The anatomy of a thriller

Dan Brown’s masterclass #takeawaykeys 

1. The most important stones to build a perfect thriller are:

  • world
  • the sole dramatic question
  • a hero
  • a goal
  • obstacles
  • a moment when a hero concurred a villain

2. Think 3 C’s

First C – The Contract

That promise you are making with the reader (do NOT break it!)

Second C – The crucible

Something that holds things together and doesn’t let them escape (fill life of your hero with: obstacles, monsters, danger, personal challenge). Ex: “Jaws” 

Third C – The clock

It’s ticking. There’s a time pressure. The hero doesn’t have the entire life to save the world, family, job situation, planet.
Lay on top of any problem in your book – time pressure!!

Remember: Suspense exist in every genre. But what makes the book a triller is a pace – it hit you on the first page, hold in the middle & don’t let you go until the end.

Trick: Ask a lot of questions (in the book) very quickly = give answers very quickly too. Always promise to your reader: if you turn this page – I’ll give you the answer on the next & so… on each page.

3. Finding the idea

a) create what you personally like. You should NEVER be chasing somebody else’s taste. Write the book that you would want to read. Some will love, some will hate. Stay your course!!

b) write what you want to know!

Advice: choose a topic, choose a world that you are excited about. Read books about this topic or world, watch documentaries, get excited… talk to people. #educateyourself

Before writing, think:

What is the world where I wanna set my novel?
Identify your sole dramatic question!
Focus on the “HOW”, not the “WHAT” (how it will happen?)

You don’t need new big ideas, they aren’t new.
You need NEW “HOWS”!

4. Choosing location

Think of locations as a character.
Choose exciting places, locations with personality or stories.
Fall in love with your location. Share enthusiasm with your reader.

5. Creating heroes and villains

  • always start with your villain (he defines your hero)
  • dynamic heroes – a #must (why they are doing wrong things – maybe for the right reasons?)
  • give them all flaws – there isn’t pure evil!!
  • introduce villain with a bang!
  • you can be easy on your villain, but not on your hero!

6. Universal character tools

  • popular the world with secondary heroes (remember, they have to complement your main hero!)
  • romantic involvement gives instant tension
  • advice: tell the story with a few characters as you possibly can
  • master confusion & suspense in your story (give characters opposing ideas, add former relationships)
  • use internal monologue (no better way to reveal your character)

7. Research (Dan Brown’s personal weapon)

  • read all arguments (even if you don’t agree)
  • structure for novel is much more easier if you’ve done a good research (it help you make decisions)
  • if you can – talk to real people and see real things
  • make connections between different scenes

8. Plan. Building a story from the ground – UP!

  • select the world
  • choose the moral gray area
  • create the hero
  • extraordinary set of circumstances (apply pressure!) = create a villain
  • make your hero panic (because the clock is ticking)
  • check 3 C’s
  • introduce conflict as soon as you can (prologue?)
  • write the finale first (remember: the hero wins)
  • develop the supporting characters & turn up the tension
  • build the obstacles

9. Creating Suspense

  • surprise your reader (…a good character can die any day lol)
  • compress the timeline
  • start scenes with a sense of urgency or the sense of discomfort
  • experiment with a different kinds of cliffhangers
  • withhold information, go through series of tusks (keep the plot moving!)
  • use flashbacks (like in “Breaking Bad”)
  • use “pulse” (tiny moments to remind the reader “don’t forget the killer is outside this fkn’ door!”)

10. Writing chapters and POV

  • before writing – write the purpose of each chapter!
  • choose 1 person in each chapter and write from his/hers point of view (you can write from 2/3 different points of view, but choose one (best) for your story
  • use POV to withhold information
  • appeal to your readers senses
  • remember how the eye travels in real life (follow-notice-describe) = powerful effect

11. Dialogue is an accelerator 

  • it is always driven by heroes agenda. What do they want? – ask yourself
  • nobody ever standing in conversations – make them move (physically)

12. Editing, rewriting

Commit to your idea and do NOT be a lazy editor. There’re no bad & good writers… only bad editors. Delete & try again.

150 pages in the garbage? Fine! Let’s start again. 

Use 4 different colors for editing on paper (red, green, blue & black). Red means ‘disaster’.

13. Writers block

a) Writing is about time and process, not only about inspiration or ideas. Protect your process. Limit distractions.

b) Dan Brown is writing every morning, early  (from 4am to 11am) – all 365 days a year, in the room without internet or phone.

c) Dare to suck … – every single writer is bad sometimes (that’s why they edit and delete)

d) Write in hours – not in pages/chapters

e) Dan Brown never finishes chapter without writing 1st paragraph of the next. It’s a trick. It will give you the feeling – “the story is here and waiting for you”

f) Move – exercise – think… Dan Brown is using dictaphone on walks or beach. #brainstorm (order of the story doesn’t matter). Don’t focus on the details too early!

Personal: Dan Brown spent 2 years on his first novel. His 3 first books didn’t sell well. But after ‘Code’ – he became popular lol

Invest in yourself!
Any promotion you make is believing in yourself!

14. Career of the writer

Success is usually a group effort! Build a team around you – people who believes in what you do. Agent – is a #must!

Create your own ritual of writing and commit to it!
Good Luck!


Next post – “Dare to be…”, short story 

My #YA fantasy & adventure book Dulcinea and The Death Code (Child of Illusion series) is available on Amazon for pre-order, 0,99 – go grab it

Also add my book to – want to read – on Goodreads

And here’s my full cover for “Book Reviews” book. Hope you like it! ☕️✌️ Ray loves you all, have a great weekend!


Victoria Ray NB
NO CLUE - It's A Kind Of Magic... Don't you think? Living in Sweden. Writing fiction: absurd, surreal humor, comedy, satire, parody, and burlesque. Reading and sharing nonfiction: health, spirituality, growth, psychology, science, self-help. My blog is designed for people with NO CLUE MINDSET.

46 Responses

  1. This is so fascinating. You never appreciate what goes into something like this.

  2. sunilmdabral says:

    That’s very interesting. I have read all the dam brown novels except for the origin and I can relate.😊

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Cool 🙂 I read his novels too, my husband is his fan :)) It was very interesting to listen about DB’s writing process & ideas / lots of useful info for those who writing suspense

  3. How about a moment when a villain concurres a hero?! An antihero.

  4. Thanks for sharing what you learned. I agree with what Dan says about gettin a process for writing. Without it one staggers around trying to come up with something. I like the word trillers. I have read a lot of books that trill not thrill. Have a super weekend Victoria Ray.

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Yes 🙂 agreed too… & next – M Atwood’s class 🙂 I already watched it, yesterday ev 🕺🤘

  5. InspiresN says:

    wow so much goes into it , never thought about it hats off to the writers !

  6. George F. says:

    Worth saving this post and rereading. Thanks for sharing Ray! Valuable input!

  7. George F. says:

    Read your entire thread. I constantly remind myself there is a big market for “hope.” Gotta have hope. Hope sells. Regardless of the “truth” people want HOPE. Even politicians sell it. “Hope and Change.” Etc. Religion sells HOPE. But the question is, what are people hoping for? Money? Freedom? Better life? Life forever? I HOPE I figure this out. Anyway, thanks again for the executive summary.

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Hope sells better than sex 🙂 true that 😉😂
      Cool comment about hope 🙂 something to think about 🤘📖😁

  8. I did enjoy this, I’m quite into writing tips at the moment,

  9. Really interesting post. That’s for sharing this. 😊

  10. kinkyacres says:

    Sticking with current occupation thanX!

  11. Tom Burton says:

    Excellent advice, Ray! Thanks for explaining such great tips so clearly 🙂

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Thank you 🙂 cool you enjoyed & hope it will be useful. Dan Brown’s class was very “practical”…