Welcome to this week’s read of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we take a chapter a week and comb through it for writing insights and enjoy a great story along the way. To catch up or review previous parts of this read, click here.
Chapter 12: The Garrison Commander
Summary: As they near Fort William, Claire and party stop at an inn large enough to allow Claire her own room. But after a week sleeping amongst twenty-odd snoring Scotsmen, it feels rather lonely and far too quiet.
However, creaking floorboards, as if someone is sneaking to her room, bring her out of bed in a hurry. She grabs a heavy candlestick and prepares to defend herself. The door opens, then closes, and Claire spends the next several minutes listening intently and pumped full of adrenaline.
At last, she works up the nerve to creep to her door and peek outside. She flings the door open, prepared to bash someone’s head in with the candlestick, darts into the hall, and stumbles heavily over a form lying across her room’s threshold. Claire careens to the hall floor and smacks her head. The man she stumbled over rises, cursing.
It turns out that her nighttime prowler is none other than Jamie who has come to keep watch on her door as a group of English soldiers have arrived, gotten drunk, and started contemplating prowling the inn for “partners.” Too, Jamie’s not eager to meet them himself, and in the dark of the corridor, drunk soldiers won’t be able to see his face enough to recognize him.
Claire takes pity on him and invites him to sleep on the floor in her room, which is far less filthy than the hall floor. Jamie is appalled. He wouldn’t dare do anything like that, not when it could ruin Claire’s reputation. Claire finds this ridiculous as she’s spent many nights sleeping amidst many men, but Jamie insists that that’s quite different.
At last, they compromise. Claire gives Jamie the blankets from her bed so he has something of a pallet in the hall, and she goes to sleep in her own room.
Writer Comments: Jamie is such a sweet guy. There are lots of heroic archetypes and personality types that a writer can choose from when creating a hero. But especially in romance, heroes need something endearing or alluring about them to draw the interest of the heroine and of readers. In this case, not only is Jamie quite capable of protecting Claire, but he’s a genuinely great guy with a sweet heart. To me, that’s a terrific combination. Not all heroes have to be sweet, but they should have something that makes them attractive inside, something more than stunning good looks.
Summary: The next day, Dougal takes Claire to a nearby town where the commander of Fort William currently resides. However, this completely throws off her plans. She’d intended to escape to the stone circle before meeting the commander. Fort William was but a day from Craig na Dun, and now, she’s at least four days away. One day’s travel alone she could have managed. Four is most definitely out of the question.
Dougal speaks to the commander first, then calls Claire in to see him. The commander turns out to be none other than Captain Jonathan Randal, her husband’s ancestor. She relays to him the same story she gave Colum, but Randal believes it even less. His men searched the woods shortly after they met. They found no trace of her gown, her baggage, her supposedly murdered manservant, or bandits of any kind. Further, Captain Randal is most displeased that the MacKenzie believe Claire works for him as a spy.
When Claire refuses to amend her story, Randal hits her in the stomach so hard she loses her breath and he informs her that, if she’s carrying a child, she won’t be for long. When he stands back, he says:
“Have you anything to say to me now, Madam?” he demanded.
“Your wig is crooked,” I said, and closed my eyes again. -- page 173
Writer Comments: Gabaldon utilizes a number of deft maneuvers in this chapter. Let’s take a look:
First, she brings Captain Randal back into play. As she introduced him while Claire was still in her present time and as he was the first person Claire met when she entered the past, he’s clearly significant. However, for most of the book, Captain Randal has been absent. Regardless, Gabaldon keeps him in readers’ minds by occasionally referencing him, but she can’t rely upon that forever. Instead, once opportunity arrises, she weaves him directly back into the narrative and ups the stakes in the process. Now, Randal knows something strange and suspicious is going on with Claire. If anything, she’s made yet another potential enemy.
Next, Gabaldon brings in threads introduced earlier in the book: Dougal accuses Randal of sending Claire to spy on the MacKenzie. Randal’s resemblance to Frank presents a momentary difficulty for Claire. Randal’s reference to Claire potentially carrying a child harkens back to Claire’s and Frank’s early efforts to get pregnant. And Randal’s brutal treatment of Claire connects her more strongly to Jamie, who was also a victim of the captain’s brutality. In one scene, Gabaldon addresses each of these story threads, weaving them closer together.
Last, Gabaldon nails her chapter ending. How? She accomplishes this via three primary techniques when put together create a powerful punch.
- She leaves many questions unanswered. What will Randal do with Claire? What will the MacKenzie do with her? Will Claire even make it out of Randal’s custody?
- She ends en medias res. Claire is being beaten. We don’t even know if that beating has fully finished or if she’ll be subjected to more. Randal is in the midst of forcing answers from her, and that creates a contest of wills that is not resolved within the chapter. The need to feel resolution drives readers into the next chapter. (I actually had to force myself to put the book down to write my comments here. It was difficult.)
- Gabaldon ends the chapter on a witty line that makes Claire all the more appealing for her gumption. Few people in Claire’s position would dare inform Captain Randal that his wig was crooked, yet Claire has the guts and daring to pull it off. And that tells us that, even if she’s currently outwitted, outmaneuvered, and at the mercy of Captain Randal, she’s far from truly defeated.
Any one of these techniques would have made for a decent ending to the chapter, but together, they work beautifully.
Thank you for joining me for today’s chapter of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. We’ll resume this read next Monday. Until the, swing back by on Friday for further forays into fiction, the speculative, and life.
To check out other books I’ve broken down for their tidbits of writing wisdom, click here.