From Dan Brown's MasterClass

Creating Suspense, Part 1

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.

Topics include: Use All the Tools in Your Toolkit • Building Suspense With Parallel Plotlines: Origin • Make Big Promises, and Make Them Early • Promises Case Study: Dan's Young Adult Prologue • Compress the Timeline


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.

Topics include: Use All the Tools in Your Toolkit • Building Suspense With Parallel Plotlines: Origin • Make Big Promises, and Make Them Early • Promises Case Study: Dan's Young Adult Prologue • Compress the Timeline

Dan Brown

Teaches Writing Thrillers

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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.

The value of having a process. Of trusting that you can finish and that you have to keep going when you get stuck in the middle.

Amazing. Didn't think anyone could top David Mamet. So much take-home info it's crazy! Fun ending!

Very good advice, Dan. I have to start keep practising.

I have been struggling to get back into my writing, and after taking most of these masterclass, I'm excited to develop my own writing process and try out what I have learned from all these great authors.


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!

Liesl K.

I'm going to go back to my novel and make a couple of tweaks; amazing advice!

Marco P.

"There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it" Hitchcock. This MasterClass sets really high standard to other professionals too, here on this site. I'm again astonished by Dan's competences.

Lawrence L.

I feel i am in suspense when i go to the next lesson, what am i going to learn next? I feel if i go into the area of writing, suspense is what i want to do, making age turners! Now to find that intriguing idea!

John D M.

Great advice. LOVE the idea of 'making promises' to your reader, dropping 'hidden secrets' to be revealed - later. Parallel plot lines that you 'promise' will come together 'somehow' and 'compressing time'. All creating compelling reading. Thanks Dan.

Sandra T.

While I was listening I was picturing my novel and how I can incorporate his advice. I’m definitely going to re-listen and take notes.

Brian M.

Mr. Brown, please reconsider the exemplary prologue as kindling for a novel. I hereby make the promise to buy a handful of copies. I already want to know more about Hanson D. Reed and why he kissed the wrong girl.

A fellow student

Great prolog example. I'm working on a sequel and I need a better prolog now. I'm taking notes on this amazing master class. Thanks.

Ananth P.

I understand why that prologue didn't get written as a book. The promises are more 'personal' than 'global'. 3 things happen: a train carrying a boy with an immensely valuable art piece plunges into a river, an explosion that causes this happens, and the boy had kissed a girl. That's it. The boy has no association to anything or anyone. Even the origin or destinations are not described. Or maybe this prologue was written for this course. Like how James Patterson did. Maybe, I will try rewriting this, just for experiment's sake. Maybe this: PROLOGUE The fast tempo of the iron wheels traversing the lengths of rails underneath it transferred through the wooden bench seats into me. It did nothing to alleviate my anxiety. Outside, dusk had come early to Paris and the suburbs, along with the dark clouds. The incessant torrent muffled the roar of the coal and steam engine. <Italics>I MUST REACH MY DESTINATION.<Italics> If not me, at least the invaluable piece of my cargo -- the second most valuable painting in the world -- should reach the destination. For my sake. For the sake of the world. For the sake of humanity. The heavy pellets of raindrops lashed on the window, and trailed an upward arc against gravity. Henri, a trusted associate of my father, was alone at the engine room. He knew the stakes. He wasn’t slowing down. God help us, god help the world. An instant before it happened, an eerie hollowness had gripped me, as if the universe were trying to telegraph a warning. I looked out the window. The engine was stepping off firm land onto the Garabit viaduct. The blood red steel girders of the bridge, wet and slimy, screamed the telegraphed warning in my mind. <Italics>STOP. STOP. <Italics> Soon, I could see the black frothing waters of the thick and angry Truyère River far beneath me. I prayed. I MUST REACH — Before I could complete my prayer, despair had crept into my soul, whispering into my mind. <Italics>Sixteen year old boys don’t die, but you are not sixteen are you? You are too young to die, but young, you are not, are you? You are as old as the world, are you not, my eternal master? <Italics>First I didn’t recognise the voice, but then, I did. A deafening clap of thunder shook the train. Or an explosion. <Italics>Surely, just a thunder, I think. What else can it be? GOD…<Italics> I realised I was hovering over my seat. Along with all of my belongings: bag, book trunk and the package. The package with the art piece. The painting. As if the earth had had its gravity switched off. Or maybe, God was saving me. No.., the coach was rolling onto one side, like a long, lazy eel trying to angle through a crevice. The coach’s windows were beneath me, through which I could see the angry, dark waters of Tyuère reaching out to me fast. Like a dragon preparing to devour the thief who stole its treasure. I heard myself scream, “I WILL GIVE THE PAINTING BACK!!!” But the river didn’t care. It didn’t matter how old I was or how much I wished I could live another day. The land would have the artwork again. I was merely a nuisance in its path. As the water touched the train, the coach bent out of shape in places, and I dropped onto the floor with great speed. My mind screamed, which was answered only by the despair inside me. <Italics>You are too young to die… or, are you…?<Italics> As the large mouth of the water gobbled me up, all I could wonder was how, I, Hanson D. Reed — my friends called me HDR — a timid freshman at Kensington High School, was dying today like this. They say, life becomes clearer moments before dying; the last I saw in my mind was the the passionate kiss from the strange girl in the library.