Exposition and Dialogue

Dan Brown

Lesson time 16:45 min

Learn how to craft exposition that appeals to your reader's senses and write dialogue that communicates essential information while simultaneously revealing character.

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 easiest ways to bring your exposition to life is to appeal to your reader's senses. Don't just tell them what it looks like. Tell them what it smells like, what it sounds like, what it feels like. If a character walks into a seedy bar, don't just tell them that it's dark and smoky. Tell them what's playing on the jukebox. Tell them about the grit under their feet as they walk across the floor, and they will immediately feel like they are there. Appeal to your reader's senses. That's the way that we as human beings experience the world. A great way to attack exposition is to reveal something through a character's eyes. Have your character look up and describe, internally, what they're seeing. Robert Langdon looked up, and this is what he saw. Now when you do that, you have to remember that the way human beings look at something is their eye travels. They don't sort of look there and then look there and look over there. Your writing should do the same thing. We should have the experience as a reader of looking up at the ceiling and seeing the fresco and following the columns down to the floor, and then looking at the floor and then noticing somebody coming in the room. That is the way a human being experiences a space. And your description should work the same way. It's subtle, but the effect is very powerful. And you will know, as a reader, immediately if somebody hasn't done that. You will have the experience of being almost disembodied, that you're suddenly looking there, then you're looking here, then you're looking here, and there's no continuity, and what happens is you get pulled out of the story. And you, as a writer, never want your reader to be pulled out of the story. You want the experience to be a human experience, a natural experience. So when you give exposition, give it the way a reader would experience it. When I was a young writer, I had a fantastic writing teacher who told me your writing should be transparent. The best writing is the writing that simply communicates, and that's an important thing to remember. You're not writing a book to show off how many words you know or what sort of crazy syntax you can use. You're writing to communicate. You're writing to tell a story. And so the prose that you create should, especially in the thriller genre, be transparent. Your reader should forget that he or she is even reading. So part of your job is to use language that is appropriate to the book that you're writing. It's okay to know a lot more words than you use in a novel. You're serving your reader. You're trying to create prose that is accessible, is transparent, and serves the story. It doesn't serve your reader to hit a word that is so obscure that they have to stop and look it up to know what you're talking about. It takes them out of the reading experience. Your job is to keep them in the reading experience for the entirety of your novel. There's a wonderful Hemingway quote about the importance ...

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.

I'm just fascinated by how well Dan breaks down the process, and explains how everything has a purpose and how it fits together. I've read several books on writing and they've been educational, but I believe this masterclass was better than every single one of them.

Dan Brown's teaching method is so easy to follow and his style of teaching in bullet points is good for note takers. Even though most of this class is geared towards book authors, as a young screenwriter I still found the class to be extremely useful. An easy 10/10, great class.

Good points about utilizing POV and narrative style

Absolutely brilliant! I watched it almost straight through, and will begin my second round now. Have gotten so much insight into my own book, my own ideas and am truly inspired. Thank you so much for this!


Rachel B.

I had to laugh out loud because I'm totally that reader that hits dialogue and think, "Now I'm getting somewhere!" Oh, again, as a reader, I'm curious how long until a chapter ends, and I flip through the pages to see what's coming, groaning as I realize, there's a super block of exposition! It's interesting that both Dan Brown and R.L. Stine relate writing to music. A few years ago, talking to Jonathan Maberry at a writer's conference, he said the exact same thing. He added that the way a manuscript looks should have a rhythm, too.


I liked the point on keeping characters in motion. I think I'll be looking at points in my novel where I can change how some of the dialogue is playing out to make it more interesting

John R.

Loved this chapter as it taught me so much. His explanations are clear, his definitions help frame understanding, and his examples from his own work drive home the valuable information he is sharing. Wow.


Wow! This class is amazing. I am on my second draft of my 4th novel and I think it will be the best one yet because of these amazing insights. Thank you so much!


Dialogue. My favorite subject in any writing course. Too bad writing good dialogue can't be taught.

Cynthia H.

Dialogue has always been one of the more difficult things for me to write. I'm talking all the time - but for some reason, I choke when I start to think in terms of writing this for characters. Your class on this really helps me to see this in new light. Keeping the characters moving in a run and talk - walk and talk fashion - is a great way to remember how to move things forward. This may explain why I like the show "Grey's Anatomy" so much, because the characters in the hospital setting are always typically moving, while they are in action - moving a gurney up the hall to surgery... etc... You have some great tips and advice. I really like your teaching style and feel that I'm making a lot of progress by taking your course. I was blown away when you were reading the two paragraphs out of "Origins". I haven't read that book yet - but now realize that I must! Thank you! Your course is truly outstanding! I really enjoy learning this - and hope to apply it in my own writing!

Shayne O.

Always good. Yes, important each character has their own voice to differentiate them without being bogged down with the 'she said', 'he said', but actually a writing style I will have to get used to. A terrific tip about interspersing the dialogue and the exposition.

John D M.

As Dan suggests, dialog is tremendously helpful in building character. Just write, "Eee, by gum, lad!" and your reader no doubt thinks this surely has to be a person from northern England, and expectations of look and manner begin to be imagined immediately.

Jacqueline K.

So pleased someone has actually explained to me which tense to use when doing a flashback. It's something I've never fully understood. I've done many of the writing Masterclass courses now and this is the first one that has really taught me something I didn't already know or was common sense. This is by far and away the best class and the workbook is so comprehensive and helpful. Love it.

Catherine M.

Ok, here's my assignment on dialogue. I chose the man-purse option because it's so darn funny. Comments welcome. I love criticism so please feel free to use a sharp knife. ------- “Are you kidding me?” she laughed out loud. “You have a man-purse?” “Hey,” he said, frowning. “This is a different shape. Women’s purses are kind of square. This one is rounder at the corners, more manly.” “Yup, looks like a regular old purse to me,” she said. She leaned over and touched the leather bag hanging from his shoulder. “Feels like one too. In fact, I might borrow it sometime.” He frowned again. “It’s not for women. Look. It has a much wider cotton strap in army green, pockets for my stuff, and tons of room inside for my IPad and other things. It’s the modern day briefcase.” She started to saunter away from him. “Ok, so then why not just carry a briefcase, which actually is manly?” “Because I don’t have enough stuff to put in a big briefcase. I don’t do paper. I don’t have a giant computer. I don’t even take my lunch to work. Besides nobody uses briefcases any more.” This louder because she was getting further away. She turned and looked back. “Well it’s very nice. You look quite…fetching with it on your shoulder like that.” She looked like she was trying not to laugh. He sighed and jogged a little faster to catch up. He was out of breath already. Guess it was time to start up that gym membership again. The little jiggle around his midsection was disconcerting too. When had that happened? Somewhere between starting a career and his umpteenth business lunch? “Fetching is not a word I’d use. I’m going for more of a ‘hey, I’m a go-getter with great management potential and a unique approach to solving problems. ‘ That’s it…I’m a problem solver.” “Sooooo…all that in just a man-purse?” “I really wish you’d stop calling it a man-purse. It’s a man-satchel. Actually, you know what? It sounds stupid to put “man” in front of it. In fact, putting “man” in front of anything sounds dumb. Man-splaining. Man-cave. Man-onesy. Man-purse. They all sound like ways of turning a man into a woman.” She smiled again, throwing her curtain of dark hair back with one hand and shading her eyes with the other hand. For some reason he found that small gesture incredibly exotic. He had caught up and they were walking through the grassy area toward a small pond. It was an idyllic suburb scene, complete with ducks and a boy launching a toy boat. “I think I’ll just throw the damn thing away and use my back pocket for everything like a real man.”