Search

Visit Blood On The Page on


Share and Syndicate







AddThis Feed Button

Our Newsletter

Subscribe to the Blood On The Page newsletter. We'll let you know when new titles are posted.

Recent Posts

Linwood Barclay on what he learned from the writing process

Linwood Barclay on The Hook

Archive

June 2010
April 2010
March 2010
January 2010
November 2009
October 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009

Tags

2 in the hat 61 hours A Season for the Dead abandoned Achilles in Vietnam advanced copy advice Afghanistan Africa Agent Cooper al roker Alfred Hitchcock Andrew Bacevich Atlanta audiobook author author tours award winners awesome Bad Luck and Trouble bantam Bantam Dell Barry Eisler Berlin Berton Roueche Best Swedish Crime Novel Award bestseller bibliophile blly blessing Blood and Ice blood on the page blood ties body Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference book release 2.0 Book Review botp breathless Brett Battles buzz balls & hype Caravaggio characters cody mcfadyen contests cops crime crime fiction crimewav d.d. warren Dante Dante's Numbers Darth Vader Dave Gurney David Grossman David Hewson David Hunter David Kilcullen David Rollins dead dead trees is a dead model dean koontz Death Trust debut deception detainees detective Dick Cheney Divine Comedy drugs dyslexia e-books Edgar Allen Poe Awards eight in the box Emery episode Europe evolution of the book Faith Mitchell Fault Line Fear the Worst fear the worst Fear the Worst Blood on the Page Feral fiction Fragment free chapters free download free ebook GBI Genesis Georgia giveaways Gone Tomorrow Grant County Guantanamo guns Hadrian Hammett hard boiled Harvey Keitel Harwood henders island history Hitchcock homicide hook hospital Illegal International ipod Ireland Jack Palms Jack Reacher Jack Wakes Up Jake Wakes Up Jean Reno Johan Theorin John Verdon Jonathan Quinn Jonathan Shay Karen Maitland Karin Slaughter kay hooper kellerman La Femme Nikita Lee Child lee child Linwood Barclay linwood barclay Lisa Gardner lisa gardner M.J. Rose Maltese falcon military Mission Dolores morning show murders mystery mystery-thrillers never look away new release new york New York Times Nic Costa No Time for Goodbye no time for goodbye noir Old Peculier Crime Novel Award On Killing Palace of Fine Arts Pantheon Papercuts Paul Callaway Paul Levine pdf Persuader playlist Podcast podcast podcasts publication day Pulp Fiction raffi yessayan Rain Fall Reader reviews readings relentless Robert Masello Safer safer San Francisco Sara Linton Scott Horton Sean Doolittle sequel serial series Seth Harwood sex Shadow of Betrayal Shadow Season short story Simon Beckett Singapore sixty one hours sixty-one hours Spy suspense terror suspects The Accidental Guerilla The Cleaner The Cleanup The Cold Spot The Coldest Mile The Darkest Room The Death Trust The Deceived The Garden of Evil The Glass Key Award The Lizard's Bite the morning show murders The Neighbor the neighbor The Owl Killers The Sacred Cut The Seventh Sacrament The Villa of Mysteries Think of a Number thriller Thriller thrilling today show Tom Piccirilli too close to home tour trailer two in the hat UK Undone Vertigo video videos Vietnam wake up america wake up with al Warren Fahy webisode Whispers of the Dead Will Trent Writers' Workshop writing writing process Yoda

August 2009

August 6, 2009

Linwood Barclay on The Hook

I’m always looking for The Hook.
(Not “The Hook” by the late, great Donald E. Westlake; but if you
haven’t read it, you MUST.)

Before I start writing a book, I need a way in. Something to grab not
just the reader, but myself. I think of it as the hook. Or maybe a
“what if.” I have a literary agent who’s very big on finding the right
hook, an idea that you can sell in a sentence or two. Something like:
“Shark terrorizes beach.” Which, by the way, I think would make a
terrific book. Somebody should write that.

The thing is, it’s tricky coming up with a story that hasn’t been told
before. Everything, they say, has been done. There’s a lot of truth to
that. But I think what keeps writers going is they think, “Okay, it’s
been done before, but it hasn’t been done by ME.”

My hope is, with the right hook, I can find a way to tell a story in a
new and different way

I really started thinking about hooks when I wrote No Time for
Goodbye, the first of my novels to find a wide audience. (It was the
#1 bestselling novel in the UK last year.) The idea behind that book
was this: A 14-year-old girl wakes up one morning to find the rest of
her family gone. Sometime in the night, her father, her mother and her
brother go missing. And more than two decades go by before she has any
inkling of what happened to them.

That hook worked for me.

Then came Too Close to Home. I was thinking about terrible stories in
the news where an entire family is murdered. The hook for me was
double-barreled. First, what’s it like to live in the house next door?
Are you, in a bizarre way, safer than you’ve ever been? It’d be like
lightning hitting twice for this to happen in two houses side by side.
But then comes the second half: What if you were to find out the
killers went to the wrong house?

That hook worked for me, too.

Now we come to my new book, Fear the Worst. At first glance, it’s a
simple enough story. A missing daughter. I’m pretty sure that’s been
done before.

So I needed a new way into the story. And I had some help from my own
daughter, Paige.

I was getting ready to give her a lift to work one morning when she
still lived at home with us, and I was asking her if she had any good
ideas for a book. Something rooted in the every-day.

“How about,” she said, “if you came to pick me up at work and I wasn’t
there.”

That got us talking, and I’m not sure whether it was Paige or me who
said, “What if you’d NEVER been there?”

Now I had a hook. Your daughter’s been going to her summer job for a
couple of weeks. One night she doesn’t come home, so you make your
first visit to her place of employment to see what might have happened
to her. No one knows who you’re talking about. They’ve never seen your
daughter.

So where’s she been going for the last two weeks? And where is she
now? And who are these very bad people who are trying to find her
before you do?

Fear the Worst was born.
And as I write this, its publication date is five days away.
I hope people have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.
I hope they’re hooked.

Comments (1) | Permalink    

August 14, 2009

Linwood Barclay on what he learned from the writing process

My agent said it happens to every writer eventually.

I wrote a novel last year that didn’t work. To use a favorite phrase of my wife’s, it was “a dog’s breakfast.” I should have known. I wrote the first seventy pages three times. Shifted back and forth between first and third person. Couldn’t get a handle on it. A little voice in the back of my head had been telling me to abort.

It was like when you hear a funny noise coming from under the hood. You think maybe it will go away. You crank up the radio so you don’t have to listen to it. Next thing you know, three fire trucks are pumping water all over your ride.

That voice in my head was saying, “Pull over! For the love of God!”

I didn’t listen. I thought, keep going, get to the end, fix whatever’s wrong during the revisions. So that’s what I did, and by time I finally pulled over, the book was a write-off. Nothing really worked. It was fundamentally flawed. Reluctantly, I accepted my agent’s verdict that I could write another book from scratch in less time than it would take for me to fix everything that was wrong with this book.

I felt sick. This hadn’t happened to me before. While my six previous novels had needed varying degrees of work after the first draft, they’d all been in more or less good shape from the get go. I’d never faced the prospect of ditching an entire novel and starting over.
It was not a good feeling.

I didn’t know it then, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

At the time, I felt like stepping in front of a bus. I’d spent about four months on this book. I was contracted to deliver a new thriller before the end of the year. The clock was ticking. I did have an idea for another book - a missing daughter story, with a twist - but that was the one I was expecting to start next year.

I set aside five days to feel sorry for myself. My kids - now both in their twenties - have a word for a mopey friend. A “hurtsack.” That was me. A hurtsack.

But then I made myself get down to work. I took about ten days to make notes, then started writing. Something wonderful happened. I couldn’t write the thing fast enough. Those first seventy pages were a dream. Seven weeks later, I had the first draft of Fear the Worst. And not once during that time did I hear a voice saying, “Pull over!”

Believe me, I was listening for it.

Fear the Worst took another couple of write-throughs to get it into shape. The characters needed sharpening. A subplot was added. But that first draft felt pretty solid to me. Now that the book’s finally coming out, I feel better about it than any of my others. I think this book turned out well because the other one turned out so badly.

That first book wasn’t quite the failure I thought it was. It was my Apollo 13. It seemed like a disaster at the time, but it turned into a learning experience.

Here’s what that book taught me:

1. Listen to that voice. If it’s telling you the book isn’t working, stop. Regroup. Try to figure out what the problem is. How bad is it? Is it something that can be fixed? Do you have to start again? Would it be better to cut your losses and walk away?

2. Don’t be too proud to get some other opinions along the way. When I was working on that book, I didn’t want to show it to anyone until it was finished. Not my agent, not my editor, nobody. Looking back, I think this is because I knew, in my heart, that it was not working, and I didn’t want to hear that from anyone. But it’s better to get an early diagnosis so you can start treatment early. A lot of writers are too proud to take advice from agents or editors or friends. The only opinion they value is their own. That’s a mistake. You can get so close to your own work that you lose perspective.

3. Suck it up and move on. The time you spend sulking is time that could be spent writing. I spent more than thirty years in newspapers and writing to me is a job. The best job in the world, but still a job. If you had a contractor into your house to put on an addition, and the walls were all crooked and the windows fell out, you wouldn’t put up with him moping about for several weeks about all the time he’d spent doing a bad job. You’d expect him to tear down what he’d done and start over.

I suppose, when I say it took me seven weeks to write the first draft of Fear the Worst, that’s not true. I need to count all that time spent on the other book.

All well spent, as it turns out.

Comments (1) | Permalink