Bridget Tyler On Trusting Your Characters

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.


Today's guest for the WHAT is Bridget Tyler, who has developed original pilots for networks including AMC, BBC America, Fox, Starz, and Warner Brothers Television. Her novel The Pioneer is a young adult adventure story about a teenage girl struggling to deal with the loss of her beloved big brother while her family struggles to survive on a brand new planet.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

I'm a big nerd for space. Always have been. When I went to visit the Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center I burst into tears when I walked into the hangar. And I read everything I can find about the new worlds the Kepler and now TESS planet hunter telescopes find. That's what inspired the Pioneer – daydreaming about what it would be like to cross light years and explore another planet. But The Pioneer didn't really become a book until I found my pioneer – Joanna Watson. She's kind of Captain Kirk in teenage girl form – a talented (and rule breaking) natural leader whose bone deep optimism has been shattered by a childhood loss she isn't sure she'll ever get over. Once I knew Joanna, I knew the story I needed to write.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I'm a big fan of Christopher Vogler's book The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. It's designed to help writers structure films but I found that it worked really well for this story. But structure is just a starting place. Like all plans, it tends to evaporate when you engage and start putting words on the page. That's when you really have to trust your characters. For me, there's a point with every story that it becomes "real" and the characters start making their own decisions. I know that sounds nuts, but it's the only way I can think to describe it. Once you get past the first blush of a new idea, there's a rocky period in which you feel like you're head is full of nothing but bad ideas. You start to wonder why anyone has ever let you write a book before, and whether maybe you should quit and go back to making people lattes (that might just be me). But somehow, someway, it all clicks together at some point and suddenly it stops feeling like you're making stuff up. It feels like the story, the world, the characters are something outside of yourself that will tell you where they want to go if you're listening.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

Always. I'm not sure I've ever once had a plot NOT change drastically as I write. More than once, usually. I do extensive outlines, then I write out the story beat by beat on note cards. I usually find some major changes and new directions as I card, because things come up in character conversations that sometimes give me much better ideas for plot further down the road in the story. After I finish carding, I write out my first draft long hand on paper and there is ALWAYS a moment right in the middle when I realize that some major part of my story is wrong in some way and I have to go back and re-think. That's just the way it works.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

Story ideas pop into my head all the time. Things that have inspired stories for me include: news stories, classic books and plays, family history, old photographs, garage sales, hikes in the woods, songs, museums, road side attractions, abandoned hotels, that guy who sells paintings and fake cow skins on the corner of Olympic Blvd and La Cienega in Los Angeles, random stuff my husband says, insurance forms, daycare, parking lots, closets...the list goes on and on. I'm always looking for things that don't belong. Things that stick out of the every day hum of the world and whisper "what if" in the back of my brain.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

Oh, I usually kid myself into thinking I can write more than one thing at the same time. Then, inevitably I get freaked out that I can't focus on anything I'm working on, my manager yells at me for working on too many things at the same time, and I get defensive but then the next day I get up and I feel the need to work on one particular thing. And that is the project that needs to happen next.

I have lots of kitties (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

We had eight cats when I was a kid!! Also two dogs, three goats, two chickens, and a pet rat. I used to use that as the trick truth when teachers made us play Two Truths and a Lie. If my husband wasn't allergic, I'd have a cat now but alas, I married the guy so I'm doomed to be catless. I do work at the same coffee shop every morning, so the baristas are always asking about the book I'm working on or debating plot points with me. I also meet with another writer friend who lives in town often so that we can write together. In the same coffee shop. Let's just say the baristas know me well.