Guest Post: “Becoming Olivia Black” — Ripley Patton Talks Character in “Ghost Hand”
Ripley Patton is a friend and fellow speculative fiction author. We first met when Ripley was living in Christchurch and setting up SpecFicNZ. She was also busy writing her first novel, Ghost Hand, and although she and her family have since moved back to the United States, we have continued to correspond and I have watched with interest as Ripley has moved Ghost Hand from work-in-progress through to publication. She has done this by way of the Kickstarter process and although the e-book was released just a little earlier, today is the official publication day for the print version.
Why this day—well, Ripley tells me that’s because today is her birthday and so both the release and this post are all part of the celebration! Needless to say, I am thrilled to be able to host Ripley here and have “…Anything, Really” be part of the festivities. Ripley has done a fascinating post on the characters in Ghost Hand, particularly her main character, Olivia Black, and I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I did.
And by the way: Happy Release Day and Happy Birthday, Ripley.
Ripley Patton on Ghost Hand — “Becoming Olivia Black”
Readers often ask writers if their main character is like them, or is them, written in fictional form. And I’m always surprised when I hear a writer answer no. In my new YA paranormal thriller, Ghost Hand, Olivia Black is very much based on me as a teen girl. I grew up in a sleepy Southern Illinois town, and so did Olivia. I was a shy loner introvert, and so is Olivia. I was strong-willed, independent, and a bit bossy. So is Olivia. I lost a parent when I was in my early teens. So did Olivia. Of course, there are things about Olivia not at all like me. I don’t have a ghost hand made of ethereal energy that can reach into people and pickpocket their souls, which is too bad really, because that would be cool. But the essence of who Olivia is has to reside in me somewhere, because I made her up and made her real.
But I think there is some other magical thing that happens when writers create characters. Yes, we invest ourselves in who they are, but I think we also become them. They aren’t exactly us, but we have to crawl inside their skin and head every time we delve back into writing their story. We have to know intimately what they would do, or say, or how they would act. This is what a character-actor does when he or she takes on a role. They become who there are portraying, and this imbibes their performance with that much more reality. So, yes it is accurate to say that Olivia Black is me, and also that I have become Olivia Black by writing her.
What about all the other characters?
Obviously, Olivia Black is not the only character in my book. There is Emma, her impulsive best friend. Sophie, her mother and the town psychologist. Passion Wainwright, the strange outcast girl that sits in front of Olivia in Calc class. And that’s only the girls. What about Marcus, the handsome, cocky, new guy at Olivia’s high school? What about the mysterious Dark Man that starts following her? What about the band of misfits Olivia meets later on in the book? I can’t be all those characters, can I? Well, if I’m a good writer, I have to be. I have to become them all to write them well. I get to put on a one-woman play, starring me as everyone. That is what writing a book with well-developed characters entails.
What about the reader?
“I just read Ghost Hand, and now I want to be Olivia Black.”
This quote is from my friend and fellow writer, Angel Leigh McCoy, in response to reading Ghost Hand. It is on the back cover of the book, and I love it because I think it sums up the essence of how good storytelling should make us feel. If I write my characters well, I’m not the only one who gets to become them. Every reader does as well. They get to crawl inside Olivia’s skin and head and be her for the hours or days it takes them to read her story. This is why we don’t want our favorite books to end. Why they haunt us when we’re finished. Why we return to them, trying to recapture the magic of being that favorite someone else.
I recently read an article in Medical Daily describing a study in which psychologists actually proved that readers subconsciously become their favorite fictional characters while reading. “They found that stories, especially ones written in the first-person, can temporarily transform the way readers view the world, themselves, and other social groups, changing their behaviors and thoughts to match those of the fictional character they identify with.” Experts refer to this as “experience-taking”. In the study, they mention being able to influence people to overcome obstacles and exert their right to vote, as well as changed attitudes toward sexual orientation, based on identifying with a sympathetic character.
If I do my job well as a writer, not only am I Olivia, and she is me, but you, the reader, are Olivia too. You don’t have to want to become her. All you have to do is read the book.
How to Become Olivia Black
Want to become Olivia right now? Ghost Hand is a brand new 384-page release and is available as an e-book at Amazon, Kobo and Barnes & Noble. It is also available in paperback HERE. Not sure it’s your cup of tea? Be sure to check out the first four-and-a-bit chapters offered for free using Amazon’s “Look Inside” Feature. If that doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what will. And be sure to like Ghost Hand on its Amazon page, and add it to your Goodreads lists.
And thanks so much, Helen, for letting me guest post on your blog for my birthday.
More About Ripley Patton:
Ripley Patton grew up in the wilds of southern Illinois, much like her main character, Olivia Black, and that is where she first began writing. She has had over twenty short stories published in magazines and anthologies and her story “Corrigan’s Exchange” won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Short Story 2009.
Ripley recently spent five years living in New Zealand where she survived two major earthquakes and started a national speculative fiction writers association, SpecFicNZ, because there wasn’t one.
She now lives in Portland, Oregon with two teenagers, one cat, and a man who wants to live on a boat.
To read an earlier guest post by Ripley, click here for “Why This Story?”