In Defense of Dan Brown

February 1, 2022

Why would Dan Brown need to be defended?

As one of the world’s best-selling authors, Dan Brown is an easy target. Several of my go-to writing books point to the author as an unsophisticated wordsmith that tip-toed around his shortcomings and made it big. “If someone that writes like that can produce a best-seller, then so can you!” I had always shifted restlessly in my seat when I heard stuff like that, but I never bothered to break down why that talk made me uncomfortable. Then I watched John Oliver dunk on the dude:


Okay. This is gone far enough: In defense of Dan Brown, I’ll offer three points.

Sure, Brown’s work is flawed

Of course, I know he’s not perfect. I’ve read a lot of Dan Brown: Many of his chapter endings are contrived cliffhangers that deserve an eye-roll (or two). There’s always an attractive woman with the exact specialty required thrown into the mix. And as John Oliver so brutally points out, he’s not immune to plot holes. I get it. But…

Defense #1: Brown has novel ideas

It’s an incredible suggestion to consider that the Holy Grail is actually Jesus’s lineage. That’s a wild concept that gets revealed as a satisfying payoff to the events of The Da Vinci Code. I still find myself wondering about the fate of the human race as described in Origin. He’s always got a ringing idea revealed at the climax. I blast through Dan Brown’s books and am left captivated by the premise. That’s hard to do!

Defense #2: The C’s of a Thriller

I loved Dan Brown’s MasterClass. I empathized with his anxiety. He shared his vulnerability in the class, explaining that he doubted he would ever be able to finish another book. So he printed a fake cover for his work-in-progress, wrapped it around another book, and sought comfort in pretending his book was already in print. That ridiculous anecdote courageously shared with the Internet helped me summon the courage to attempt my own manuscript. Brown also explained the structure essential to a thriller. I’ve referenced it many times as I critique others’ work. The tool speaks to solid storytelling fundamentals:

The Three C’s of a Thriller

  1. Contract: There must be a compelling mission that speaks to the character’s primal motivation and an antagonistic force that raises moral questions.
  2. Crucible: The main characters need to be held together. There must be an interesting mechanism holdling our team together preventing them from splitting up and turning the problem over to others to solve.
  3. Clock: What deadline is ratcheting up the tension?

Defense #3: I enjoy learning

His work is full of research and history. This can also be a hit against him as some find the passages tedious. Yeah, some passages really are tedious. But as it reflects a deep love of the material, I find it awfully endearing. The guy’s crazy about art history and that’s wonderful.

Thanks, Dan Brown

Maybe as a teacher, I’m just protective of anyone willing to share their work. Still, if you read this, Dan Brown, know that readers remain grateful for your contribution.

Image by Couleur on Pixabay.

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