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.

very valuable & also entertaining. i learned at least 10 new things (which is good because I've read a lot of writing books and have attended many classes)

Dan Brown gives a lot of good advice on how to write. I like the idea of always keeping the reader in suspense.

This masterclass was fantastic! I am very impressed with the way this was put together and presented! The information and techniques presented here are having a very positive impact on my work. Thank you!!

Brown is very forthcoming with details on his process. Great info on point of view and maintaining tension.


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.

Paul B.

I like how Dan says that you don't have to completely imitate life in words, but to give the reader just enough to get to the next point.

John D M.

Love the thought of building a little (or maybe a lot?) of 'sympathy for the devil'! (The adversary).

A fellow student

Really great content. I’m inspired to get started on my third book in my How To Sell A Lobster trilogy that has somehow morphed into a thriller. Dan has given me tons to work with. Thanks.