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Arts & Entertainment

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.

Engaging instructor. Great focus on a specific genre of writing. Great notes on process.

Enjoyed the way in which Dan Brown taught and the Ideas he imparted to use. I enjoyed the Promise part the most and started to make a list of the promises I intend to have in my books. Thanks

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.

I'm a first-time novelist, though experienced writer. I wish I had started out with Dan Brown's MasterClass versus all other featured here. His class had meat to it; the others were light on technique and substance. Every chapter was worth my time.


Abeer K.

Because my novel is not a thriller but a memoir, I wonder if my villain can have a moral dilemma that drives him to do the wrong thing for the right reason? This is all making so much sense to me now. I also love Dan's enthusiasm for writing. I am watchin all the lessons in one go.

Dale U.

Awesome lesson. I think I know now where my novel is hanging up. I need to spend more time developing my villain.

Tricia M.

My novel introduces the villain early, but identity isn’t disclosed until the end. I see now that I need to be less vague about his existence.


Great lesson with strong advice on how to create heroes and villains. The villain often does have it easy in stories, and in Dan's case with the villains he's created they all very much believe, maybe in their own 'warped' sense, that what they are doing is right. More importantly, he as readers can clearly sympathize with their respective moral conundrums - e.x. Silas in Da Vinci code, protecting the Illuminati secrets, Zobrist in Inferno in wanting to curb human overpopulation to save humanity from itself. It also makes you root for Robert Langdon all the more, when you realize he's taking the higher moral ground, but is even festered with his own doubts and has to struggle with what to do. I am enjoying Dan's lessons very much - they are very helpful in helping me craft my own characters and stories.

May B.

I love that Dan tells us to create a villain first. I know now why my novel isn't going anywhere. I was too busy creating my hero and when I got stuck, I didn't know why. I just didn't have any more story to tell anymore. Then I realize I don't have a villain...

Janice H.

I love Dan! I'm already enjoying this MasterClass series so much. Not only is he so knowledgable, but his genuine excitement for writing shines through every time he talks. I can't help but smile while I listen/watch his videos. Thank you, Dan!


Your hero MUST want to with no thought, kill you, if they ever meet you. That's how hard you need to make their lives...XD The Villain can be like a teacher's pet to you sometimes.

A fellow student

How cute is Dan when he talks about Cruella "She makes coats out of PUPPIES !" Brilliant lesson. I was not drawn to M. Brown's fiction because I am one of these people who side eyes band wagons because they feel they know better, but these masterclasses are blowing my mind. He really knows how to make a story interesting and riveting.

laura J.

His take on villains makes the air turn into a hurricane, wow! Villains can be so interesting, never thought about it in the terms he explained, "know who the bad guy is"


This helped me make a decision about my novel that I've been tossing about for a while now because I couldn't find the best way for my protagonist to learn her villain's name. Thank you!