The Anatomy of a Thriller

Dan Brown

Lesson time 10:30 min

Dan believes that all stories are comprised of the same elements. Learn the essential components that every compelling story needs, as well as Dan’s personal checklist for creating some of the most successful thrillers in history.

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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I was excited to learn as a young writer, as I started to put this together, talking to other writers, talking to great writing teachers, that there are elements that must be in a good story. Not just thrillers, all stories. We're gonna talk about thrillers here primarily, but all of this is relevant to a storyteller. Whether you're writing a memoir or a screenplay, this is about storytelling. And there are elements that all good stories have. If you look out at the highway, you will see countless kinds of cars. You'll see minivans and sports cars and tractors. They all have a different purpose, a different driver. They're serving their owners in different ways. But if you take all of these vehicles and you lift the hood, you are gonna see the exact same thing. You're gonna see the elements of an engine that make this car run. Now they may be crafted a little bit differently, put together differently, but they're all there. The same thing with stories that work. They all have the same elements. We're gonna talk a lot about what those elements are in this class. In broad strokes, you might have a world. You might have the sole dramatic question. You've got to have a hero. You've got to have a goal. Your hero has to have something he or she wants to accomplish. You have to have obstacles that make it impossible. You have to have a moment when the hero conquers the villain, when good conquers evil. These are all elements that you're going to find in stories that work. And we're gonna talk about them more in-depth in a little while. When I sit down to write a book, I think in terms of what I call the three Cs that I think could be very, very helpful to anyone who's sitting down and trying to outline and write a thriller. I call them the contract, the clock, and the crucible. The contract is that promise that you're making the reader, this idea that if you read this book, you will find out the following piece of information. Will the young attorney escape the corrupt law firm that hired him? Will Ahab catch the whale? These sorts of things. Will the jackal kill his target? You make a contract with the reader. And you don't break it. And no promise is small enough that you don't have to keep it. Every single promise you make to the reader, you need to keep. And I remember at the end of "Da Vinci Code," I think I had three or four days to finish the end of this book before it had to go to press. And we had a list of 17 unanswered promises, an actual list saying this is small, but you've made a promise to your reader. You have to answer it. And we went through and we found ways to give answers to every single question. And the reason people are gonna love your book is that when you make a promise, you're going to keep it. And people will begin to trust you as a writer. The crucible is just this idea of saying, don't let your characters run away. A crucible is something that holds things together and doesn't let them escape. If 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.

I decided to watch Dan's video lessons all the way through before printing off the written classes. Watching Dan teach was a real treat. He is such a good teacher. You can tell he wants you to succeed. I hope one day to invite Dan out to my beach front home here in the Northwest and share personally with him how his class helped me to create my hit thriller. I guess I better get to work...

The importance of keeping promises to the reader and the concept of alchemy. That the person reading the book should be changed by it in even a small way.

The best course on Masterclass.com. I watched all of the videos in one day and laughed at the final reveal because I've done the same thing!

If you are planning on writing a novel then the advice given by Dan is priceless.


Ronald H.

Dan provides a great roadmap for writing a book. Tips that took him a lifetime for him to learn

Dan U.

Great recommendations, (books-authors) great energy. I hope he gets to technique .


"Not subtle" - actually made us LOL. He seems a very clear thinker. This was good advice and I had to go back over a couple of sections because my mind wondered as I mentally applied his advice to the book I'm writing. I'll have to re-do that first chapter. So far so good. Fantastic house by the way.

Jack L.

Clear formula for including key elements for story structure and engineering.

A fellow student

Not really feeling a lot of these initial, "stories that work" points. No, you don't need a moment where good conquers evil. There's plenty of amazing stories where the opposite happens, or nothing at all, really. No Country For Old Men is an example. You don't need a hero, anti-heroes exist.

Isaac C.

Well, I really enjoy the style and the passion Dan Brown is putting when explaining the stuff. And it seems very helpful to me.

George B.

I'm listening to the talk and I keep getting a pop-up saying "The Workbook: Review Your Workbook. The class workbook for this lesson is especially helpful. Make sure to check out this lesson's assignment in your workbook. Download Lesson PDF." It keeps stopping the narrative, and I have to keep pressing continue. Let me be clear: I'll download the workbook when I feel like it, when I have the time, and when I'm NOT trying to pay attention to what the speaker is saying. Isn't THAT the selling point of this series? Not in grade school anymore, folks.


Storytelling is the reason I am taking this class. To apply these elements to the different varieties of storytelling.

Maher M.

I think its very obvious that Dan not only very well experienced genius, he is giving this lectures from the hart with full passion. Such way of delivering the information is very engaging.

Heidi S.

This is a great jumping off point, with a solid set of criteria for guidance. Nice!