Finding the Idea

Dan Brown

Lesson time 15:13 min

Dan teaches you how to mine the world around you for big ideas, how to choose the right topic for your book, and how to find the moral dilemma at the core of your story.

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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Whether you are a musician, a chef, a painter, or a writer, you need to create the symphony, the souffle, the painting or the novel that you personally like, the one that suits your taste. And then you just have to hope other people share your taste. You should never be chasing somebody else's taste. I write the book that I would want to read. Some people love what I do, some people hate what I do. But you stay the course as a writer, and you say, well, this is just my taste. And maybe you don't share my taste. Well, fortunately, the great thing about novels and thrillers, there are all kinds of different kinds. If you don't like mine, find somebody whose taste you like. The important thing for you, as a writer, is to write the thriller that you would want to read. And I promise you, if you like it, somebody will share your taste. I remember when I was a young writing student, and a teacher said, you've got to write what you know. And I remember thinking, I'm 16 years old. I don't know, I know junior high school. That's not very interesting. And I learned very, very quickly you've actually got to write what you want to know. Find what's interesting to you. Go out and research it. And your enthusiasm as you research this new material is going to help inspire you to do the hard work of writing a novel. It's also going to come through to your readers. If you're excited about this new information, it will come through in your writing. The best advice I can give any aspiring writer is to choose a topic, choose a world that you're excited about. Maybe you don't know about it today, but you might start learning about it tomorrow. And what that will do as you sort of step out of your comfort zone and say, well, I'm just-- I'm an accountant, I just sort of know numbers, but I've always been fascinated in underwater archeology, for example. Well, guess what? Go start watching documentaries on underwater archeology. Start reading books. Make a phone call and find somebody who does this for a living. Go visit, look at their gear, look at their photos. Get excited about their world. It's important to remember that thriller writers write about all sorts of different things. I wrote a book about the Arctic Circle and NASA politics and ice science. I didn't know anything about those topics before I started to write the book, but I was interested. I took a year, and I studied and I studied and I studied. And I learned about these topics. That's what you can do also. No matter what it is that you think you want to write about, you can write about it. Just go educate yourself. Especially now, in the age of the internet, you don't have to fly to the Taj Mahal to write a thriller about the Taj Mahal. The blueprints are online, thousands of photos are online, essays are online. You could probably just with searching the internet find somebody who's just been there. Give them a call. Educate yourself. Choose the topic that's gonna make yo...

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.

Incredible. I just watched the videos this first time around. I am going to start it again and take the next step, whether it's doing the assignments or building/structuring my novel outline. "My novel" - wow. I just said that. Thanks for helping me believe in myself.

Dan Brown's masterclass is fantastic, I believe I learned practical tools I needed to complete my novel.

I've never taken a writing class that had to do with thrillers particularly. Mr. Brown had invaluable information pertaining to the genre I'm writing. I wish I'd had access to this years ago. Thank you.

Inspirational. Writing 101 in a good way. Highly recommend this course.



The 'Think Like a Philosopher', bit is really helpful, and I like how you pointed out a novel isn't about having a 'big idea', it's about having 'big hows'.

Dan U.

He’s kind of like a synthesis of Bob Eubanks from the 70’s game show, THE DATING GAME, an imformecial extroadinaire and a professor that teaches writing at an Ivy League school. Pay attention......class.


Starting to really like this guy. Good solid advice that can be used immediately.

Ahmedh A.

Hi! I'm a 15-year-old aspiring writer who is looking to improve my writing skills and have turned to Master class to do so. I've just come up with an idea I am happy and would appreciate if someone would like to have a look at it and maybe suggest things that I can add to it. So here's my synopsis: Zachary Turner, a Cardiologist that takes deep pride in his work has lived to be very respected among the medical community. However, when his patient’s blood vessels suddenly collapse after surgery, they are left with a traumatic end. A sudden backlash from the community hits Turner hard and he flees from the face of medicine. Turner’s life takes a complete three-sixty when he flies to New York City where he is confronted with a horrifying truth - he has been inadvertently inserting an unknown synthetic toxin into the bloodstream of his patients. Devastated, he is determined to put everything back in place and find the origin of this medical catastrophe. But with the entire world against him, his intelligence is put to the toughest test of his life...

Tina W.

What if you find out the only thing on your birth certificate that's true is the gender? What if there are no missing children that match your description? What if you wake up in pain and hear your wife say "How do I reload this thing?" I get a lot of ideas from prompts. I wrote my first book after reading a story a fellow writer had written about his grandmother. I kept asking what happened to her? Why did the whole town turn against her? Why did they take her children from her? He didn't know, all he knew was the story his father told him. I asked if I could rewrite the incident my own way. I had the ending, now I had to write what lead up to it. I told it from the POV of the grandson researching what happened to grandma and why no one would talk about her. You can read the story on Amazon The Vanishing of Katherine Sullivan.

A fellow student

Great advice but the problem is I keep getting hacked and then everyone gets to read my hard work for free which is exactly what happened and I still don't know exactly which good "friend" or relative was behind stealing my private diaries. I do plan on working on second book which is all TRUE and a real thriller however I worry about getting hacked again. I might take dictation and let someone write for me since my right hand has been injured and it's painful now for me to write more than 10 pages a day. I honestly thought I had this wunderbar childhood and everything was great and people told me I was a "liar" and it wasn't that way at all? Did I have amnesia or something? I'm not a liar. If anything I'm too truthful. I do love writing but I never planned on writing a thriller in a million years.

Pravesh A.

Hi, Masterclass. I'm watching this class for the second time. But every time I close the browser and open it the next day, to continue the class where I had left it starts from the "Introduction". Not only for this but for all classes. Can you help me with this?

A fellow student

I was stuck on creating the story world and its characters without knowing where I was going. Now I have an idea.


Awesome advice and it all makes so much sense. I was hoping to use these classes as a guide for my first thriller, and this is exactly what I need to hear right now. Love that he talks about the importance of "how" over "what." Ideas (whats) are a dime a dozen. It's the story of how the what happens that's interesting--and accounts for most of the work of writing a book. I once read about an author (I believe it was Isaac Asimov) who was often contacted by people with great ideas that they would offer to share with him if he agreed to write the book and share the profits with them. Ha! He started telling these people that instead, he could give them an idea and they could write the book. He didn't have any takers. I write nonfiction and have experienced similar situations: people want to give me ideas for books, but I don't want to hear them. I have a million ideas of my own and limited time to develop them all. There's a saying about genius being 1 percent inspiration and 99 perspiration and I think the concept holds true for book writing as well: 1 percent what and 99 percent how. Get your idea--the best idea you can think of. Then buckle down and write the how, the story. That's the real work.

Gerald M.

This lesson reassured me that I've been doing a lot of things right. The three C's were especially helpful. As soon as I finished watching, I was able to go back to my novel to re-write and clarify a few things so that they better satisfied the "contract". I love posing questions and giving answers (sometimes with an appropriately long delay), so the contract is my favorite of the C's!