Universal Character Tools

Dan Brown

Lesson time 16:25 min

Dan shares valuable tips for developing authentic secondary characters, and teaches you how to strategically design relationships between characters to maximize conflict and drive plot.

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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Once you've kind of decided who your hero is going to be, what are his or her qualities, what are the obstacles they are gonna face, in a very general sense, you're gonna need to start populating this world with secondary characters. One thing you're gonna see over and over in not just thrillers, but all novels, is your hero is going to have some sort of traveling partner, some sort of mentor, some sort of friend with which they navigate this labyrinth that you're setting up. Oftentimes, you'll discover that this traveling partner has a skill set that's very, very different from your hero. This way, you have more choices as an author. Langdon may know a lot about art, but I'm gonna pair him with somebody who knows a lot about biochemistry. Because guess what? They're in a world of viruses. If I paired him with maybe a Princeton professor of symbology, not that interesting. You just would get dialogue of agreement. Nobody's really serving the story. So as you move forward and start to populate your world with characters, choose characters that complement your hero, that have something else to bring. Now, if you've read my books, you know that Langdon, very fortunately, seems to end up with a very attractive woman who has the exact skill set that's gonna be helpful to him. This is part of suspending disbelief. The chance of that happening? Zero. But we're having some fun here. We're writing thrillers. Langdon meets a beautiful cryptologist in "The Da Vinci Code." He meets the queen consort of Spain, who has access to all sorts of things in Spain. These are skill sets and qualities that are going to help him. The other great thing of introducing someone with whom your hero might become romantically involved, instant tension. Whether or not it comes to fruition, your reader through the whole story will say, I wonder if they're gonna get together. They seem to sort of like each other. Instant tension. And you have to do nothing. It's one of the tools that you can use to help yourself instill your narrative with tension with literally no effort. You've just introduced the right kind of character. One of the common misperceptions I find about writing novels is that you need to know every single thing about every character before you can even start. I realize some people may do that, and it's helpful. I find that it's too much information. It's overwhelming to have to write 20 biographies of 20 characters before you start. The process of creating characters is a natural outgrowth of plot. You don't decide, here are 10 characters, I have to figure out what they do, you decide, here's the plot and, at any given moment, what character do I need to appear to facilitate this plot moving forward? In "The Da Vinci Code," I needed somebody to trap Langdon in the Louvre. So I created Bezu Fache. It's not that I thought, I want to write a character that's the police chief, and what can he do. So as you're putting together your novels...

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'm just fascinated by how well Dan breaks down the process, and explains how everything has a purpose and how it fits together. I've read several books on writing and they've been educational, but I believe this masterclass was better than every single one of them.

Dan is an exceptionally gifted teacher. He leaves no stone unturned as he reveals all aspects of his craft with such clarity and insight. If you only ever watched one series or took one class on writing, this would be the one I'd recommend. By far the best of the masterclass series thus far. Thank you Dan for your generosity, insight and compassion, you are truly a masterful teacher.

Everything! I have an unlimited subscription and even if Dan Brown was the only instructor included in that subscription, I would have gotten my money's worth. I still can't get over how much I learned. Dan Brown gave away the farm and I'm forever grateful!

This is perfect. I would change nothing. I have been studying writing for a long time and he finally gave me the info I'd been searching for. I have everything now I need to write my novel.


A fellow student

He so relates to how I write. I have only begun my journey and have only published one book— but everything he said in this lesson sang volumes to my style of writing. I love how the characters do want to join 'the party' as I always say, because they do show up and want to be part of the action. Thank you Dan. So far, I am EXCITED about how you teach, what you teach, and most of all, how you deliver substance! Excellent job! Cate Muegge/ www.catemuegge.com

A fellow student

Love the idea of: what character do I need to appear in order to advance the plot.

A fellow student

Int think the idea of promises and promised kept has helped my perspective on plots

Aaron J.

I actually like the class. Guy knows who he is. It's an oddly useful class, though I can't read his horrid books.

Michael S.

Really interesting take on creating characters that goes against some other advice I'd received, which was to create interesting characters, throw them into a milieu, and see what happens. On the other hand, knowing what each character wants goes right along with Vonnegut who said (more or less) "Every character wants something, even if it's just a ham sandwich."


My secondary characters seem to pop up on their own. They do serve the story.


Would internal monologue mean that the writing point of view is third person limited omniscient?

A fellow student

There seems to be something wrong with the pdf download for Chapter 6. I keep getting an error message when I try to download or open it, whereas I was able to do both for all previous chapters. Any help appreciated! Thanks, Sara Pascoe dontpascoe@gmail.com


I get an error message for this PDF download. Is it missing or just non-existent?

Pat L.

I've said this in previous comments-- I am not rotely giving 5 stars for these lesson. Am genuinely finding all the information useful, and in particular DBs approach to maximizing conflict.