Finding the Idea

David Baldacci

Lesson time 12:50 min

You want to write—but how do you find your idea? David walks you through his daily practice of looking at the world through what he calls the “writer’s prism.”

David Baldacci
Teaches Mystery and Thriller Writing
In his MasterClass, bestselling thriller author David Baldacci teaches you how he fuses mystery and suspense to create pulse-pounding action.
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[MUSIC PLAYING] - Probably the question I get most of all, when I'm out on tour, and from writers, where do you get your ideas from? And the answer is not simple, but it can be made a little more simple by what I'm about to tell you. You have to-- writing isn't a job, or an occupation, or a hobby. It's a lifestyle. So for all of you out there, it has to be something you incorporate in your life as you go through your daily routine. I get ideas from waking up in the morning and walking out the door. And I look at the world through a writer's prism, as I call it. It's sort of cocked a little bit, and I see everything that everybody else sees, but when I look through and I look at the potential of what could be out there if I sort of add a little pixie dust-- fictional pixie dust to something. You can't just see what's out there in black and white. That's what everybody else does, and those people are not gonna be writing novels, or screenplays, or anything. They just see the world, and they forget it, and move on. Your job is to see the world and then realize the potential of what is out there every single day, every single minute of every single day. If you just look at the world, twist your prism a little bit, and think, if I combine a couple of elements of my imagination, I can make this scene of a plane flying over, and a truck passing by, and a guy looking out a window-- I can make that into a compelling story. All I need to do is connect the dots. You just have to see the world and feel the world in a way that is so visceral that 99.9% of the rest of the population are totally oblivious to. I'll give you a couple of real-life examples. I wrote a book years ago called "One Summer," and it was not a thriller, and it came about because my son was being confirmed in the Catholic church. And my wife said, get to the church early because we're gonna- it's gonna fill up. We get a lot of friends and family coming in. So I went there, and it was just me and the priest, who I'd known for a long time. And then he left and it was just me. And some personal things in my life-- my dad had died. My mom was probably gonna pass away pretty soon. My son-- my youngest-- was being confirmed. And you know, you have your own sense of mortality. At least when I go to mass, I sort of sense my own mortality coming at me. And I just sat there thinking about those things, and this idea for "One Summer" came, which is about a family drama. The guy, the husband is terminal. He's saying goodbye to his family. His wife's gonna be the remaining parent to care for the three kids. But as it turns out, the husband turns out to be the surviving parent, which is kind of the twist. I would never have written that story, never envisioned it, except I went to the church and kind of looked around my own inner experience, and at the church-- what it meant to me-- and through the writer's prism, this idea unspooled spool I was waiting for the mass to start. ...

Captivate your readers

David Baldacci has captivated readers across the world with gripping, suspense-fueled thrillers. Now the New York Times–bestselling author of 38 novels shares his techniques for crafting authentic characters, developing research-based plots, and navigating the world of publishing. Learn how to write a novel with red herrings, clues, and plot twists that will keep your readers turning the pages.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I have wanted to be a writer since I was in elementary school but have never finished a book. I feel more motivated to write now than I have with any other Masterclass teachers. I look forward to brainstorming and hope to finish my first novel.

Perseverance and loving the craft so much that even if you were never published you would still be a writer. I so appreciate this masterclass. I so appreciate David Baldacci giving me the value of no option of giving up!! "Follow the words" In addition to the research being so crucial. Makes so much sense. Thank you!!

A fantastic class from a a fantastic author. So much valuable information.

Thank you so much David Baldacci and Masterclass. This has been a fantastic learning curve for me. I can't thank you enough!


Freddie K.

Given plenty of structure to otherwise seemingly unconnected ideas for my plot. Good to know that we have 'permission' to wonder whether we have got what it takes. This particular project I'm dreaming up seems overwhelmingly large and I have no idea how it's going to turn out; almost as if I'm trying to solve the puzzles inherent in the plot in real time.


Very interesting. Good tools. I don't think writers have a problem with finding ideas (if you do, you probably shouldn't be a writer haha); however it is very interesting to know how a successful writer gets and organizes his.

Leonette M.

Excellent. He offered ways of generating ideas. I'm going to listen to his NPR interview.

Susan D.

I enjoyed listening how you develop your ideas. I love murder mysteries and I kid with people that I kill people on paper. I find it very interesting the different story lines that can be developed by just everyday events by watching people.

Joshua L.

This guy mentioned Gotham city and I never heard of him. I gotta read more freakin books!

Dev K.

One more comment--David Baldacci is a great teacher and he comes through as a man in love with his craft.

Mara D.

I absolutely love his style of teaching--he seems really passionate about teaching us what he knows, can't wait to learn more!

Liesl S.

I’m do not struggle to come up with ideas, plots and twists. Sometimes I think this is my downfall. I don’t follow through though because the ‘next idea’ won’t leave me alone. I’m all over the place! This lesson was still great and informative. and I am definitely downloading Evernote to attempt organising. I surprised myself with the ‘interest’ exercise... it gave birth to even more ideas! About to go out and do some ‘prism’ surveillance. ;)


Such a great lesson - David is so honest and upfront - clear and creative. I so much see, and appreciate, his genuine desire to help and the clever ideas he shares.

Lisa B.

I thought that is an impressive lesson. Actually, I have produced more information for myself than I had hoped for. I had more imput on interests which made it easier to pick new ideas and make new story lines. I recommend this lesson for writer's blocks.