When Fiction Meets Reality – The Challenges of my Current WIP

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

Falkue at German Wikipedia

I’m 75% finished with my latest novel and I can’t stop dreaming about it. It’s keeping me up. I hope that’s a good thing. I’ve never had this happen before. Have any of you?

My novel is something very far from my comfort zone. For a large section of the story, my characters time travel (in an odd way) to Victorian London where they hunt Jack the Ripper. They have their reasons and the clock is ticking.

Whenever I add paranormal elements to any of my stories, I want the premise to almost seem plausible. You know how most people get scared when sitting around a campfire, telling ghost stories? That’s the visceral feeling I hope readers will get when they come along for a ride to the streets of White Chapel 1888.

I not only had to research the many resources on the Jack the Ripper case and take a view on what I think might’ve happened for the sake of my plot, I also had to research the time period to recreate a setting that will come alive on the page. In 1888, London was not the progressive modern city it is today. This was before proper sanitation, plumbing, and before police investigative methods were improved.

Tenement slum houses held large families of immigrants contained in small rooms rented by the day. Disease ran rampant with poor options for drinking water. Within close proximity to these slums lived wealthier Londoners who attended the opera and dined in fine restaurants. A newspaper called The Star had started in 1888, the year Jack had been born to evil. It had originally provided a voice for the common folk on injustice, but anything on the White Chapel murders turned a profit for the newspaper and became the driving story of the day.

A challenge has been to add enough details for history buffs yet recreate this world for readers who might be more interested in the peril of the characters. There’s always a balance and a consideration for good pacing.

My story is seen through the eyes of a young woman in present day who is desperate to find justice for a murdered friend in New Orleans. She’s obsessed with the Ripper case because she thinks it is related to the death of her friend. She steals a vintage necklace off a body and brings it to a mysterious yet reclusive psychic, only to find that she is correct that the jewelry is linked to her friend’s investigation. When held in his hand, the necklace catapults the psychic to two horrific murders. The vintage piece is the key to locating Jack the Ripper on the night he kills his 5th victim, Mary Kelly. I can’t give too much away, but I hope you’ll see the many moving parts of this story.

In order to recreate time travel, the hunters (led by the psychic) must be willing to suspend their bodies in a near death coma. Similar to how dreams work, a willing mind can share the common existence of a shared dream. My twin sisters often shared the same dreams. For most that would be scary, but it was normal for them. It’s been said that if you dream of your own death, you die in the dream. How many of you believe that is possible? Does it make you think twice before imagining it?

While my characters hunt the Ripper in spirit form, they are invisible to everyone except their one spirit guide (someone from 1888 that they must find in order to remain tethered to their world). As you can imagine, there are challenges to not having a physical body, yet they must be presentable in period clothing to the one guide (their citizen of heaven) who is capable of seeing the traveler.

Another challenge was to create believable dialogue during the time travel segment. What my modern woman hears from the people she meets must sound authentic. That involved a lot of historical research as well. It helped that my narrator was a modern young woman. For most of the historical part of the plot, her voice dominated, but I made sure she overheard the locals to make sure the color would be there.

But things are not what they seem in the netherworld between life and death. Evil and Fate combine to change history in ways my team of hunters will never foresee. Their worst fears are exposed and they must face their worst nightmares. As a writer, it’s my job to make my characters pay for the daring things they do to become a star in their story.

Thinking through all the ramifications of affecting history or interfering with fate–while doing it in a way to create mysterious twists in the plot–has been another fun challenge. Every time I think I know where the story is going, it changes course again, in a good way. I’ve surprised myself in ways I couldn’t have foreseen. The plot had to develop and the characters’ dilemmas had to rise to the top in order for me to see different outcomes and motivations. I’ve added layers to my story that I never would’ve seen coming. That’s a good feeling.

This is the first book in a new Trinity LeDoux series for me. The working title is – The Curse She Wore. Trinity is a 24-year-old wannabe bounty hunter, trying to get her license in New Orleans. At the start of the story she is homeless, but everything changes after my hermit psychic sees something brave yet vulnerable in her.

The first time I visited New Orleans, I sensed the layers of richness to the setting and understood why so many writers find the location completely captivating. I’ve waited to write a story set in New Orleans. This is it. I’m bringing in a Cuban influence, the Santeria faith (used for the concept of an ancestral spirit guide or citizen of heaven), a discreet Voo Doo shop for true believers, and a reclusive psychic from an old wealthy family who lives on an historic plantation. He’s got secrets of his own.

My tag line for this story is – “They had Death in Common.”

For Discussion:
1.) Tell me about the challenges of your current WIP. Anything interesting to research?

2.) Have you ever worked in the details of a real murder into your work of fiction? How did that work for you?

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30 thoughts on “When Fiction Meets Reality – The Challenges of my Current WIP

  1. Hey Jordan. I’m writing of a rural recluse and she has a rivalry going on with her snobby neighbour who doesn’t like the stigma of living next door to “the murder house”. It’s not really a house of murder, but rather a house of sorrow and tragedies, and town gossip has done the family no favours.

    The idea came to me just last week from a little seed of an idea that came from a nearby town to where I live in rural Australia. There is an old house in that town, known as the murder house, where there have been three murders, one even as recent as 2016.

    I was doing an exercise on GMC, and this unusual history lodged itself in my story. Town gossip is a powerful foe – it’s not far from the dream realm when it happens in stories like this.
    Cheers. Jay.

    • I love this. You used a real event & location and applied the classic “what if” writer question. The notion about gossip & small town behavior run amok is a very relatable idea. Sounds like a winner, Jay. Good luck with it.

  2. Wow. The book sounds amazing, Jordan. Can’t wait to read it.

    I was working on two books until something bizarre happened. The WIP that deals with wildlife and poaching requires tons of research, much of it heartbreaking. Originally I planned to finish the book by July. Here’s where Fate intervened. For years there’s been a 24-acre lot for sale farther up the mountain we live on. The owners couldn’t sell it due to how hard it is to build up there. Two or three months after I planned this story, the land sold. Guess who bought it? A man who lived the same life as my protagonist, worked the same job, and grew up in the same part of Africa. What are the odds?

    When the universe slaps us across the face, we can’t ignore it.

    So, I’m giving him time to settle in (he and his wife are living in a camper for now) while I continue working on my other WIP (the next book in my Mayhem series). He says he’s looking forward to chilling around the campfire, sharing stories from his decades in Africa. The stories he’ll share will undoubtedly change my original storyline. Unless, for some unknown cosmic reason, the plot already aligns with his experiences. Imagine? It’s freaky enough as it is.

  3. Jordan, I want to read your book NOW. Sounds great.

    The difficulty with my current WIP (besides me being a newbie, I mean) is that there is a ghost from early 1800s Virginia. I think I’ve got the dress, food, language, and climate down, but I don’t have a handle on the lives of slaves, the resistance, and the owners. I want to be respectful of those who have emotions tied to that era. Note to self: my next book needs to be all contemporary until I’m a better writer. This book may have to go in the trunk for awhile.

    I haven’t worked the details of a real murder into a story, but I’ve used a deadly, bizarre accident. I just tried to make the setting altered so much that real life family members wouldn’t recognize it and feel violated.

    Interesting (and a little freaky!) about your twin sisters’ dreams, Jordan. My dad is a twin. He and his brother had a language others couldn’t understand.

    • Hi Priscilla. Thanks for your comment.

      This novel was supposed to be part of a box set with a time travel theme to be released about the time the Outlander TV series was to come out. The mega star of our author group had to bow out after she got a million dollar deal from a new publisher who didn’t want her to participate in our project. Although we tried to give the project CPR with another writer of her caliber, we never found that special someone. I had already written the proposal and never forgot the voice of Trinity. After I revisited it years later, I decided to give it a broader world and turn it into a series. I’m very glad I did.

      I shied away from this WIP because of the daunting research, but I came back to it and I’m excited that I’ve lived through the historical aspects. The last bit will be easier. Although I have no desire to become an historical author (I have too much respect for what they do), I feel a sense of accomplishment that I tried this.

      I’d say don’t avoid projects if you believe in them, but you have to use your judgment. Sometimes timing is everything. You might try reading books on slavery and the subject of the underground railroad. It could give your story idea much more weight and add layers you will be proud of. Your story sounds really intriguing. I hope you’ll stick with it enough to finish it one day.

      On twins and dreams, I shared a room with my sisters and I would go to bed later than they would. I’d catch them asleep and having a whole lucid conversation and I knew they were doing it again–sharing a dream. Very peculiar for anyone else, but for twins, not so much. I bet you could get your dad talking about his twin and you’d find more fodder for fiction.

    • Try to find some slave narratives. Many are now online courtesy of various universities. The UVa archives may be your first stop where you can ask one of the librarians to point you in the right direction. A simple search online with the terms “slave narrative, Virginia, online, and the period you are researching” could also point you to the what you need.

      • Great idea. The narratives can be chilling. Even read a classic like Roots. That book held me spellbound.

        I read real testimony on human trafficking that sent chills over me. that’s why I realized I had to portray it as a stark reality and frightening. I couldn’t sugarcoat it in any way. It wouldn’t do justice to the victims of this horrific crime.

  4. Jordan,

    The Curse She Wore sounds fascinating. Your subconscious is working overtime for you, hence the dreams.

    I generally prefer fiction grounded in reality but there are too many unexplained events in my family history to ignore another dimension at work (cue the Twilight Zone theme). You’ve inspired me to write that lore down and see if it turns into a novel.

    Synchronicity is a gift. Like Sue, I can’t count how many times I’ve stumbled over just the right person at just the right time during a project.

    Hurry up and finish, Jordan. Your fans are eager.

    • Hey Debbie. Thanks for popping in. I always thought of myself as a reader who prefers fiction grounded in reality too, but I’m also driven to tell an emotional story, even if it strays in “woo woo” territory. After going on ghost hunting tours and feeling the exhilaration of mind bending sensations that can’t be explained, who is to say what reality is?

  5. Jordan this sounds fantastic! It looks like it will be a great a multi-faceted series full of fascinating details and intriguing characters and I cannot wait to read it. Best of luck! <3

    • Thanks, Denise. I hope to shop this one around and I’m excited about how it came together. With my daily word count going well, I hope to finish it toward the 3rd week in April. Squeeee!

  6. This sounds so interesting! Such a cool story line.

    I’ve started and stopped on several WIPs because of supernatural elements that seem to pop up uninvited. This last time, I decided to embraced it. Since doing so, I’ve enjoyed the process and the story as it evolves.

    I seem to be stuck on one particular point. My protagonist is sucked into a town that hasn’t changed since 1980. No one there has any idea that time has stopped but him. I can’t find the “thing” that draws him there in the first place nor how he can leave and go back to his own time if he wishes or how to rescue the people stuck there.

    Writing this is so much fun and I often dream about different scenarios. I don’t want to stop because I can’t figure out how to solve these problems.

    How do you get past obstacles like this?

    Thank you for your post, I can’t wait to read your book!

    • Hi Cindy. I really like painting myself in corners to see if I can write my way out. Have patience with mystery elements. When you don’t know where you’re going, it forces you to push it as far as you can, but of course you’ll have to figure things out.

      Brainstorming ideas with creative people can help you with character motivation & plot twists.

      Is there something in your protag’s life that he’s never gotten past since it happened in the 80s? A lesson he needs to learn before he can move on?

      Maybe the people in the town are folks from another part of his life that he’s never brought together before. That HE’S the one stuck, not them. But they provide clues for him to figure things out.

      This feels like a story that is revealed only at the very end–and the reader says, “Why didn’t I see that coming?” like the Sixth Sense.

      Please don’t make the whole book about a dream a la Dallas and the Ewings.

      • Thank you Jordan. The Dallas thing made me so mad, I’ve never forgotten how cheated I felt. 😉

        You’ve given me some great ideas to try!

        • My pleasure. I once wrote a secondary character that I deliberately piled on odd mysteries in every scene, then added a twist at the end about him that painted me in a corner about his back story. I had no idea what to do in book 2 where I had to make him a primary focus. Sometimes the simplest answers stare you in the face.

          Try explaining your dilemma to one person who is a good listener & not a talker. You will find that in your explanation, you’ll come up with answers you had never seen before. The brain is working the problem even when you don’t think it is. Good luck.

  7. Wow, sounds like you have your work cut out for you, Jordan. For more background on the period, try to get a copy of the excellent novella ‘The Corpse King’ by Tim Curran. It’s about resurrectionists in 19th century Glasgow and is filled the color and details of the period. Best of luck.

    • I’ll check that out, Steven. Thanks for the reference.

      The heavy lifting is over, but the ending must be satisfying for the reader and I must have patience to deliver a string of twists.

  8. What most people think is bonkers is business as usual for writers. Yes, I have dreamed about all aspects of my books. I have dreamed that I walk into the snack bar at my alma mater and sit down with the hero of my first novel, and he tells me all about his own college life although that had nothing to do with his novel. I have dreamed book premises, scenes to be written, and characters have wandered through my dreams, My weirdest dream was one that made no sense emotionally to me, then I realized I had dreamed one of my characters dream! Former characters still show up to entertain me in dreams.

    • How cool are YOU!!! Sharon Sala talks about her dreaming books. Maybe there is something to be said for the fertile mind that we must keep open to ideas and voices. I’ve dreamed about my characters, usually coming to be in the wee hours of the morning, when they tell me about an ending or a beginning. I keep pens and paper around for these moments. The mind is an amazing helper. Thanks, Marilynn.

      • I had a dear friend from the early days of ebooks who would dream her books from beginning to end. All she had to do was write down what she’d seen. And the books were really good and sold like crazy. That was truly amazing and rather depressing for those of us who had to do a lot of grunt work beyond the fun stuff of what our subconscious would give us in our dreams.

  9. I’m always available for writing questions and help in getting out of plot holes and corners. I’m mostly retired from writing and teaching, but I like to keep my hands in for fun. Click on my name to check on me as a writer and teacher or to contact me.

  10. I learned a lot from your post, Jordan.

    One of my own WIPs is currently stopped because I am having trouble finding research sources about female poisoners in China. Surely some winsome young woman was taken into the emperor’s court, a wealthy merchant’s home, or other person of stature, whom she was hired to kill. Outright, violent assassination wouldn’t seem to be the forte of such a young woman.

    Stealth, study of the household customs and habits, and a knowledge of poisons would be her way, it seems to me. Poisonous spices slipped into a succulent cut of pork, deadly leaves that are joyous and colorful cut up into a salad, or deadly poison mixed into the bitter chai might well give the Niánqīng ér měilì de zhòngdú zhě a chance to get away rather than cold-blooded murder.

    (In my mind, the Niánqīng ér měilì de zhòngdú zhě reminds me of a high school classmate of mine: beautiful, innocent, delicate, and smart.)

    • The image of a young woman skilled in the art of growing her own garden and developing recipes that on the surface appear harmless, but over the years, she has become immune to her own weapons of choice. What a really cool idea, Porter. I can see this playing out. You may not find anything specific for research, but you can certainly draw from other materials that might be similar to your world view.

      Maybe meditation techniques or Bonsai trimming practices can color your book with similar ideas. Or make up a highly poisonous version of a bonzai tree and have the poison untraceable after a certain amount of time or if blended with the right foods. This is your world. It needs to be plausible, but you’re picked a great character to expand on your idea. I love it. There is something mystifying about the Chinese culture with taboos we have not seen. The juxtaposition of a young girl being a gentile assassin is mind blowing. Write that book.

      You could even market recipes with the book. HA!

      • Thank you for the comments. I’m afraid the recipe thing likely wouldn’t work for me. I don’t have the skills to find whether recipes are good or plausible. Once I’m past boiling the eggs, I’m done for. Salt, pepper, perhaps a little salsa, and a Pepsi are about as far as I can get.

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