Books·Why I Write

Linwood Barclay talks about the art of writing crime fiction

In this CBC Books series, Canadian authors talk about what literature means to them.
In the CBC Books 'Why I Write' series, Canadian authors talk about what literature means to them. 4:11

Linwood Barclay is an American-Canadian thriller writer, with almost 20 books to his credit.

His books include the adult thrillers Broken Promise, A Noise Downstairs, Elevator Pitch and the middle-grade novels Escape and Chase.

In this latest episode of the Why I Write video series, CBC Books talked to Barclay about his latest thriller Elevator Pitch and his approach to writing crime fiction. 

Elevator Pitch begins as four people plummet to their death in a free-falling elevator of a Manhattan office building. The tragedy appears to be a random accident until the same thing happens over and over again.

On a thrill ride

"The elevator pitch for Elevator Pitch is... about a different kind of serial killer who is sabotaging elevators throughout Manhattan. It sets out to kind of do for elevators what Psycho made for showers — to make you look at something that maybe you use everyday, but you'll start looking at it a little bit differently.

"The idea for it came from an item on the Toronto news, that said that, the city did not have enough elevator inspectors, which is not surprising given the sort of high-rise condo boom the city's had in the last decade. 

"And the idea just came to me: 'What if you had someone who has set out, deliberately, for whatever reason, to sabotage those devices?'"

Linwood Barclay on his latest thriller, Elevator Pitch. 1:43

Setting the pace

"I think pacing is one of the most important things in writing a thriller. When you get to the end of every chapter, you can offer some sort of a small twist or something that happens that makes you feel you just have to go on to the next one.

"Thrillers have to have a sense of momentum where, there's this big boulder rolling down a hill and the further it gets, the faster it starts to go.

"You have to end the chapter in such a way that it's moving the action forward."

Key to mastery

"If you're going to be a writer, you're reading a lot of different things. And you've always got a book on the go.

"But I think the other thing I would say is, just get something down. I think a lot of people get frozen. It's like standing at the edge of a really cold pool. You don't want to jump in. It's so hard to jump in.

"Just get something down there; start writing. Because if you have something there, you have something you can work with and you can play with, something you can edit." 

Linwood Barclay's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

The CBC Books Why I Write series features authors speaking on what literature means to them. You can see all the episodes here.

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