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Structuring the Archives

Impatient as I am, I created The Kalbrandt Institute Archives series to cover as many subjects as possible within one project. As a consequence, the classic story structure doesn’t work.

The standard 3-act (or 5-act, if you prefer) story arc is designed for a single plot with subplots. When you weave multiple plots together, you have to switch focus between them. Just look at Game of Thrones.

But where the Game of Thrones intersects the plots, permitting a classic structure for each plot in itself, the stories from the archives were going to be stand-alone stories that do not touch on one another. Their only link – at least initially – is be Eva, who reads them.

All Plots Are Equal

Assembling apparently unrelated stories into a single, coherent story is a unique challenge. The answer, however, was obvious:

Eva’s overarching narrative puts the individual stories into a wider context. Because all stories are in fact memories, she also has the power of hindsight. At times, modern insights allow her to understand more than people could centuries ago, leading her to draw conclusions that the original author of a file never could have. Playing with this adds significance to what Eva witnesses.

This doesn’t mean that Eva’s story is less important than the stories from the archives, or vice versa. I deliberately wrote some of the files so they would still be complete short stories, even when taken out of context. Others, like Nasir and Hakon’s adventures in Egypt (Hauntings), are deeply intertwined with how Eva reads them and cannot be separated from the rest of the book.

Likewise, Eva’s decisions and actions are strongly influenced by what she has learned from the files. Her story doesn’t make sense without them.

Stubborn Monsters

While writing Monsters, two stories gave me particular difficulty when it came to finding the right way to tell them.

Leo de Burdino’s story was initially suitable as a novel in its own right. Introducing the characters and the world of the Knights Hospitaller in 1347 while adhering to historical and scientific facts felt like being caught between a rock and a hard place: the timeline of events was simply too long for a short story.

I resolved that by reducing all crucial events to short scenes and presenting them in a non-chronological structure. The jumbled feeling fits in with Eva’s previous readings of centuries-old memories, but from the point of view of storytelling, this structure allowed me to condense the narrative while keeping the pace and suspense, but not diminishing the impact of Leo’s harrowing experiences.

“Too harrowing” was also the unanimous complaint of my beta-readers, who found the first draft of Dr Roger Stanley’s descriptions of World War I casualties a bit too vivid. Originally that story ran from start to finish, without interruption. People who read that version asked me to take pity on their sanity and add breaks. Eva concurred with them, and so I rewrote Roger’s memories to appear in several briefer instances.

Multi-Purpose Stories

Regardless of how I structure the individual files, the memories are all integrated into Eva’s story. She is the leading lady, and each file must move her story forward.

Some files teach Eva new things about the use of her powers. Others show important aspects of the Institute, its activities and its agents. Again others contain information that is essential to the overall plot. For me, the trick is to write the file stories in such a way that they serve all three purposes and still let them be stories in their own right.

That is what I love best about writing this series: vastly different stories with changing casts and diverse settings, and yet each one has to fit in with the overall story as well as with each other. A complex puzzle that by the end of Book IV will come together as one story.


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