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.
Get All-Access


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.

The class was absolutely enlightening! Not only in the learning process, but also in the confirmation of do's and dont's of what I was already doing.

I liked the classes. Liked the enthusiasm with which he presented. His process isn't my process, but I learned a lot from it. My only disagreement is that it isn't as easy to get an agent as he suggests. There are other options that he didn't mention. Other than that, it was great.

Dan Brown was so easy to listen to and understand. I have arrived somewhat late to the career of writing and am completely self taught. Having just written my first adult novel and first short children's book, it was reassuring to know that I got some things right and helpful to know where I can improve. Dan was inspiring in a down to earth way.

Excelent class. Straight foward. Generously honest. Made a great difference in the way I think about thrillers now.


Farhad S.

Great advice, and inspired me to set certain scenes in a) a museum, and b) a library. As I am unable to visit the sites physically (at least in next few months), virtual online tours are helping me along. Plus both my locations are fictional fantasy settings anyway, so it's more about the inspiration than the accuracy.


Really good points throughout. For my current manuscript, I had to do some research on the Rockies here in Canada. I went into British Columbia, got some information about them and applied it to my story. I also researched different plants and animals that are native to the area, since both play important roles in my novel. And it was through this research a lot of my ideas came to me.

shirin K.

Both your tutorials on research are so very informative and thought-provoking, Dan, thank you. You truly deliver a Masterclass. I have a question - What would you advise please in the case of historical fiction where settings no longer exist, how does a writer go about developing a good feel of locations/ atmosphere when visiting such places is not an option? Thank you in advance for your kind input if you see my question and are able to make some time to share your expertise - I would be most grateful. Regards, shirin

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.