Welcome to this week’s chapter of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we take an in-depth look at the techniques Gabaldon uses to spin such an enduring tale.
Chapter 16: One Fine Day
Summary: Jamie and Claire spend their first full day of marriage away from the inn, trying to overcome the occasional awkwardness that rises between them. They slip off deep into the hills, avoiding the Black Watch, a band of self-appointed police keeping peace in the Scottish countryside. Jamie shows Claire how to tickle trout and catches her one for their breakfast the next morning. They spend the rest of the day talking and learning each other’s bodies. But always, shadows rise up between them: Captain Randall, Frank, Dougal, and secrets.
Writer Comments: This chapter is like a lazy afternoon in the spring. The pace is slow and the tension subdued. On first glance, it might appear a chapter merely devoted to the budding love affair, but there are other things going on.
First and foremost, Gabaldon is strengthening Claire and Jamie’s relationship, giving Claire more reasons to become attached to him. Though I don’t know all Gabaldon has in store for the book’s plot--I’ve been good about not cheating and taking a peek into the story’s future--a close relationship between Claire and Jamie can only complicate matters. At the least, it will make Claire’s goal to return home that much more difficult. Much as she wants to return to Frank, emotional ties to Jamie will eventually weaken her resolve.
Further, Gabaldon is setting up the love triangle. Frank isn’t present, but his memory is very much alive. Even Jamie is keenly aware of it. He sees Frank in Claire’s thoughts whenever he touches her. However, Claire is swiftly developing an infatuation with Jamie and is just as aware of it. Gabaldon wisely develops both these aspects in this chapter. After all, she can’t make things too easy on her heroine. Frank will, undoubtedly, remain a shadow lying between Claire and Jamie, and if Claire should manage to return to 1945, Jamie’s memory and her feelings for him will certainly cause Claire heartache.
Then there’s Captain Randall. Claire still has days more before the English officer expects her, days in which to enjoy her new husband, but his specter looms. Despite all their efforts to idle the day away, Randall repeatedly comes up in conversation, and Jamie has to remind Claire again and again that he’ll protect her. In this way, Gabaldon ensures her readers don’t forget about the near future threat.
But Claire isn’t the only one with complications. Jamie reveals that he’s a potential contender for the MacKenzie clan chieftain in the event Colum dies before his son Hamish comes of age. This makes Jamie’s position precarious. Dougal and Colum would rather see Jamie dead than become laird, and it’s possible--though Jamie doesn’t know for sure--Dougal already tried to kill him. This makes Dougal far more dangerous, even if Jamie has been working hard to demonstrate that he has no intention of become a MacKenzie chief.
In essence, Gabaldon uses this chapter to subtly build tension. The higher she brings her heroes, the farther they have to fall. She both quietly reiterates extent threats and lays the groundwork for future struggle. As an author, Gabaldon is well aware of the importance of layering conflict and building up multiple lines of tension simultaneously.