Welcome back to this read of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, where we explore the techniques used to make this a riveting novel that continues to draw readers years after it was first published.
To catch up or review previous parts of this read, click here.
Chapter 3: The Man in the Wood
Summary: Having just accidentally stepped through the cleft in the stone and come out to the sounds of battle, Claire is still stunned. She hurries away in hopes of reaching her car, but when a bunch of British redcoats storms past her, she checks for sign of concussion.
Finding none, she rationalizes that she must have stumbled into the midst of a reenactment or movie. But while hurrying through the woods to where she hopes her car still is, a man grabs her from behind. She struggles, then recognizes the forearm of her husband. She admonishes him, but when she turns around the man is certainly not Frank.
This man, in fact, is Captain Jonathan Randall, her husband’s sixth great grandfather. When he identifies himself, she breaks and runs. He chases her down, wrestles her to the ground, and when she gets free enough for him to trap her against a rock face, begins to wonder why a girl dressed like a whore would be wearing such fine shoes and possess the skin and scent of a lady.
Before he comes to any conclusions on the matter, however, a Scotsman drops from above and takes him out. The Scotsman grabs Claire and hurries her away.
When a troupe of redcoats heads their direction, the Scotsman yanks her out of sight. But Claire struggles and tries to scream. The Scotsman knocks her out cold.
Writer Comments: That’s certainly one shock after another for poor Claire, but take a look at how Gabaldon uses language to convey the shock of being thrown back several centuries.
I was quite sure I was still hallucinating when the sound of shots was followed by the appearance of five or six men dressed in red coats and knee breeches, waving muskets. I blinked and stared. I moved my hand before my face and held up two fingers. I saw two fingers, all present and correct. No blurring of vision. I sniffed the air cautiously. The pungent odor of trees in spring and the faint whiff of clover from a clump near my feet. No olfactory delusions. I felt my head. No soreness anywhere. Concussion unlikely then. Pulse a little fast, but steady. -- page 36
Take note of a few things in this passage. First of all, the simple act of immediately going into a physical checkup of herself tells us a lot about Claire. Her nurse training is deeply ingrained and reflexive. When faced with something shocking, incomprehensible, or horrific, her training from the war kicks in fast and hard. It also tells us that she’s quite practical and can handle a touch situation with the best of them. All that lets us know that, while she’s stunned, we’re in the presence of a heroine who promises to be active and interesting.
Second, look at how many sentences start with the same word, in this instance, “I.” Normally, an author is advised to avoid repetition of any sort. However, it has its uses. In circumstances where the point-of-view character is in a tense situation, especially life or death, repetition can be high effective in conveying horror, tension, and placing emphasis on those emotions.
Additionally, many of these sentences are incomplete. This is another authorial trick that conveys a faster pace, upset emotions, and really puts us in the head of the heroine.
Summary: When Claire recovers consciousness, she’s captured and ahorse with the Scot who took her. They travel to a cabin where Claire meets Dougal, the leader of this band of Scotsmen evading the English. Dougal gets enough of an explanation from her captor to determine that she isn’t an immediate threat and turns his attention to Jamie, their wounded comrade.
Jamie has been shot through the shoulder with a musket ball and, when he fell of his horse, managed to dislocate the joint. His fellow Scotsmen take turns trying to shove the shoulder back into place, much to Claire’s horror. When a large man tries to force it, she stops him at once, fearing the attempt will snap Jamie’s arm in two. With her medical training, Claire manages to get the joint set to rights again and the wound bandaged, thus earning herself the privilege of getting taken farther away by the Scots who deem her useful and potentially worthy of ransom with her fine “underclothes.”
They put her on a horse with Jamie, figuring that if Jamie can’t manage the animal one-handed, Claire can take over. Jamie is far more considerate, and tries to keep her warm by tucking his plaid about her.
Writer Comments: In this scene, we’re introduced to the story’s hero. However, Gabaldon first shows Jamie in a weakened position. For your standard romance novel, this might be like shooting herself in the foot. Heroes in romance are supposed to be extra manly and tough, at least generally. But Jamie is depicted hunched, head bowed, wounded, and potentially in need of a woman’s aid to guide his horse. However, Gabaldon saves him from true weakness by giving him a tough air throughout. He doesn’t scream when men try to force his dislocated and shot shoulder back into place. Plus, he isn’t prone to the cruder behaviors of the other men. He shows Claire consideration and respect, and even more than having a tough, masculine, alpha hero, women want to be respected and treated with care. In this careful stroke, Gabaldon saves Jamie from apparent weakling and plants the first seed of interest in her female readers’ hearts.
Beyond that, though, she also establishes Claire in an important role in this past Claire has been thrown back to. Being a woman in the eighteenth century, much less one who is English, scantily clad, and completely over her head, Claire is at a major disadvantage to these men. Plus, she runs the risk of becoming useless and ineffectual in the reader’s eyes. And on top of all that, Gabaldon has to give her a logical role in the plot to come. So what does she do? Gabaldon gives her heroine a skill that is useful no matter what time she finds herself in: healing. In this one stroke, Gabaldon ensures Claire has purpose and value in the plot and in the perception of the other characters.
Summary: At night, as they travel farther from the spot where Claire skipped centuries, she starts to recognize a few landmarks, among them Cocknammon Rock, a giant stone resembling a rooster. She remembers from Frank’s lectures that the English used to use the stone to ambush the Scottish and mentioned this to Jamie. Heeding her, he gives warning to the other.
As Claire accidentally predicted, the English are lying in wait, and her warning gives her Scottish captors an edge. Jamie dumps her in a bush and rides off hard to fight with his fellows. Claire uses the opportunity to secure her escape, but as she glances about to orient herself, she realizes that the stars are brighter than she’s ever seen them before. In fact, the town of Inverness, whose lights should be clearly visible on the horizon from here, seems to have vanished. She comes up against the horrible, inescapable explanation that she has indeed somehow traversed time and is stuck in a barbaric past.
Jamie catches up to her before she can make good her escape and recaptures her by threatening good-naturedly to toss her over his wounded shoulder and carry her if she doesn’t come quietly. In fear for his well-being, Claire yields.
They travel once more on horseback, hurrying through the night. Claire is growing starving as she hasn’t eaten or drunk in hours, and at last, she’s forced by circumstances and the desire to not have her stomach growling and embarrassing her to take her own sip of the strong brew the Scotsmen pass around.
Writer Comments: Everything in a story must proceed logically. And logically, Claire would not immediately believe she’d been hurled into the eighteenth century. Logically, she’d resist this conclusion. Also logically, she would not be able to escape the evidence before her own eyes. So Gabaldon builds on the logic, layering Claire’s perceptions of the oddities about her, giving us glimpses into Claire’s reasoning process, and guiding us to the moment where Claire comes up against a reality so unexplainable that the only conclusion is the most unlikel, yet the only reasonable choice, that she has indeed gone back in time. These sorts of transitions cannot be made suddenly. An author has to guide a reader and the characters to them step by step.
Summary: But as they travel, Claire realizes Jamie growing unsteady behind her. Just in time, she calls a warning, and the men catch him as he falls from the horse. They lay him out and Claire immediately goes to work, trying to figure out what’s wrong and how to mend it.
As far as she can tell, Jamie fainted from blood loss. She finds his shoulder wound reopened and a new wound from a bayonet. Jamie wakes and tries to let her do her work. The other men mostly ignore her until she startles them with a succession of swearing, a behavior none of them expected to hear from a woman.
At last, with her pitiful supplies, Caire manages a bandage and they get Jamie back on a horse. Despite Claire’s insistence that Jamie needs rest and cannot go farther, the men cannot risk being caught.
Writer Comments: Despite the seriousness of Claire’s situation, this scene is downright hilarious. Mainly the humor comes from Claire’s socially unacceptable behavior of cursing and the men’s reaction to it.
Every character should have traits that make them memorable and unique. In Claire’s case, one of her signature traits is her tendency to spew swear words when under stress, a trait Gabaldon establishes long before this chapter. Consider a unique trait to give your main characters that will make them memorable and more approachable to your readers.