Creating Suspense, Part 2

Dan Brown

Lesson time 11:35 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.

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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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...

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.

Amazing. Too much thoughts a can't explain right now of much I'm grateful to this class and to you Dan Brown. Hope I will get a second time to express my opinion, right know I'm going to write what before I felt impossible. I wish you the best of luck in your work, even if we both know that luck or bad luck are trumped fairly easy by skill, goal and process.

I know I will need to watch this class again and again because it is so full of things I need to keep in mind as I tell stories. Well done Dan Brown!

WOW! Such a wonderful teacher! I loved it. Well worth your hard earned money.

So worthwhile! I asked my husband for this class as a birthday gift because I absolutely love Dan Brown's books and I wanted to learn from him. He's a personable and successful genius, and I'm going to try my heart out on a book using his method. He told me how.


Greg R.

Fantastic prompts to consider, the NaNoWriMo novel I'm planning to write in November has left me wondering "what do they do in all the travel time, nights etc. Condensing the timeline and having that sense urgency is the answer! It's great that he keeps saying "you might do it differently" and recognises that we shouldn't all mirror his style and should find our own way of writing.

A fellow student

Lots of wonderful ideas here. I enjoyed the way the rush on the chapter and time causes suspense. Loved the cutting chapters early with the resolution in the next chapter. Also, putting lines through the first two paragraphs of a chapter.

A fellow student

Sounds so simple (It is not), and probably saves you a zillion drafts! Thanks Dan! you´re great!

Tina W.

This was amazing. I went home last night and wrote 5 pages of introduction to the characters, and action. I remember my introduction to Deception Point (my favorite book) and looked at how many pages he took to get the daughter and her father introduced and set the initial problem. I still need to add setting and detail, but writing book that will have people turning pages is what I want to do. My first book did that and I never took this wonderful class.


Every writing class I have taken over the past two years mentions the writing in the series "Breaking Bad". It is worth the time.

A fellow student

I've been told my whole life is a cliffhanger! Almost every trip I go on out of the country something out of the ordinary occurs and I meet 007s and the strangest people. Austria, Germany, England, Israel, and the list goes on and on.....oh and I learned how to waterski in a lagoon in a Cancun lagoon in Club Med, which at the time I didn't know contained tons of crocodiles and alligators.

frederick P.

This lesson is especially good, with a lot of innovative suggestions on how to create suspense!

Fülöp B.

Cliffhangers are great. Another trick I remember an author I liked ages ago use were short chapters, because it is simply easier to read "just these four pages" than fourteen.

John D M.

Maybe this is one of the differences between 'suspense' and 'thriller'. I think it's legitimate to end a chapter with a real page-turned, and begin the next with a little light relief for the reader - a little breather, before you're off on the run again! But also LOVE this idea of ending the chapter JUST before a resolution and offer the answer in the next chapter. Thanks, Dan.

Deborah S.

I just sat and listened to you describe the exact point I had just reached in the DaVinci code. As long as I live, I will never forget this example of suspense. May I also add that besides being a great mentor, instructor and overall great human being, Your writing has opened part of my mind that had been previously cluttered with a brain fog that appears to be lifting each day. I am a very happy person. Thank you. More later.