MasterClass Review: Writing Thrillers with Dan Brown

Masterclass Writing Tips from Dan Brown

Summary of Dan Brown’s Masterclass:

“Dan Brown is the author of numerous notable novels, including The Da Vinci Code, which has become one of the bestselling novels of all time as well as the subject of intellectual debate among readers and scholars. Brown’s novels are published in 56 languages around the world with over 200 million copies in print.

In 2005, Brown was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by TIME Magazine, whose editors credited him with “keeping the publishing industry afloat; renewed interest in Leonardo da Vinci and early Christian history; spiking tourism to Paris and Rome; a growing membership in secret societies; the ire of Cardinals in Rome; eight books denying the claims of the novel and seven guides to read along with it; a flood of historical thrillers; and a major motion picture franchise.”

The son of a mathematics teacher and a church organist, Brown was raised on a prep school campus where he developed a fascination with the aradoxical interplay between science and religion. These themes eventually formed the backdrop for his books. He is a graduate of Amherst College and Phillips Exeter Academy, where he later returned to teach English before focusing his attention full time to writing. He lives in New England.

Brown’s latest novel, Origin, explores two of the fundamental questions of humankind: Where do we come from? Where are we going? (Excerpt from Dan Brown’s workbook, MasterClass

Our Review:

While we do not read a lot of thrillers (although Samantha has read most of the Robert Langdon books), we still found Dan Brown’s class really helpful. Even if you’re not writing a thriller, there were still a lot of tips and tricks that would be useful to any writer in any genre. Every book needs some sort of suspense to keep the reader engaged, and what better way to learn how than from one of the master’s himself.

Top Three Tips

Gold: The Three Cs

Dan Brown advises that you use the three Cs to create suspense: the contract (a promise you make to the reader about what will be delivered by the end of the book), the clock (time pressure to the character’s struggle to create higher stakes and more interest for the reader), and the crucible (the “box” that offers your characters no escape and forces them to act). The perfect formula for keeping you reader’s attention, no doubt. (Psst – don’t forget to make promises and keep them.)

“History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books-books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon?”

The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown

Silver: What Idea Should You Choose

All writers everywhere suffer from the same thing — an active imagination. More often than not, we are faced with the sometimes overwhelming decision of “what idea should I go with next?” dilemma. Have no fear, Dan Brown has a solution to our never-ending problem! Simply pretend the books are already published and write a marketing synopsis or book jacket copy for each one of your ideas. In doing so, you can get a better grasp of which of your ideas you most want to write.

“Authors, he thought. Even the sane ones are nuts.”

The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown

Bronze: Compress the Timeline

Everyone knows a good thriller has high stakes. Those high stakes usually come from something to do with time (a ticking bomb, an upcoming murder, impending doom, etc…). Even if you are not writing a thriller, a great way to build suspense and intrigue with your reader is to compress your timeline. Were you planning on your story taking place across a whole year? Try 6 months. Does your character have something they need to do to save someone? Give them 24 hours to do it.

““Fear cripples faster than any implement of war.”

Angels & Demons, Dan Brown

Top Quotes

Okay, so honestly, everything that came out of his mouth in this MasterClass could be considered a top quote, but since we can’t write down the whole thing, here’s some of our absolute favourite words from Dan Brown:

“Suspense is all about making promises. It’s about telling a reader, ‘I know something you don’t know. And I promise, if you turn the page, I’m going to tell you.’”

“No matter how good your idea is, or how fast you write, the sheer size of the project means you’re going to be doing this for a long time. Choose a
topic that you’re really excited about.”

“Create a worthy opponent. The villain will be the catalyst for everything.”

“As you move forward and start to populate your world with characters, choose characters that complement your hero, that have something else to bring.”

“Some of the most fun you’re going to have as a thriller writer is misdirecting your reader.”

Books We’ve Read by Dan Brown: 

The Da Vinci Code (Book Club It)

The Lost Symbol (Book Club It)

Inferno (Own It)

Origin (Own It)



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