Masterclass Review: Dan Brown on Writing Thrillers

Another excellent Masterclass instructor. I would say the best so far, but I think that I am going to say that a lot with MasterClass. I signed up in November with the intention of just doing this for a year, but I often say to Steve when we finish a class, “You know, these are excellent. We should re-subscribe when the year is up.” One reason for my enthusiasm is that they keep adding classes that look amazing and so far I’ve liked all the instructors.

Most of Dan Brown’s class is about writing in general, rather than just writing thrillers, so it was quite useful from my perspective. He covers everything about writing from the idea to the finished product to how to live as a writer. It’s really something.

Like all MasterClass offerings, the production values are ridiculously good.  Dan Brown is comfortable in front of the camera, perhaps the result of countless interviews. He is orderly and intelligent in the topics he covers and warm in his delivery. He is so far my favorite instructor, but I keep saying that, so I don’t know whether you can trust me. On the other hand, Steve also thought he was the best so far.

Dan Brown seems to exist closer to being a discovery writer than he is a planner. Though he spends a bit of time doing research ahead. This might be a good model for me. He seems to do brief chapter outlines as he is writing the chapter but not an entire outline ahead. He starts with settings he wants to use and some basic characters: a villain and a hero. Then he goes from there.

One thing I hadn’t seen before is his approach to philosophy. He looks for the moral or ethical dilemma for the world he wants to describe and keeps that in mind as he writes. So he is essentially starting with a version of theme and setting first so that he can find the conflicts as he goes.

There are 19 lessons in this course for a total of almost four hours of content. A 63-page pdf with summaries of the points discussed and exercises accompanies the course. It is well-done and has some utility, but the discussions provided by Dan Brown are so much richer in the videos that I will probably go back to those. Though I plan to use the pdf and exercises to help me think about settings and histories for my time travel novel.

All of the courses have an intereactive community and Dan Brown’s is no exception. These are run by the MasterClass staff and give one an opportunity to share exercises, discuss issues, and so forth. They are well-managed and run, forming a built-in writing group around the class. I have not been all that interested in them personally since I have a very rich group of people around me who are writers. But if you want that, it is there and it looks pretty good.

Should you take this class? Yes. Definitely. It’s an excellent discussion of how to write a suspenseful novel, which is to say, how to write a novel that will keep people reading. Highly recommended!

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