Creating Suspense, Part 1

Dan Brown

Lesson time 13:13 min

Using his novel, Origin, and exclusive content from a never-before-seen project, Dan explains how to use parallel plotlines and dramatic opening paragraphs to create suspense that will keep readers turning the pages.

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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One of the things that I thought might be very helpful in this class is to walk you through the process of creating a thriller from the ground up, creating the world, asking the questions, figuring out who the characters are, and just doing that together right here. I can't tell you what your idea should be, but I'm hoping to give you an idea of the process of turning an idea into a thriller. So the first thing we're going to do is to figure out what is the world in which we want to set this thriller? How about if we choose the world of winemaking, for example? I know nothing about the world of winemaking. I love wine. But I do know that the world is filled with a lot of ego, a lot of money, eccentric characters. There's a lot of possibilities in that world. So let's right now just choose winemaking. That's the world in which we're going to set this thriller. So now that we have a world, let's figure out what this question is. What's the moral gray area that we're going to be writing in? In the world of winemaking, it may be using pesticides that could hurt people. Maybe it's that you're promoting a product that's addictive. Another idea might be your moral obligation of how to use your land. Can you use your land however you want? What if that's hurting other people? If there is a river flowing through your property, can you use all of that water to water your vineyard, leaving nothing for the vineyard next door? Or is there a moral obligation, maybe even a legal obligation, to let some of that river flow on to your neighbor's? Doesn't sound like a thriller yet. Sounds kind of boring. But you've got an interesting world. You've got kind of a subtle gray area. Now let's try to turn it into a thriller. So we've got our world, and we've got this moral gray area. Let's come up with a hero. You're in the world of winemaking. An obvious hero would be a vintner, a winemaker. Let's create a hero who is a superb winemaker, maybe world renowned, one of the best winemakers. He has a little boutique vineyard. He's got vines that have come over from Europe three generations ago. His family has been making wine for a long time. And last year, tragically, his wife was driving the airport to pick up his parents, and on the way home they had a car accident. His parents are gone. His wife is gone. He's a widower. He has two kids that he needs to feed. So there's our hero. He's not really heroic until there's a lot of pressure applied to him. We need somebody to apply pressure. We need a villain. We need some extraordinary set of circumstances to apply pressure to this ordinary person. In comes the villain. In this case, why don't we make it some huge corporate agro business that has bought all the land just upstream from him. And maybe they've decided to take all the water in that stream and use it for their business. And all of a sudden you have a hero with two kids to feed who's running a vineyard. And he walks out, and one day ...

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.

Commit to the process, write the story you would read, make promises and keep them.

Definitely worth the money just for this class alone. Truly a great class. Thank you so much!

This class has so much replay value, you'll get your money's worth. Love or hate his books, this man knows how to build a story.

Learned so much! I'm inspired and excited to finish my novel, polish it up, and write another one. : )


A fellow student

I wonder what Dan Brown's take is on split-narratives. My initial concept included two characters who become companions through their teaming up to stop a criminal. They are from different backgrounds but have to tackle the same problem for slightly different reasons (personally and professionally). Should one be relegated to a supporting "companion" character, or can a thriller work with two parallel narratives?


These videos are making my mind crazy with ideas and thoughts. I think this is one of my favorite classes--I always look forward to the next lesson

Brenda C.

Lots of good ideas here. Makes me wish I could set my timeline faster--but because one of my primary characters is at three month FBI academy, I can't.

Erik G.

I learn a lot listening to these. Brown obviously writes well, and in these videos, he also speaks very well.

Rebecca P.

Every time I listen to one of his lessons my story changes (obviously, for the better). Very thought-provoking and informative. I am loving every minute!

Alicja B.

Very helpful guidelines. I've already made amendments to my work following your tips and suddenly inspiration came and I can't wait to introduce all the ideas that are bombing me every minute. Writing is a great adventure to me.

Tammy H.

Very detailed, thorough and thought provoking. Full of great information. Like taking a college course, loads of resources throughout this series. I just wished I had more time and less interuptions. I have enjoyed taking the class at my own pace and highly recommend Dan Brown's class as well as all of his novels.

Denise K.

Couldn't download this pdf - it's a great chapter. I just get to some weird website but the download doesn't happen. Too bad - loving this

William E.

Fine. I could not complete Lesson 6, tape would not "unload'", and the Workbook for Lesson 7 was "not available." That is incredibly annoying.


Man, this whole course is SO good--maybe the best-kept secret for writers on the internet! I have eleven books on my plate right now (all nonfiction) and I want to put them all aside and write a dang fiction thriller. I'm keeping notes and starting the book in my head ... maybe by next spring I can start writing it. Thanks, Dan!