On Dan Brown’s Bad Writing

It started with ‘Da Vinci Code’ and ended with ‘Deception Point’ as I’ve only recently managed to cover all of Dan Brown’s books. My conclusion? Brown is a pretty bad writer. I’m sorry, I know there are big fans of the guy out there but he’s frankly a bad writer. So what makes it for him? A good idea based on something people know little about and manage to discover during the reading. From that idea a kind of thriller-like plot is constructed where the protagonist must save the day and the villain is always concealed until the final moments. What comes next is the execution of the writing, a certain style that Dan Brown completely lacks.

This kind of reminds me of Michael Crichton who on the contrary can take a fantastic unimaginable “idea” and create a thriller like no other. Brown has no real poetry to his works and the prose is often times just plain dull. Sometimes I’m in the middle a chapter and I feel like I’m reading an unrefined movie script. I honestly don’t care if he’s made millions upon millions from his books or the movie rights; it simply does not make him a good writer. This annoys me to an extent because when a book is a best seller and talked about to death then there’s a certain implication that the author knows what he’s doing.

Heck, even his twists and turns that are intended to shock a reader tend to fall short of their goal. It’s like a bad movie where you know who the surprising villain is a quarter through it. Of course when such a villain is revealed the “why” also makes an appearance with the intent to explain his motivation for doing what he did. This revelation is just as terrible; their motivation is often absurd and I absolutely hate a villain who does bad in order to do good. This is fiction, there’s no reason why an author should dance around it to make the characters normal. Make the villain absolutely evil and the hero absolutely heroic. That’s what I as a reader want to see. Absolute good overcoming absolute evil and even the other way around is something I don’t mind. Harry Potter is a good example. Come to think of it I also hate a hero who has no heroic qualities. The protagonist is often times naive and simply caught up in a situation he or she does not wish to be in. Why? Because through their naivety Brown can take his sweet time to have other characters explain to the hero all the technical details like a child, and through this process inform the reader. It’s patronizing.

That being said, the ideas tend to be interesting enough to barely carry the book across the finish line. I’ll probably read The Solomon Key when it comes out mostly because I’ve always been interested in the whole Freemasons topic, but this time I will do so with the realization that I am consuming junk food fiction as opposed to great literature.


  • Brown’s bad writing, that I can accept. But the Da Vinci code I think is plagiarism, and even worse, it is plagiarism of a book that was already debunked 15 years ago. And I hate the statement he wrote that it is a “fact” that all his descriptions are “accurate.” I still dont know whawt he means by that. The only thing I like about Dan Brown is that his Da Vinci code book sold 60 million copies and he was able to get millions of people thinking and talking about the ideas behind the crappy story. Even if I think his ideas are crappy, at least its something. More writers or scholars should try to reach so many people that way. yay for dialogue.

  • Salaam,

    I haven’t actaully read nor watched the movie, but I am familiar with the theme, as as much dispute this book had, there were many documentaries on the whole issue of Jesus Christ ever being married or the truth behind this… yet as unrelated as this comment might be… whether good or bad Brown is … I just can’t stop comparing the the level of ‘reading-culture’ the west enjoys as comapred to our part of the world…. I wish there could be something similar in our countries….I have never been an avid reader…butin the west …I don’t know…I can easily spend two hours or more in a bookshop! and I have developed a love of reading I never had in Jordan!

    Happy Codes!

  • Well, I agree with you on that he has the same plot in all his books (the 3 that I’ve read at least), in which the one who causes all the mess turns out to be someone that doesn’t belong to either side oif the conflict, so the author ends up not offending any party (since he always involve existing intities)… Otherwise I think he is a good writer, I find his books interesting, but I gotta admit that I got bored sometimes by the too much detailed action scenes in Deception Point!

  • Hey Naseem
    I’ve managed to read the Da Vinci Code, and didn’t want to bother myself with reading other books of his. I too don’t find him a much of an interesting writer. He managed to get good data for his book, and that only achieved his best sellings. As Ola said that she got bored by the too much detailed action in Deception Point. I got bored in the Da Vinci Code. I reached a point of getting to know that he’ll simply get to more clues, and more detailed stuff out of no sense and the story will reach to it’s end.
    well.. that’s my view, I know I’m not interested in reading more of his work.

  • I think he’s a *horrible* writer. Tedious plotting, endless exposition, and a tendency to lecture his audience on “facts”. But worst of all of his writerly crimes is the absolute sense of ennui created by his “action” scenes.

    He’s far from the only writer to make megabucks on re-using what is essentially the same plot line over and over again (Dick Francis, anyone?). Which does not say complimentary things about the reading public!

    Um, yeah. Anyway. Definitely not one of his fans, and I wouldn’t watch the movie if you *paid* me to do it.

  • I’ll have you know right now, I have nothing personal against Dan Brown. He seems like a really great guy, but I would hardly call him an author. Simply put, he likes to over-embellish everything he writes in his ficticious little mind to the point of non-belief. Has anyone ever noticed that all of his novels follow the same plot points? It’s true.
    1. Cliffhanger problem is established at the beginning
    2. The main character (usually a specialist of something) is brought in to ‘help with a matter of great importance’
    3. We follow the main character as they learn what they must do to overcome the problem
    4. We skip to the ‘villain’ who is doing shit that interferes with what the main character has set out to resolve
    5. Meet the love interest/starts reader off on the main ‘journey/quest’ of the book
    6. Introduces the ‘head honcho’ of the previously met villain. This time it will be soemone the character can trust
    7. During the quest, the characters come to learn more about each other which is hastily added in as a ‘foreshadowing’ to something they must overcome later on in the main plot
    8. We see every-so often a subplot that Dan keeps on wanting to sell when the market’s down
    9. The characters reach the innevitable climax in which things happen
    10. The characters are blind-sighted last minute by their ‘friend’ (refer back to head honcho guy)
    11. We now see the characters say goodbye, to the people that helped them out.
    12. The main character and love interest have sex at the end

    Now, I have read each of Dan Brown’s novels and, for the most part, they follow the aforementioned twelve steps in some ways more than others. Is this right? Now, I admit, the first novel of Brown’s I read was an amazing read…until halfway through which, for the next two years, I kept on forcing myself to endure. Eventually, his stories fall right off the grid (hopefully into a black hole) in which the reader simply remembers the classic authors such as King, Tolkien, Rowling and Bradbury who spice up our world and ensure that we don’t have more bullshit authors who just write the same story five times under different names.

  • I tend to agree that Dan Brown lacks style in his writing. What is much more annoying (apart from his great finacial success) is that his writing is lazy. In “Digital Fortress” I was a little surprised when the character, Strathmore, “chuckled.” (page74) I would have forgotten this but a dozen lines later he “chuckled” again. Then as the pages went by other characters got the chuckle habit. I have counted about seven chuckles and I haven’t finished the book. When the hero is pretending to be a policeman he is addressed by a witness as “Mr Becker” (page 185) but at no time since he barged into the man’s hotel room did he give his name. The man incidently, was with a prostitue, but it never occurred to him to put the security chain on the door. As already mentioned by others, these books run the usual formula with a weak plot spun around some esoteric material.

  • OMG where to start….how about can’t get through a page without finding somthing absurd! sloppy doesn’t even begin to describe it. It is as if he read “How to Write a book in 30 days” and decided he too could become an author. I am at home sick and a friend thoughtfully brought me his book “angels and demons’ my friend may have taken my groan for one of pain…

    I am going to read it anyways as an excersise in how not to write.

  • I have read three of Mr. Brown’s novels, and that was enough for me. After “Angels & Demons” (which I read after “Digital Fortress” and “The Da Vinci Code”) it had become apparent to me that apart from any other faults, they are all constructed to a template. To be specific I think Brown uses two templates: a very detailed one for first chapters, to “get the creative juices flowing”, and an overall one for the plots.

    It is quite startling to read the first few paragraphs of each book side by side: the similarity is so striking that it seems obvious to me that he is working from a template with specific sections to fill out, which then write the chapter. First, we have to have a group with esoteric and powerful knowledge, which is the central theme of the book (cryptologists, the Illuminati, Freemasonry, the Priory of Sion.) Straight out of the starting gates, an exponent of this secret knowledge is described in purple prose apparently intended to give the reader the idea that this is really a sooper-dooper secret, then he is murdered within his own sanctum (or in one case, kidnapped and mutilated), leaving a hidden message (in later novels, the hidden message is constructed from the victim’s body.) In each case the killer — usually a minor character — has some surprising feature which (in all but one case) is decoration not relevant to the plot; in a couple of cases it is specifically a startlingly unusual visage.

    And so on, and so forth.

    When one realises this, the hit-and-miss quality of the author’s revelations about the “secret knowledge” are easily explicable: having selected a topic more or less at random, he does a little Googling for some amazing factoids to fill in the template.

    P.S. Thanks for the piastre; th’art kind.

  • My God, what a pretentious group of comments we have here. Oh dear me, that Dan Brown is such a dreadful writer and can’t write for toffee and really I just don’t know how he can even call himself an author??

    Listen up all you mega best selling writers (I mean judging by your great insights you obviously all are?) Writing a best selling novel is not easy peasy because duh, if it was all of you and no doubt everyone else on the planet would be doing it too?

    So, instead of moaning why don’t all of you would be Hemingways put the same effort into writing your own guaranteed best selling blockbuster as you have into pouring your jealous bile over these pages!

  • Everyone please relax, you’re upsetting poor James Gibb.

    I’ve read the first page of Digital Fortress, and not much else. I’m not sure whether to invest my time in reading these books (maybe I’ll love them), or take the word of other readers and an immediate dislike for the style of that first page (which I did not love), and not waste my time reading something I almost certainly won’t like when I could be reading something I almost certainly will.

    Decisions, decisions…

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