Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Creating Suspense, Part 2

Dan Brown

Lesson time 11:34 min

Dan teaches you his strategies to pull your readers into your scenes and craft cliffhangers that will leave them on the edge of their seats.

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

Topics include: Start Scenes With a Sense of Urgency • Experiment With Different Kinds of Cliffhangers • Cliffhanger Case Study: The Da Vinci Code • Find Believable Reasons to Withhold Information • Use Flashbacks to Make Big Promises • Instill Sudden Suspense With "Pulses"


If I were to start a chapter with my heroine walking down the street, the birds are chirping, and she's thinking, "What a perfect day." OK, that's very nice, but there's no tension involved. If I were to open that same chapter with my heroine thinking, "If I don't make it to this meeting on time, I am dead," and she's bounding up a gritty staircase in an office building sweating in her Armani suit. All of a sudden, you have tension instantly. You ask yourself what's this meeting? Why is it so important? Is she going to make it? She's already in physical discomfort. She's sweating on her way to a meeting. Just very, very quickly, you've created a sense of suspense, a sense of discomfort. You've taken your reader and said somebody is in trouble, somebody needs something, and they're not sure they're going to get it. Whenever possible, start your chapters with a sense of urgency, with a sense of discomfort. I love to start chapters just with a question. "Oh my god, where are they?" OK, well, who knows what you're even talking about? But guess what? You have to read the next sentence. That's the difference. We often talk about getting into a chapter a little bit late. Sometimes a great exercise for you will be to write a chapter, then just put a line through the first two paragraphs such that you're starting in the middle of the action. You can take those descriptive paragraphs and pull them in after the action gets started. But what happens is that your reader is instantly vested in that chapter. They may get the description a little later, but by that time, it's too late. They're already into it. A lot of thriller writers, myself included, love the concept of the cliffhanger, the chapter or section that ends on a note where you just have no choice but to turn the page. There's nothing that I as a writer like to hear more than, "Oh my god, I'm so tired, Mr. Brown, because last night at 2:00 in the morning, I wanted to go to bed. And then I got to the end of chapter 73." And I think I know what's at the end of chapter 73, and I know you had to turn that page. That's a cliffhanger. This is right out of the old radio serials that were every week on Sunday afternoon. They'd have an adventure in a serial fashion, and it would end with the hero hanging off a cliff, his fingers growing tired, the the rocks below being pounded with surf. And you wonder will this person survive? Will the hero survive? Well, tune in next week. That kind of idea where you just have to tune in. Cliffhangers come in all sorts of different flavors. Sometimes you've answered a question, and it's a surprising answer, and somebody wants to get clarification. Sometimes you pose a question that your reader doesn't see coming, and he or she is eager to find out what the answer is going to be. Sometimes it's just a twist. You think you're going to get an answer, and you realize no, no, no, no. You've gone down an entirely different path here, and you're eager to fi...

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