Welcome to this week’s read of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we take a look at the techniques Gabaldon uses to create this bestselling title. As this week’s chapter, 24, is so long, I’ve broken it into parts. We’ll tackle part 3 today.
Summary: On a dark and rainy day with little to do indoors, Claire goes to Colum to borrow a book. On the landing before his study, she overhears Dougal and him arguing. Dougal has apparently done something stupid and enraged his brother. They also discuss Colum’s plans to send Jamie hunting with the Duke of Sandringham in hopes Sandringham with swing a pardon for Jamie. And they mention handling someone who’s practically a witch while Jamie is away. Claire hides to keep them from noticing she’s there, and the girl who originally liked Jamie comes up with a tray for Colum. She accidentally knocks over a cup on the tray, and the noise startles the men. Claire dives out of her hiding place to avoid inadvertent discovery, and the girl flees. Claire picks up the tray and rights the cup, so Dougal presumes she was the one sent to deliver it.
Colum invites her in his study and lets her peruse his bookshelves. In the midst of selecting a novel, she catches sight of Hamish, Colum’s son, charging near the castle wall on horseback with other boys. The other boys leap over the wall, but Hamish’s mount doesn’t quite make it. Both horse and Hamish tumble over, and Hamish comes up clutching his stomach, then vomits. Claire exclaims in relief and points out that Colum seems to care for him as though he truly were his own son.
At first, Colum turns to her alarmed, then simply says, “Yes.”
Writer Comments: The plot thickens. I’m glad to see that Colum did not try to argue with Claire about Hamish’s parentage. It makes me both respect him more and worry about what that will mean for Claire’s future. But to the specific writing techniques.
In this scene, many plots are alluded to, but not outright revealed. One thing Gabaldon is very good at is keeping the action going off the page. The world Claire inhabits is complex, and there’s no way she could be aware of all or even most of it. Schemes continue with or without her, and they impact the story and Claire. Here, we see a flicker of that scheming, and Gabaldon artfully reveals just enough to make readers worry.
First, she mentions Colum and Dougal taking care of a woman who’s practically a witch. There are only two characters I know of who fit that description: Mrs. Duncan from the village and Claire herself. The fact that Jamie is mentioned right around that time makes me suspect they have nefarious plans to eliminate Claire.
Second, we learn a little more of the scheme involving Duke Sandringham and Jamie. We know Jamie will soon be separated from Claire. We already know Sandringham is bad news for the Scots, so this can only mean worse news for Jamie. And with Jamie away from Claire, she’ll be particularly vulnerable.
Third, we find out about the mysterious foolish thing Dougal has done. It involves a woman, for Colum speaks scathingly of Dougal’s self-control regarding such matters, that between the MacKenzie brothers Colum ended up with the brain and Dougal the functioning reproductive anatomy. As Dougal’s wife has just died, this becomes even more intriguing.
Even if the action doesn’t occur on the page and the POV characters don’t know about it, authors should remember that the world goes on beyond the protagonist’s immediate experiences. Other characters plot and move through the story. Their actions impact the story and should be taken into account.
Summary: Later that night, Claire tells Jamie only of Colum’s plans to send him hunting with Sandringham and Dougal. However, in this brief scene, we learn that Dougal got Laoghaire, the girl who first fancied Jamie, pregnant and does not intend to have Mrs. Duncan get rid of the child.
Writer Comments: As a reader, this scene sent me reeling. Dougal got Laoghaire pregnant! How did I miss that in the last scene?
Herein lies a danger. Gabaldon was vague in her information in the previous scene, which successfullly inspires interest but clearly didn’t fully explain matters. In the next scene, however, we learn that Claire pieced together that the trouble Dougal caused was getting Laoghaire pregnant. As a reader who heard all Claire heard, I wonder how she came to this conclusion. On the other hand, I’m very glad Gabaldon plainly explained what was going on before the story got much further.
Honestly, though, this sort of thing could have been folded into the previous scene so we see Claire’s reaction as she finds out rather than learning of it afterward.
Summary: At dinner one night, the story comes out that the Duke of Sandringham had a thing for Jamie when he last visited Castle Leoch. It was, in fact, the reason Jamie left the castle so swiftly at sixteen. Jamie is at least able to joke about the experience and take teasing with a ready smile and retort.
Writer Comments: This scene undoubtedly is intended to set up the conflicts Gabaldon has planned for when Sandringham arrives. As I’ve mentioned before, it helps a great deal to foreshadow future conflicts in a book.
Summary: The next day, while Claire is tending to an old woman from the village, who has come to her surgery with a whole catalog of complaints, Jamie and Alec practically kidnap her. They rush Claire down to the stables where the prize mare is struggling to birth her new foal. As Claire’s hands are small and she’s sturdy and strong, they have her assist in turning the foal so it can be born properly. It’s a painful and laborious process that leaves Claire bruised, exhausted, but elated at her success.
Writer Comments: Gabaldon goes into great detail in this scene about turning and birthing a foal. She clearly did her research. This level of detail makes the scene feel far more real and heightens the overall impact.