function in a moral gray area. In "Inferno," Zobrist, yes, he created a virus that's going to infect a lot of people, but he did so to save the world. So he's a much more interesting character, much more dynamic, shades of gray. So when you create your villain, think in terms of a villain who maybe is doing the wrong things for the right reason. That will make your job easier, because there's an instantaneous interest factor, a moral question that your reader will just perceive instantly. It also makes it more believable, because you know what? We all do the wr...

About the Instructor

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.

Featured MasterClass Instructor

Dan Brown

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.

Explore the Class
Sign Up