After watching some of Dan Brown's masterclass on thriller storytelling, it paints a narrow view on what generally a good story is to be. It must have a singular sentence to describe the plot, and there must be a single question that gets answered by the story, so there must be a main conflict a single person goes through etc..

What I have in my head so far is, I am interested in ancient shamanic cultures. I want to simply explore what possible observations and dances and thoughts an ancient tribe of hominoids may have experienced, from hunting, to gathering, to fishing, to dancing, drumming, etc.. In a sense I want to tell a "creation" story for how the world was created, too (in this fictional story).

So I try and imagine "how do I make this about a single character that has a single major problem they are trying to solve?" I fall short every time. I want it to be about group behaviors and isolated random experiences they may have throughout the tens of thousands of years they live in their land. Every problem I can think of are evolutionary problems which take many generations to "solve" (such as learning to use fire, or learning to speak, etc.). These aren't flash in the moment a single person figures it out and it's done types of things (at least from my perspective). They slowly occur over generations.

So I'm wondering, what are other ways of telling "stories"? Like East vs. West, or other cultural ways stories get told. What are all the most common ways across cultures stories get told? Maybe there is a way to tell a creation story and how a civilization evolves, in a non-western way?

Maybe we don't always have to go linearly through a single person's conflict? Maybe there are other ways to approach storytelling which no one teaches...

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    I'm not sure taking advice from Dan Brown on how to be a writer is all that good an idea. It's kind of like asking the makers of Bazooka bubble gum for advice on making dessert. They sure know a lot about making a popular sweet, but you probably don't want to apply their methods in your kitchen.
    – JRE
    Mar 13, 2023 at 10:22
  • Haha, good to know!
    – Lance
    Mar 13, 2023 at 10:24
  • Take a look at the Reception section of the Wikipedia article on Dan Brown.
    – JRE
    Mar 13, 2023 at 10:25
  • Whatever else you want to say about Dan Brown, there's no reason to expect his position to represent "Western" storytelling culture - as if there were such a thing. Since, at the very latest, the postmodern literary movement (roughly the past 60 years) "Western" storytellers have tried telling stories every different way you can imagine. Perhaps what Brown is really trying to say is that "Western" readers are more likely to buy your book if you write it a certain way. This may be true, but far from a rule. Consider James Michener...
    – Juhasz
    Mar 13, 2023 at 20:54
  • ...who wrote some very popular novels whose events span 700 years (Caribbean) or 10,000 years (The Source), or millions of years (Hawaii, or Centennial). I mention Michener because your multi-generational, ethnographic, historical idea is pretty well developed by him. Rather than asking advice here, you might consider reading some of his novels.
    – Juhasz
    Mar 13, 2023 at 20:55

1 Answer 1


There are many ways to write your story. Dan Brown is a rigorous plotter. That’s his style. It works for him. He was sharing his process.

But there is something to the idea that reducing a story to a one or two sentence summary. If you can do that — and its not easy — and your story still sounds interesting then you likely have a good story and you understand your story. The second is more important.

When you pitch your novel to an agent, you start with that one or two sentence logline. If the logline doesn’t grab their attention, they are more likely to toss your pitch in the circular file and move on to the next author.

For myself, I try to understand my stories at the lowest level of resolution — the logline — then I develop the story by slowly increasing the resolution into what happens by Act, then chapter, all the way up to the highest level of resolution — the complete manuscript. Its a strategy that works well for my mind. Just like Dan Brown’s detailed plotting works for him

There are two take aways, I think, find the way that really works for you — it is very personal — and Dan Brown is a very good writer.

When you’ve written a novel, have an agent, and sold millions of copies, and had some of those stories made into movies, then you will be in a position critique his writing and storytelling.

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