How to Write a Bestselling Page Turner: Learn from The Da Vinci Code Author Dan Brown’s New Masterclass

“Dan Brown vis­it­ed my Eng­lish class,” remem­bers the New York­er’s Joshua Roth­man. “It hap­pened in the spring of 1998,” five years before Brown hit the big­time with The Da Vin­ci Code, a thriller best known for its colos­sal sales num­bers. “None of us had heard of Brown, or of his book” — his debut nov­el, Dig­i­tal Fortress — “and we were annoy­ing, arty lit­tle snooty-snoots. Why would we want to talk with the author of a ‘tech­no-thriller’ about com­put­er hack­ers?” But the class’ atti­tude did­n’t stop Brown from shar­ing the writ­ing wis­dom he had to offer, deliv­ered in the form of such guide­lines (in Roth­man’s mem­o­ry) as “Set your sto­ry in an exot­ic loca­tion,” “Make your char­ac­ters inter­est­ing peo­ple with secrets,” “Have lots of plot twists,” and “End each chap­ter with a cliffhang­er.”

At the time, Roth­man did­n’t under­stand why Brown would come to his class to “give a bunch of arty high-school kids advice about how to write cheesy thrillers.” But now, as a pro­fes­sion­al writer him­self, Roth­man real­izes “why Brown’s advice was so prac­ti­cal,” and what it had to teach them about the prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions, even rig­ors, of “how to write for a liv­ing.”

Though he does­n’t men­tion any of his class­mates grow­ing up to become the kind of nov­el­ists Brown is, a great many oth­ers dream of such a writ­ing life, few of whom ever had the chance to ben­e­fit from a class­room vis­it by the man him­self. But they can now enroll in “Dan Brown Teach­es Writ­ing Thrillers,” a new course from online edu­ca­tion com­pa­ny Mas­ter­class whose trail­er you can watch above.

Any fan of Brown’s writ­ing — or the block­buster movies that have been made out of it — knows that, as far as exot­ic loca­tions, char­ac­ters with secrets, plot twists, and cliffhang­ers go, he has hard­ly aban­doned his prin­ci­ples. His Mas­ter­class cov­ers all of those aspects in depth and more besides, from “The Anato­my of a Thriller” to “Cre­at­ing Heroes and Vil­lains” to “Cre­at­ing Sus­pense” to “Pro­tect­ing Your Process.” Brown also devotes two sec­tions to research, which he once called in a Goodreads ques­tion-and-answer ses­sion “the most over­looked facet of writ­ing a suc­cess­ful page turn­er.” If any liv­ing writer knows how to come up with a suc­cess­ful page turn­er, Brown does, and unlike in his nov­els them­selves, he cer­tain­ly does­n’t seem inclined to bury the secret under lay­ers of his­to­ry, sym­bol­ism, con­spir­a­cy, and mur­der. You can enroll in Brown’s new thriller-writ­ing class (which runs $90) here. You can also pay $180 to get an annu­al pass to all of Mas­ter­class’ cours­es.

FYI: If you sign up for a Mas­ter­Class course by click­ing on the affil­i­ate links in this post, Open Cul­ture will receive a small fee that helps sup­port our oper­a­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1,600 Occult Books Now Dig­i­tized & Put Online, Thanks to the Rit­man Library and Da Vin­ci Code Author Dan Brown

Mal­colm Glad­well Teach­ing His First Online Course: A Mas­ter Class on How to Turn Big Ideas into Pow­er­ful Sto­ries

Mar­garet Atwood Offers a New Online Class on Cre­ative Writ­ing

Judy Blume Now Teach­ing an Online Course on Writ­ing

Stephen King’s 20 Rules for Writ­ers

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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