Research, Part 1

Dan Brown

Lesson time 09:09 min

For Dan, research is one of the most important parts of his creative process. Learn how to use on-location research and subject-matter experts to bring specificity and authenticity to your writing.

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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For most writers, research is the very first thing you do. Research helps you decide what you're going to write about. Research is one of the most fun parts of writing a novel. You're learning. You're traveling. You're reading. But there are different kinds of research. There's research that you'll do to start your book to say, I wonder if this is what I really want to write about? And it's the kind of research where maybe you travel somewhere. Or maybe you read a bunch of books about a topic. And those are-- that's sort of exploratory. That's casting your line out and trying to find ideas. But that first step is really just to learn about the world. Let it inspire you, and let some of these questions start to percolate. Research, as a first step, will get you excited. It will give you ideas. And it will help you choose a world, which is really the first thing you need to do. Once you have an idea, you do a much different kind of research. Once you decide, I'm going to write about overpopulation, well, guess what? Then you're reading books on demographics, and population, and environment, and pollution, and bioengineering. Then you've sort of-- you've cast your line. You've pulled an idea. And now it's time to get serious. For the kind of thrillers I write personally, I will read history, and philosophy, and art, and conspiracy theory. When I wrote "Origin," I read four books that said, Darwin is wrong, and evolution isn't happening. To my taste, that's insanity. Of course, evolution is happening. But I read the other argument such that I could have characters make that argument to create that moral gray area. Then I sort of think, well, I'm going to need settings. In the case of "Origin," I said, well, I'm talking about the evolution of life. I'm talking about devout Catholicism, Spain. I just said, what a great setting-- very, very devout Catholic tradition but also modern art, advanced supercomputing. They have a very sort of advanced scientific thinking. And in that particular country, there is this conflict already between the very old and very new, modern thinking, ancient thinking. And I decided, Spain is going to be my world. That came out of research. That wasn't pulled out of nowhere. That is researching and deciding Spain's going to be my world. Once I make that decision. I say, where are these settings? Again, research-- what's amazing in Spain? I could set this in the middle of the desert in Spain-- not that interesting. Literally, I happen to have lived in Spain. So I know Spain well. But I might have pulled up, what are the top 10 things to see in Spain? It might be that simple as a point of departure. And maybe you don't know that the Guggenheim Museum is in Bilbao. Maybe you find that out researching your novel. And you say, are you kidding me? There is this amazing modern art museum. I could set a scene there. Boom, you're already moving. You're already saying, OK, I'm going to set a scene th...

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 went into this class with a vague idea for a novel but absolutely no idea how to start. I left with a vast toolkit to begin writing with confidence.

Dan Brown made this Masterclass very interesting, memorable, and exciting. I really enjoyed all of his 18 lessons, but I really appreciated lesson 10 "Building a Story from the Ground Up" where he takes you step-by-step into the crafting of the story. Thanks, Dan. Two-thumbs-up! Cheers, Chuck

Dan Brown gives some great tips about building day-to-day routines in taking your manuscript from idea phase to bookstore without losing momentum. Wonderfully practical!

Excellent! Dan Brown delivers advice so clearly and honestly it sparkles. Thank you!


Tina W.

What I learned from my own research has been corroborated by the Master. I used Google satellite to choose and area near Clarksburg, WV and set a town in a space between to mountains. My next project is to learn about Survivalists and Preppers. I read a book that included a lot about them. I became fascinated by their ideals and the lengths to which they go to in preparing for a holocaust. Using her novel and doing my own research I hope to find a map of preppers my characters can connect to.


I sometime use research as an excuse to delay writing... Not intentionally.

Alan K.

Very informative and common-sense. Dan uses layman language and examples to make the research. Thank you Mr. Brown!

Maja K.

Love these lessons. Does anyone know a visual software that can keep track of plot, scenes, characters and research and notes? Thank you :-)

Vickie R.

No one seems to want to answer any of my research questions? Very defensive and secretive about programs that went on during 1960s.

Vickie R.

I tried very politely to interview a German scientist from the 60s and he got VERY defensive and almost hung up the phone on me and then he tried turning my DAD vs me!!!!! Not a very nice man. Felt some kind of cover up was going on in my story from the 1960s Ultra Program and Monarch programs.

Marco P.

The moment when you realize that Dan Brown has the same accurate approach to story writing that Alan Moore has. I'm amazed.

John D M.

Research? ABSOLUTELY! Loved mine - learned so much more than I ever used in my first book, but 'the knowing' helped me feel relaxed and confident when delving into areas I had no previous knowledge of. In my second book 'my hero' has cause to visit his bank in Switzerland. This was intended to be a brief excursion - a means to an end, but having just Googled '10 most visited places in Switzerland', I'm wondering if this place shouldn't become central to the plot - SO MANY amazing venues!

Henry Irwin P.

I believe in order for me to be a successful writer it will depend on finding a productive way to do research combined with excellent outlining and planning. I find that Dan is very thorough and methodical. He is really helping me right now make sense of a lot of things on my mind. Thank you.

Donna S.

Lots of great information about doing research. It's definitely important to research and to talk to the experts. Then you can fill your novel with the specifics, the details.