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.

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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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...

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.

Dan was incredibly helpful with his process and realistic expectations for writing. I feel like I'm able to create tension much more easily now.

This was so inspiring and such an authentic and one-on-one kind of interaction. It really got me excited about my own process and the way forward. Thank you Dan Brown!

Most helpful from all Masterclasses, thank you.

This masterclass was very inspiring in the way such classes can be. Listening to professionals is always helpful, maybe in all these lessons there will be just one tip or advice to be taken but that'll be enough to improve my writing process. I would strongly recommend this masterclass to everyone interested in writing, be that professional or even as an amateur


Mischa E.

My story is told from the eyes of arguably the villain- this is only because it's a case of doing the wrong thing for the right reason. He had a horrible childhood and just wants to protect his blind daughter by trying to hunt down the people who caused him so much grief in the past. This lesson has really helped, thanks!

Maxximillian D.

My villain nutshell: Who is she? What does she want that if she gets it, the protagonist won’t be able to live in peace. What a great GREAT way to test our characters, not only our villains! And we can test it scene by scene.

Michael S.

I really enjoyed contemplating this checklist of things to consider when creating characters. It's also given me a lens through which to look at my favorite characters from books I've read.

Tina W.

I was struggling with my main characters. One of the key things I got was to don't go easy on the Hero/heroine. No deus ex machina on their behalf. Adding good attributes to the villain and giving them a real reason for what their doing. My villain is a Gov agent (I'm still doing research to find her a home) sent to recover an ex-pat who has been regaining his memory. One the government wants suppressed. She knows it's important to bring him in. If he begins to tell anyone about what he remembers it would be detrimental to national security. He's missing. Where is he's, who is helping him and where is he going? I think this class has helped me define more about what I'm going to write about.

Umi G.

Great class! Unfortunately, I've watched the video, but it doesn't show up as completed on my account. Is there a way to fix that?


"The villian defines the hero. That pressure creates his or her character." Good stuff.


Absolutely awesome! I'm writing my 10th book and this has just given me so much depth. Wow...

Jenny W.

I have a feeling Dan always wanted to be an underwater archaeologist. It's his favourite example. :D No, but honestly. This is a really great course and a very helpful lesson. Unfortunately I can't download the PDF.

Cynthia H.

I really liked your lesson on writing the location as a "character". I never saw a place to write in regards to that class. Writing the Villain first -- this is a really good idea. I also now see the hero in a much different light now - after you explained that the villain helps to define the hero. Great lesson. This is a new way to view the hero's journey - and to see stories more clearly. Thank you for this insight!

Roberto L G.

It's a pleasure to listen to your lessons. Clear, simple, effective lessons full of invaluable information. Thank you DB