Welcome to this week’s read of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we take a look at what makes this bestselling story work.
Part 6: The Search
Chapter 34: Dougal’s Story
Summary: Murtagh and Claire decide to make their way openly on the road. As they’ve little idea what direction Jamie went and less hope of finding him, their best chance is to make it easy for him to find them. Claire heals the sick and injured, and Murtagh sings for their supper. After a week or so, they begin developing a welcome reputation, a good sign as it means Jamie might hear of them.
Then they come upon some gypsies who agree to send a messenger if they see a tall, red-haired man. A few days later, the messenger arrives and takes Claire only to a cave in the woods.
At first, she’s delighted to see Jamie, but she pulls up short. It isn’t Jamie waiting for her, but Dougal MacKenzie. Dougal brings news that Jamie is in Wentworth Prison, has stood trial, and is sentenced to hang any time now.
Claire naturally is very upset and insists they must go and free Jamie. Dougal won’t hear of it. He believes freeing Jamie is an impossible venture. Instead, he offers to take Claire to his home and make sure she’s safe.
At once, she suspects he intends to seduce her so he can get his hands on Lallybroch. Over the next few minutes as they talk, she realizes her suspicions, as well as others she’s had about Dougal--including him being Hammish’s father and betraying many, though apparently not Colum--are right on the money. He moves toward her, trying to be soothing and seductive, then meets the sight of Murtagh’s pistols.
At the point of a gun, Dougal surrenders Claire and his money pouch. He also agrees to allow Claire to try and talk some of his men into joining her rescue efforts. They make a bargain that if she can’t get anyone, she’ll return his money.
Claire persuades five of Dougal’s men to come with her and thus gets to keep the money pouch. Over the next two days, they ride hard for Wentworth Prison and arrive in the evening with no idea if Jamie is even still alive.
Writer Comments: Well, it’s nice to have some things confirmed about Dougal. I wonder if he’ll be a continuing villain.
Speaking of villains, this story has several, though Dougal and Randall appear to be the main two. Most stories have one with his henchmen for support. However, in this case, Dougal and Randall are as much opposed to each other as anyone. So what does it mean for a story to have numerous antagonists?
As long as the story still follows a solid structure, the protagonist maintains clear goals and motivations, and the tale holds together cohesively, I say multiple antagonists make for a far more interesting book. This is especially true when those antagonists are somewhat unpredictable. Sure, we know Dougal is a betraying, maneuvering, scumbag, but he’s also interesting and on occasion will do the right thing. Dougal will always look out for his own interests, but when will those interests bring him in alliance with our heroes, and when will they bring him in opposition to them? The inability to predict him make the story more interesting.
Further, the fact that Claire and Jamie must contend with threats from multiple directions lends complexity to the story as well as a greater capacity for increasing tension and stakes. After all, as a story hurtles toward its climax, the stakes and tension should be rising.
Beyond antagonists, though, I’d like to turn your attention to one other element of this chapter that’s worth noting as a writer. To increase their fame on the road, Murtagh has Claire practice fortune telling, an art she should by no right possess. However, Gabaldon set this up at the beginning of the book when Claire was in her own time. Then she learned that the key to fortune telling was not in the hand but the face, for it tells of the person’s hopes and fears. To make Claire’s current fortune telling efforts believable, Gabaldon had to set it up early on. It’s hard to swallow a character suddenly developing convenient talents, after all. So advertise your plot twists in advance. Don’t be too obvious about it, but keep things believable.