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Arts & Entertainment

Research, Part 2

Dan Brown

Lesson time 10:08 min

Dan goes deeper into his research process to show you how he uncovers the shocking connections between seemingly unrelated elements in his stories.

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 your jobs as a thriller writer is going to be making connections the reader doesn't see coming. That's part of the fun. When a reader says, oh, my god, that's why that happened, or that's related to that? You, of course, know all the answers when you're writing it. Your job is to hide it, and to reveal it in an exciting way. And you say, well, how do I find these connections? How do they magically appear? They don't magically appear. You do a lot of research. If you pick 100 pieces of information out at random, you have much greater possibility of finding two that are related than if you're lazy and pull out three pieces, and you say they're not related. You're right, they're not related, keep looking. This is-- it's a process of attrition. You-- if you pulled 200 facts out of the world, it is not difficult to make sure that a couple of them are connected. When I was researching "Origin," I knew that the world was science and religion. It was evolution. It was the interplay between science's version of where we came from and religion's view of where we came from. But I'd also set it in the world of modern art. I wanted Langdon to be a fish out of water, sort of exploring a world he hadn't explored before. And I thought, what artist could I use that tied into these themes of science and religion? Fortunately, William Blake is exactly that. His work is-- has a foot in both worlds. And I said, well, I have to use William Blake. He's perfect. I didn't know how I would use him. You don't need all the answers on day one. I just thought, William Blake's going to be perfect. He ties into the themes of this book. So without having all of the answers, I make a note to say, we're going to be looking at the art of William Blake. And that's really when you start the research process all over again. You dive into the works of William Blake, criticisms of his work, and you figure out, how can I use him? What little tidbit is-- am I gonna see? And it could be one line out of a 300-page book. And I don't want to pretend that I read a 300-page book on William Blake and know every word. I'm skimming. I'm looking for a diagram, just something to sort of go, wait a minute, I'm gonna find out about that. And that's what you can do, that you can sort of decide, I think this idea right here is going to work for me. And I don't know how. And then you research it. And through that research, you'll figure out, this is how it's gonna work. He wrote a poem about science and religion. Whoa, OK, hold on. "The dark religions are departed, and sweet science reigns?" Are you kidding me? That's perfect. The only way I found that is through research. And you put a big circle around it and you say, I'm gonna use that somehow. I still don't know how, but it's perfect. The harder you work at researching, the luckier you will get. The more work you do to gather information, the more fortunate you will be when you start looking for connections, when you...

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.

Thank you Dan Brown. You gave me a lot of insights that I needed. I like how this lesson was tailored to writing thrillers but could also be applied to general novels.

I had a thriller that I was working on and an issue I had going through the course helped me to get through. Now my process can handle the rest, but I enjoyed his prose, agreed to many things my experience already taught me.

I enjoyed this so much. Brown is a natural teacher. He gives so much great paint-by-number advice in such a short amount of time, it's gold. His enthusiasm, passion and compassion for the aspiring writer is evident in every lesson. Highly recommend.

Thrillers are not my genre, but Dan Brown is the real deal. He knows a lot, and he is a great teacher. Although I don't write thrillers, now I kinda want to. This class was incredibly helpful, even for non-thriller writers. Highly recommended.



Great lesson, Nice to hear Dan's advice about having some wiggle room in regards to creative license, which can be a stumbling block for myself and I'm other writers who always want to "get it right." Fiction allows you that wiggle room because your ultimate job is to tell an entertaining story to your reader, not to get all the nit-picky details right. That type of nit-picky writing is important for non-fiction, but not necessarily for fiction, where too much detail, exactness, and explanation bogs down the reader and muddles the pace, flow, and suspense of your story.

Dale U.

The most important thing about this lesson is that you must become something of a literary pack rat. Never throw anything out! What you discard now may serve you well in the future.


I really liked the point on having an 'Ideas for the Future' folder. Just because something doesn't work for one thing, doesn't mean it'll never work for anything.

Hero T.

I wanted to point out that in the download lesson guide, there is a link to a website The 5 Best Unbiased Fact-Checking Sites for Finding the Truth. The sources they list are BIASED sources. They are not unbiased fact-checking sites, i.e. Snopes. Just a word of caution. Foreign Policy journal, another mentioned resource, is famously left biased. Just FYI.

Michael S.

"You do not need to have total mastery of your subject matter to start a novel, only to finish it." -- One of the most encouraging things I've heard on this topic!

Norma D.

Out of all the masterclasses I've taken (6, I think) this one has been the best by far. I've learned so much and it was never boring. Thanks Dan Brown

Michael S.

Jack Lemmon used to tell a story, I believe it was about director Billy Wilder who would compare scenes with pearls. And sometimes he could have this perfect scene, like the most beautiful pearl in the world. But if that gorgeous pearl didn't fit the necklace, you have to leave it out. He couldn't use that perfect scene if it didn't serve the film. I like how Dan Brown reminded me of that.

Will C.

Lovin' the lessons. Wondered if anyone has any thoughts on moving historical events around to lubricate the plot. I'm writing a story set in the oil and gas industry of about ten years ago; to help the plot it would be very useful to shift some (real) old events forward and (real) newer events back! (most of the events are pretty unknown - quite specialist stuff, not talking international news here). Workbook says: "be fair when taking liberties with the nonfiction elements of your book and try to keep those elements as true a possible. Readers may already know the setting you’re describing and may recognize when you alter the real world in any way. If you must take creative license and change something, do it sparingly."

Jim C.

I love Dan's enthusiasm. I'm actually a screenwriter, but I tend to write mystery with puzzle-like elements, twists and turns, so Dan's class is really on the mark for me. I too spend a long time building my world before I write, which can make you feel like you're not moving forward at times, but you are. When you do finally begin to write, Dan's advise about leaving X's to fill-in later is excellent, should you hit a wall and stall. I think it's too easy for a writer to get stuck on a moment, rather than simply move forward and let the answer percolate and reveal itself. It usually does. Just keep writing. My research approach is not unlike what Dan suggests -

Kathy O.

The generosity of Dan Brown in this Masterclass feels unreal. How could I be so blessed as to come across a class that oozes over with so much information? It lends to all writing, not just thrillers, it’s also a guide into other facets of art. Ohhh thank you Dan Brown, I’m gonna reflect on this for a long time.