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Cracking Creativity Episode 10: David Villalva on Storytelling, the Formula for Best-Selling Novels, and Being Persistant

David Villalva is the creator of Story & Craft, a site dedicated to teaching storytelling formulas used in bestselling novels. In this episode, David talks about his storytelling blueprint, continuing to write after receiving devastating feedback, and why you should have a support system for your craft.

  • helps aspiring novelists discover their stories and writing craft in a new way
  • shows people the story structure that lives inside bestselling novels through visuals and case studies
  • focus on creativity and write a story that connects
  • create something that you can be proud of

“Most people in this world love to create, they just don’t always no where to focus that creativity whether it be writing, painting, drawing. But for most of my life I pushed that to the side.”

  • seven years ago he started to focus on novel and write something he could be proud of
  • found that there are story structures and formulas in novels
  • books on structure: Syd Field’s Screenplay, Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering, James Scot Bell’s Plot & Structure
  • most examples he found when researching were very simplistic
  • didn’t find anyone that was doing a blueprint with detailed graphics to show how different plot points connect in the plot formula
  • created it himself and put it out in the world

“There are eight specific reoccurring indicators, components that occur throughout a novel.”

  • these eight points occur at specific percentage markers in each story
  • his Storytelling Blueprint is a 26 page PDF that puts pieces together with specific percentage markers
  • shows who protagonist is supposed to do at certain key events and how those connect and build to climax
  • did case studies on bestselling novels to show where markers occur

Hunger Games as an Example of the Storytelling Structure

  • 1 % marker – hook – asks a bold question
    • “You have to capture their attention.”
    • Katniss wakes up on day of the Reaping
  • 25%  – Story Goal Launch
    • one unmistakable goal
    • life or death moment
    • when Katniss learns there will only be one winner of the Hunger Games
  • First Tension Point (Face Time)
    • when protagonist meets antagonist face to face
    • antagonist shows true threat
    • happens at 37% marker, 39% in Hunger Games
    • Katniss must decide what weapon to get
  • Mid-point (illumination)
    • protagonist encounters twist
    • this allows them to go from reactionary mode to pursuing a story goal
    • twist usually comes from illumination
    • happens at 49% in Hunger Games
    • Rue reveals herself as an ally when she points out wasp nest to attack tributes
  • Second Pitch Point (Face Time 2.0)
    • protagonist faces antagonist again
    • antagonist elevates the danger and increases stakes
    • happens at 62% marker in Hunger Games
    • faces death/pain as she watches Rue die
    • she shoots tribute as first kill
  • 75% – Story Goal Enlightenment (Second Plot Point)
    • protagonist grasps revelation
    • understands something they can use to win
    • 73% in Hunger Games when Pita needs medicine
    • when it is announced that whatever they need will be at cornucopia and Katniss goes for it
    • pushes the novel forward
  • 91% – Climax
    • they must face career tribute Kato, wolf mutants, and capital
    • Pita and Katniss win
    • gamekeepers renege on promise that there can be two winners
    • Katniss and Pita threaten to eat berries to defeat the capital
  • since discovering formula, he looks for points in every novel he reads
  • now he can’t read a novel without recognizing it
  • he looks for them to reinforce his understanding of the structure
  • hasn’t found a novel that doesn’t use the formula but has found one where percentages that are significantly off
  • readers and moviegoers have been trained to be entertained
  • he uses outlines chapter to chapter
  • starts with main indicators
  • comes up with idea and big picture
  • once he has big picture, filling in the blanks becomes much easier
  • seat of the pants vs outliners
  • used to write by the seat of his pants
  • developed chapter to chapter formula cycle for novels
  • used to take reader on a fluid ride
  • interchange action and reaction which gives readers time to breath before introducing more action
  • this allows readers to process and react to what they read
  • didn’t feel confident writing by the seat of his pants
  • novels he wrote using that method had no overarching story line
  • they were mini-episodes going nowhere
  • at one point he had a story coach and felt he was close to completing his novel
  • coaches comments about his novel were heartbreaking
  • the coach offered a refund because he said he wouldn’t be able to help: “I can’t coach what I can’t comprehend”
  • Stephen King’s On Writing
  • you will naturally pick things up over time
  • educated himself and became more confident

“This whole writing process, you definitely need help. You definitely need other people to look at it.”

  • between first novel and sixth novel, he learned how to layer stories and find the big picture
  • writing, finding his voice, and feeling comfortable made him confident in publishing his novel
  • many writers have fear of sucking in the beginning

“Too often things aren’t created because we are too worried about what other people are going to think about that creation, before it’s even there.”

  • people stare at blank screen because they are worried they don’t know how to do it right
  • you have to practice and shut up your inner critical voice
  • have a true commitment and dedication to the craft
  • understand it’s a long game not a short game

“It’s a pain in the butt to write a novel and finish one you’re really proud to share with the world.”

  • accept the fact that it’s a craft
  • he denied purpose to write for way too long
  • people need to recognize it will take time, it’s a roller coaster
  • gave novel to his Aunt and never got feedback

“To have a professional declare this baby you’ve been working on so long… a hopeless opus. It was a hard thing to accept.”

  • “I can quit or grind on”
  • stakes are high because your dreams can come true
  • you have to work towards the dream
  • didn’t overcome fear, he learned to dance with it

“The fear is never going to go away.”

  • there’s a voice trying to hold you back saying you can’t do it
  • it is trying to prevent you from acting on your own creative process
  • navigate through the fear and let it come along for the ride
  • you have to share what you’ve created and put it out there
  • after first email from his coach, he got another from the same coach saying he wanted to help
  • he decided to scrap the novel instead of trying to fix it
  • continues to write and create in his free time
  • Toy Story 2 and The Good Dinosaur were both restarted because the story needed so much work
  • sometimes you have to scrap something, sometimes you have to reset back to the core of the story
  • people who give up might not have the right support system
  • find the right resources of people who have gone through the same thing
  • James Scott Bell talks about the Big Lie
    • people are born with the gift of storytelling
    • he bought into it for ten years
    • then he learned what it would take to make it
    • spent another ten years grinding it out
  • tap into available resources and find a support system
  • support groups for writers: The Emerging Author Incubator, The New Writers,  Creative Fiction Writing
  • Joshua Wood, who is famous for fight scenes in his novels gave David feedback in one of the groups

“You gotta take multiple angles. Just as many people as you trust, as many people as you enjoy learning from and… take advantage of all the available resources.”

  • misconceptions: people are born great storytellers and it is going to take forever to become great

“If you tap into the right resources, you are going to learn so quickly.”

  • there”s not a miracle but there’s definitely a proven track to get you there quicker
  • to create good stories you have to be passionate, care, and write what you love
  • write in a genre you love and enjoy, and don’t go the popular route
  • it won’t come out in the right voice or with the right passion
  • he is passionate about stories of people coming together out of the misery of 911 (September 11th, 2011)
  • friend who was doing outreach work used facts and figures vs. telling a personal story

“You gotta set up the story properly and make sure that your personal connection is integrated.”

  • telling story in the beginning has much greater impact than at the end
  • stories are not about yourself but about connecting big picture early on
  • find how you, your audience, and story components fit together
  • people are wired to tell stories
  • read Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles when he was younger
  • it exposed him to what a fictional story can make someone feel
  • reading a genre he loved (urban fantasy) showed him how much he could enjoy fiction
  • Brian Keene’s Darkness on the Edge of Town
  • Indie books allow you to support people in their passions
  • learned flow and sentence length from authors through self-education
  • main lessons he learned – less is more, trust the reader to fill in the blanks
  • learns through every day interactions, and uses it in storytelling

“I like to know the way people think.”

  • finds creativity in architecture

“Creativity is allowing yourself to be open enough to explore your weirdness, your uniqueness, and then actually put it out there in the world for people to judge.”

“You can’t be creative unless you shut up that inner critic.”

“Once you do that it’s all about the creativity. Your weirdness is going to shine and you’re going to share it with the world… you have to be brave enough to explore your uniqueness.”

David can be found at Story & Craft

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