From Dan Brown's MasterClass

The Anatomy of a Thriller

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.

Topics include: The Elements of Story • The Three C's • Pace, Promises, Suspense • First, Read Critically


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.

Topics include: The Elements of Story • The Three C's • Pace, Promises, Suspense • First, Read Critically

Dan Brown

Teaches Writing Thrillers

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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.

By far the best masterclass in the category of writing. Dan Brown's advice is straightforward, helpful, open, and practical.

An essential class for aspiring novelists--especially in the thriller genre!

I am a screenwriter and I watched this because a lot of what screenwriting is, is transposing books into scripts. I wanted to get the perspective of a novelist on their process so I can best honor that when asked to turn that story into a screenplay. So thank you for this Dan, I learned a ton!

This is fabulous, it has confirmed for me that I'm a writer and I love it. I am happy to say so many of the things I learnt here, I realised I'm already doing so this was conformation I'm on the right track. The rest is the icing on the cake. Thank you so much Dan Brown.


A fellow student

My question regarding to a Contract. At the first chapter is it be about a long term promise related to the end of the story? Or it can be about a more short term promise?


Love the intensity and the passion! My kind of Master Class host. Also, the content is great :-)

Valerie M.

Fyi for any admins monitoring the feedback -- the Chapter 2 PDF has a headache even after repeated refreshes. - - - - - - - - - - - This XML file does not appear to have any style information associated with it. The document tree is shown below. <Error> <Code>AccessDenied</Code> <Message>Request has expired</Message> <X-Amz-Expires>3600</X-Amz-Expires> <Expires>2019-03-27T18:46:53Z</Expires> <ServerTime>2019-03-27T19:28:04Z</ServerTime> <RequestId>5ADB9D4783005D81</RequestId> <HostId> ZVHKaSepAUbqo485jEg8i8oSknu4pNcVlwKeqKDiB8oBLlIh/RkAw3UHs8whl18VbRlj0JycU7I= </HostId> </Error>

Anke W.

I am totally fired up. The concepts that Mr. Brown promises in this chapter he will be teaching throughout the courses pretty exactly the ones I am struggling with most, so I really can't wait to learn more!

Liesl K.

In the class downloads I noticed that Dan Brown has 'Rebecca' as a top ten thriller of all time; I love Rebecca! It is my favorite book and I appreciate someone like Mr. Brown having it as a top ten.

Maya E.

I deeply appreciate this amazing opportunity for learning how to write a good thriller from my favorite author, Dan Brown. Thank you!

Christine L.

To fully understand these truths in writing, I am applying them to a short story I wrote first. It helps to learn and to grasp with a shorter piece of work. Then I will proceed to apply to novel in progress. One thing I've noticed, is that this course is like a thriller. I had to listen to all 19 lessons in one sitting because I couldn't put it down! Now, I can go through each lesson more slowly and apply. I'm having fun, but also seriously excited that I will be a better writer after this course.


Reading the first two chapters of Inferno sets my heart racing. Wanting to know more. Amazing class, awesome example.

Pat L.

Found the checklist very helpful, and tricks I will add to my bag of well... tricks, lol.

Michael S.

I'm so excited for this class! All that same ethereal advice of "show don't tell" and "write what you know" came at me along my path. Those pithy encouragements don't teach anything. Dan Brown's lesson plan looks stellar.