Love him or hate him, Dan Brown knows how to write a bestseller.
His books have been translated into over 50 languages.
The Da Vinci Code reached the New York Times Bestseller list in its first week of release with an estimated $250 million worth of sales.
It’s safe to say that Dan Brown knows what he is doing.
So, what can we learn from him? Here are some of Dan Brown’s writing tips.
#1 Is planning overrated?
He says that after completing Angels & Demons, he “never imagined it would turn into a series.” And yet so many of his books to date follow the adventures of his fictitious character Robert Langdon.
So where does this leave us? To plan or not to plan?
Planning each novel is certainly useful. It can avoid writer’s block and importantly, keep your novel on track.
When it comes to a series, it seems that your planning depends on whether or not you have decided that it will be one.
For example, J.K. Rowling decided from the outset that Harry Potter would form a series. So, she outlined her plots. But after writing her first book, she realised she’d given away the plots for all of them. So she re-wrote.
Dan Brown, on the other hand, create a character and world that he fell in love with. After writing Deception Point he craved “the semiotic world of Robert Langdon” which led to The Da Vinci Code.
The moral of the story? If you know you want to write a series then plan it. That’s the ideal approach. If not, then let the strength of the characters and worlds you create, guide you.
# 2 Research adds realism
Dan Brown believes that “research is the most overlooked facet of writing a successful page-turner.”
I like this.
Regardless of your genre, carrying out detailed research adds depth to your writing.
Imagine you were reading a scene about someone on death row. If you have no knowledge of what being on death row is like or no insight into real people’s experiences, then how will you transport your reader to your world?
Brown raises another good point:
“…the research process often unveils dramatic options that take your plot in directions that you (and your readers) did not expect.”
So, in addition to making your novel credible, research can also help you with plot twists – a crucial ingredient of a page-turner.
Here is what Dan Brown says about his research process:
- Start with some general ideas and themes (Brown usually starts with a location and big idea)
- Carry out some in-depth research of the chosen topics
- Outline and start writing the novel
- As the novel tightens, continue carrying out research
If you are wondering where to start with research for your novel, Notion Press shares some ideas:
# 3 Write your first and last chapter simultaneously
This is an interesting take on novel planning.
To avoid plots getting blurred, Dan Brown advises starting the writing process with the first and last chapters. He says that this “serves as pillars on which to construct the middle of the book.”
Makes sense. If you know where points A and B are, you can find a route from A to B.
In my opinion, the success of this tip depends on the type of writer you are.
I, for example, am a planner. I like to storyboard my entire novel before writing it. So essentially I know my A and B points beforehand even if I haven’t fleshed them out.
If planning isn’t your bag then perhaps Dan Brown’s writing tip is worth a shot. If you try this, I’d love to hear about how it worked for you.
#4 Reading helps your writing
It’s obvious really. But always worth reminding ourselves of it.
When I find an author I love, I tend to read a few of their books in a row. This perhaps isn’t the best strategy if you are reading to develop your writing. If you are anything like me, I find myself writing like that author.
It’s important to develop your own voice. To do this, Brown actually advises to “not read other novels while writing your own novel.” He acknowledges that other novelists would disagree. But he justifies his opinion by saying that “the less you read (while actively writing), the more eagerly your mind will strive to create.”
Having said that, he does agree with the commonly dished out tip that “reading great novels is crucial to the development of any novelist, and there is no substitute for reading voraciously.” Brown particularly likes to read a lot of non-fiction (it forms part of his research).
#5 Write what you want to know
Usually, aspiring writers are advised to write about what they know. But Brown raises a good point – if you write about what you know, you make it harder to stay intellectually interested during the writing process.
He talks more about this here:
#6 The page turning formula
I’ve Googled it and I can’t find it. Brown isn’t giving this golden nugget away.
Having read all of his books, here is what I have gleaned:
- Plots span over a short period of time e.g. 24 hours. This keeps it pacy and full of suspense.
- His chapters are short and typically end on cliffhangers.
- As he gets your heart racing, Brown makes you wait for the payoff. He drops in some facts and creates a gap between you wanting to know what happens next, and actually finding out.
- The ‘goodies’ are generally likeable. The characters who you feel suspicious of are usually not the main ‘baddie’. This keeps you guessing – his books offer various prime suspects.
- His male and female partners have a hint of romance but this is never actually realised. It keeps us wondering whether anything will develop between them.
- Brown’s intense descriptions and factual content keep you interested in whether certain conspiracy theories or secret organisations are real. This bond between fiction and reality is a clever way to keep readers interested.
Have you got anything to add?
I’ve tried my best but I am sure I haven’t covered everything. If you have some tips to add, or can share your own experiences, please comment below!
See more in the Learn From The Best blog series: