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Arts & Entertainment

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.

Dan Brown is an EXCELLENT instructor. This is the best masterclass on writing of all kinds - not just of thrillers - that I've experienced so far.

Excellent! I love how engaged and earnest Dan Brown is about imparting knowledge, inspiration, and encouragement. Thank you!

Fantastic. I will be watching this one again and again! Dan Brown is an inspiration.

Many practical points, tips and of course, the opportunity to listen to them from Dan Brown himself! I loved his Master Class.


Sheila S.

Fascinating to learn my favoite teen author Sideny Sheldon was Dan Brown's intro a thriller writer. I began a Novel course two years ago in college but I dropped out. I have an epic story to share so here I am ready to learn from a like thinking author. I am excited as time to birth my first book.

Patrick H.

A true eye-opener. This man is brilliant, loves what he does, and openly sharing his experience with us all. Thank you, Mr. Brown.

Travis M.

My question about the 'Contract' is how do you convey to the reader that something isn't a question promised to be answer, but something left to their imagination? How do you leave unanswered questions without making the reader feel cheated?


Enjoyed this beginning very much. In this short lesson, I've already taken away helpful information to format my working manuscript.

Braden S.

I really liked this lesson, the three C's are really helpful. The only part I might disagree with is, when he says that for a good story to work the hero must defeat the villain. I've read plenty of masterful stories where the villain wins. Also, I feel he describes the contract in a way that leaves no room for ambiguity, which can be a good thing in a story.

Roger M.

for me, ever writing short stories, this process of creating the cliff hanger was an eye opener.

Ayelet H.

So clear and straight forward, I love that there is a way to build trust and your integrity with the reader and all it takes is keeping the the promises you make. Thank you Dan

Dale U.

First time I have heard of the three C's. Now I have to see how they apply to my manuscript. Also the surroundings are awesome!

Susannah C.

Give the reader what they want in a way they don't see coming. That is such simple, brilliant advice.

Gary K.

Damn...this lesson is like the beginning of every good thriller I have ever read. Questions have been asked, promises have been made, and you have grabbed me and sucked me in.