5 inspiring things: David Varela

5 inspiring things: David Varela

David Varela is a London-based writer and producer of interactive projects that bring together books, games, theatre and TV. His work includes writing the mobile adventure Sherlock: The Network, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman; a set of site-specific plays called The Seed for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad; murder mystery game The Trace; and the Live Writing Series, which saw him writing live in front of an audience of 4,000 people at the National Portrait Gallery. He is currently developing a Scandinavian TV drama, a VR series and a new Sherlock project.

Here, he shares five things inspiring him to think and work differently right now.


Hardware: This may be an obvious answer, but I’m becoming more and more dependent on my iPhone – both for work and for entertainment. My Kindle lies idle next to my bed and my PS4 only gets fired up when I have the flat to myself. But the modern smartphone is a VR platform, a radio, a games console, all my social networks, an e-reader and an increasingly natural device for long-form video content too. The problem is that I now have to carry a spare battery around with me everywhere. Time for an upgrade.

Software: I’m working on a couple of projects that tell stories using chatbots. It’s a natural extension of my work in interactive theatre and computer games: I’m creating characters who can automatically respond to written or spoken input from the audience, intelligently and naturally, giving a sense of personality while also conveying narrative. The challenge of training an artificial intelligence – of creating a believable character with all their preferences and prejudices – is becoming less of a technical problem and more of an artistic one. It’s a new field in which writers can apply their skills.

Book: The other half of my brain is in TV drama at the moment, and nothing has shaped my thinking on the subject more than John Yorke’s book Into The Woods. It’s a brilliantly simple framework for planning and analysing drama. Which leads me to...

Idea: John explains storytelling as a Hegelian dialectic – stay with me, it’s more exciting than it sounds. He says any story is a battle of ideas: essentially thesis versus antithesis, resulting in synthesis. Pure good fights pure evil and they merge to produce a happy medium. And that basic structure should be reflected at every level of the story, from the overall synopsis down to the individual scene. If two people emerge from a scene without having changed each other in some way, that exchange is redundant. As a guiding principle, thesis, antithesis, synthesis should be etched into every writer’s desk.

Person: An endless source of inspiration is the American filmmaker and innovator Lance Weiler. He runs the Digital Storytelling Lab at Columbia University and still finds time to write a weekly email called Culture Hacker, pulling together examples of ingenious storytelling from around the world. Sign up now.