By DT Krippene
At the recent GLVWG Write Stuff™ Conference, I had the pleasure of attending Robert Liparulo’s seminars. What made his presentation so rewarding, was how approachable he was. His light-hearted, easy-going style was infectious, with ample inspiration from his journey as an author.
We spent Thursday, April 7, with how to take a story from Mind to Manuscript – The Making of Your Masterpiece. Robert borrowed on his own experience in writing his first novel, “Comes a Horseman”, which took him years to perfect before he felt confident to publish. After hitting the bestseller lists, he knocked out one story after another, no longer questioning his ability to write. He went on to publish a bestselling YA series, Dreamhouse Kings, as well as other thriller novels.
He reminded us that writing is an art, and like any artistic venture, it’s subjective. Robert admits to being a maverick in the industry, in that he rarely does extensive rewrites of his books. He said the author’s voice is how a good story is told, and extensive editing can kill that voice if an author isn’t careful. Same applies for the use of critique groups, and finds them potentially dangerous to a budding author when too many “opinions” muck up the voice. Finding a good critique partner is like gold, valuable yet hard to find. Stories are all about the character, but he was quick to point out that too much detail on the character can suppress a reader’s natural inclination to imagine what the character looks like. He demonstrated this with a review of his book covers, where you never see the character’s face.
Best advice Robert has ever heard comes from Neil Gaiman – Finish Things. It takes hard work. Highly successful people typically put in 10,000 hours of practice before they hit their stride, which he estimates is 1.2 million words of solid writing. That’s about five years, depending on an author’s writing speed.
Robert shared his research methodology for a book, which went way beyond a Google search. He meticulously mined libraries, universities, and subject archives for that unique angle to help his plot stand out. He also warned against dumping too much detail, which can slow a story. His advice: skip all the data most people typically skim over.
He ended Thursday’s session with Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Good Writing, and Mark Twain’s quote, Everything in a story must have a purpose. It also gave me an opportunity to grab a selfie.
On Friday, April 8, Robert focused on the differences between Thrillers and Mysteries. The definition of thrillers has broadened in past years, but the main premise is presence of “thrilling action”. He defined thrillers in his words with “the reader is one step ahead of the protagonist“. Mysteries are “who done-its“, where a crime has been committed, and it’s all about the setting and solving the mystery. Thrillers are often crimes yet to be committed and the story is about finding or stopping it. Mysteries are more cerebral, where thrillers engage the heart.
We especially got a kick out of Robert’s examples.
Suspense: Bomb under the table, protag doesn’t know it’s there.
Mystery: Clues are left along the way of a bomb that already exploded.
Thriller: Protag knows the bomb is there and soon to go off.
To highlight a need for a killer opening line, Robert ended his session by testing participants which of seven opening lines from his books rated best to least best. I’ll pat myself on the back for being a co-winner with fellow writer, Chris Ochs (though Chris got the prize of a signed book after a sudden death paper-scissors-rock).
On Saturday, April 9, Robert gave a short talk on Writing a Series, referencing his bestselling YA tales, The Dreamhouse Kings. Revisiting facts from the previous book requires finesse. Most publishers will want revising facts in subsequent stories to be kept to a minimum, or in Robert’s words, keep it to a wink. Recurring character series are most popular, as it perpetuates the attachment a reader has to the character, and it’s easier for each book to stand on its own. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series provided a good example, as did Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas series.
Robert’s last session on Saturday focused on what it’s like Working with Hollywood. He recounted a few awesome moments where celebrities like Will Smith and Sylvester Stallone expressed a deep interest in a couple of his books. One of his stories has been recently picked up, and I’m guessing it won’t be long before we see a movie with Robert Liparulo in the title credits.
Robert’s lasting message to the conference came with his Keynote speech at Saturday’s lunch. He gave a passionate talk on his struggle to become a storywriter, and used his own experience based on what he called, a fateful “walk in the woods” that nearly derailed his dream. Years after starting and stopping on his first manuscript, he knew he’d have to forgo a stable income to get it done, or quit trying altogether. On that walk in the woods, he decided to ditch the book project in favor of pressing life needs. A day later, he stared at the manuscript, believing it was still a good story in need of completion, and decided that moment he’d finish it, then let the fates decide if he was an author or wannabe. He published Comes a Horseman in 1995, a thrill ride that had reader’s nerves frayed and a desire to leave the lights on at night. It went bestseller, and the rest is history.
Robert left us with an uplifting message. Never stop believing in yourself, and never give up on your dream.
Thanks Robert for all the advice, for being the really cool guy you are, and for leaving us with such inspiration.
Former journalist Robert Liparulo is the best-selling author of the thrillers Comes a Horseman, Germ, Deadfall, Deadlock, and The 13th Tribe, as well as The Dreamhouse Kings, an action-adventure series for young adults. He contributed a short story to James Patterson’s Thriller, and an essay about Thomas Perry’s The Butcher’s Boy to Thrillers: 100 Must Reads, edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner.
He is currently working on the sequel to The 13th Tribe, as well writing an original screenplay with director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive).
When not writing, Liparulo loves to read, watch (and analyze) movies, scuba dive, swim, hike, and travel. He lives in Monument, Colorado, with his family.