In an earlier post, I told you about the desire for diversity that spawned the idea of The Kalbrandt Institute Archives, and how this led to Eva’s explorations forming the framework for the memories she retrieves from the files in the archive.
Each file has its own cast and setting in time and space, but each book has a central theme. Since there are so many different monsters, ghosts, intriguing artefacts and mysterious monuments, how could I possibly select just one over all the others?
I can’t. So instead of choosing one, I choose five.
In each book, I aim to show as many variations of the theme as will fit in the overall narrative. Since I have always loved ghost stories, that is what I started with.
However, it irked me that most ghost stories picture ghosts as malevolent or a phenomenon. I ‘d must rather see them for what they are supposed to be: people without a body. I was determined to turn that trope upside down and present five ghosts that break with the stock ghosts in the genre, and . For good measure, I added five different, not-so-standard psychics to observe them:
- Cat can see and hear the deceased people as if they are still alive;
- Adan Yasin uses spells and amulets to drive out poltergeist;
- Martin Schultz uses electromagnetic recordings to converse with a ‘grey lady’;
- Hakon’s clairvoyance picks up on spectres that are not even ghosts anymore;
- Angela, a psychometrist like Eva, is confronted with possession.
Change a thing enough, it becomes fresh. Change a thing too much, it becomes unrecognisable.
I love giving old tropes a new spin, but writing in the horror genre, there is a limit to how many genre conventions that can be ignored before a book deviates too much from what the reader hoped for when she picked it up.
With that in mind, I deliberately add one or two files to the book that fit the standard requirements: typical plot for the theme, classic story structure, recognisable theme elements, etc. But even so, I try to give a twist to these basics. Haunted houses, for example, feature in three of the five stories of Book I. Of those, only one is a classic abandoned-and-remote mansion, which still manages to turn its own trope upside down.
One of the best parts of plotting the Kalbrandt Institute files is playing with genre expectations and tropes, and see how much I can change and tweak them without losing their essence.
Not the Usual Suspects
When the time came to select monsters to populate Book II, I began with tossing out the standard were-beasts, tentacled creeps, aliens and faceless serial killers. Most of those are done to death, but more importantly, they wouldn’t fit the Institute’s reality.
As Cael said himself: “Don’t be absurd. Vampires don’t exist.”
The short list of qualifying monsters featured from ten names. Some I discarded quickly, others made it to a first draft before I decided their story wouldn’t fit the way I wanted it to.
Ultimately, I decided to include one genre-standard giant creature as well as one monster from classic mythology. Everything else would be only too real. Because why invent a serial killer when history named the man who made genocide efficient? And why invent a zombie virus when the living dead are, in fact, not imaginary at all?
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