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Welcome all dreamers, fantasists, bibliophiles, and romantics. Join me Mondays and Fridays for speculation about other worlds, exploration of the human heart and soul in fiction and fact, sojourns in history and science, advice and tidbits in the realms of story, and thoughts on everything in between...

Monday, March 2, 2015

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: Read, Chapter 25, Part 2


Welcome to this week’s read of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we look at what makes this bestselling novel work. As chapter 25 is long, I’ve broken it into two parts. This week, we cover the second part, where Claire is in the midst of being tried for witchcraft.

Enjoy!

SPOILERS!

Chapter 25: Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live

Summary: After spending an uncomfortable night locked in the inn’s storeroom, Claire is dragged out again to face a second day of judgment before the village mob and the ecclesiastical judges. As the judges can’t decide the innocence or guilt of Geilie and Claire based on previous presented evidence, they decide to test the women through trial by water.

Claire doesn’t realize what this means until she and Geilie are marched to the loch and told to strip. Claire asks why, and the process is explained to her. Then she flat out refuses to comply and be drowned. In response, the judges order her whipped. The mob hauls her back to town, tears a good chunk of her clothes off her, ties her to a tree, and the town locksman proceeds to whip her. Though, she realizes after a few strikes that he’s trying to do so a mercifully as he can.

In the midst of her trial, Jamie stormed in amongst the crowd and demands her release. The mob grabs him, trying to stop him from saving her. He manages to get a hand free and tosses the crucifix Colum gave her about her head. The sight of it sobers up some of the crowd, but the judges are incensed that Jamie would dare interfere. He has her cut down and sweeps her to him while drawing his sword in her defense.

Then he proceeds to insist that since the crucifix, which is made of jet, does not burn her, she’s clearly not a witch. This throws the onlookers a bit, but they’re still too eager for blood.

Then Geilie steps forward and confesses that Claire isn’t a witch, but she is. She confesses to murdering her husband by witchcraft and to laying a spell on the changeling child so that the real child wouldn’t come back to its family. Then, to everyone’s horror, she proceeds to summon her master on the wind amongst the villagers, to shriek eerily, and spin. At one point, she stops and meets Claire’s eyes. She mouths, “Run,” and continues her dramatic charade. She rends her gown to reveal herself, the growing mound of her stomach where her child grows too. Claire is too stunned to move, but Jamie wrenches her away and makes for freedom.

But just as Claire is yanked away from the mob, she spots a mark on Geilie’s arm, the mark of sorcery in this time, but what is actually, in Claire’s time, the scar of a smallpox vaccination.

They narrowly escape, and Jamie takes Claire into the woods to hide. After a bit, he says that he must ask something and she must tell him the truth, even if she’s never told him the truth until that point. He asks if she is indeed a witch. Claire is so startled by this she asks how he could even ask that, then races away into a clearing, throws her arms about a tree, and begins cackling hysterically.

Jamie comes to her, and she realizes she better make herself sound more sane. Forcibly, she stops laughing, but she can’t stop the tirade than then issues forth. She says that, yes, she must be a witch according to him. There are diseases she cannot catch. She knows the future. She knows all sorts of things others don’t. This leads into a disjointed, frightful spewing of the truth, that she comes from the future, that she was born in 1918.

When at last she stops, she falls to the ground and curls up crying, certain she’s lost Jamie. But after a bit, he gathers her into his arms and insists that he believes her. He has her explain everything, and she does. After, he says it would be easier if she were only a witch.

Writer Comments: I didn’t see the smallpox vaccination scar on Geilie’s arm coming. However, I had exactly the reaction an author wants a reader to have: surprise, then “Oh, how did I not see that coming.” I knew there was something about Geilie that might make her aware that Claire comes from a different time. I didn’t know how she might know this, but it never occurred to me that it was because she too had come back in time. Perhaps it should have. Regardless, Gabaldon gave clues, and looking back, I can see them. A good author should surprise her readers, but not drop such surprises out of nowhere.

Addtionally, Geilie continues to intrigue me. She claimed to be a patriot earlier in the book. Now, I wonder if she’s actually trying to alter history so that Scotland escapes fully becoming part of Britain. It would explain a great many of her actions. Too, I wonder if the fact she’s pregnant will spare her for at least a little while.

Additionally, Gabaldon does something significant here: She redeems Geilie. Earlier in the chapter, Geilie confessed some awful things to Claire, including murder. To be honest, as a reader, I kind of thought she deserved to die. However, the fact that she’d sacrifice her life to save Claire speaks volumes. It makes me hope she’ll live. No character should be simplistic. All people are complex. They have elements that are repulsive and aspects that we can admire. For fiction that grabs, conflicts like this in a character’s personality must be present to retain reader interest.

Beyond that, I’d like to share the best line of this entire section, spoken by Jamie as he comes to rescue Claire and defies the mob and the ecclesiastical judges:

“Do ye dare to draw arms against the justice of God?” snapped the tubby little judge. 
Jamie drew the sword completely, with a flash of steel, then thrust it point-first into the ground, leaving the hilt quivering with the force of the blow. 
“I draw it in defense of this woman, and the truth,” he said. “If any here be against those two, you’ll answer to me, and then God, in that order.” -- page 398

It’s stuff like this that makes a hero like him just plain awesome.

Summary: Jamie and Claire travels for a ways, keeping off the road when they hear people coming near. Then Claire realizes as she sees Craigh na Dun on the horizon what Jamie intends.

Jamie takes her to the circle of standing stones and insists she must return ot her own time. She doesn’t belong in his. But the very thought fills Claire with dread. She resists, but Jamie insists she show him how she managed the trick before, and he forces her to go through with it. She places her hand on the rock, which still buzzes like it did the first time, and starts to go through.

Suddenly, she’s collapsed and Jamie is above her, frightened she’s hurt or nearly dead. He confesses to having grabbed her and yanked her back when he saw an expression of absolute horror on her face as she started to slip away. He then realizes that everything she told him really is true.

But when Claire recovers from the shock, he insists she must go back. When she can’t quite manage to make herself, he walks away, saying he’ll be waiting in the abandoned croft nearby to make sure she’s safe.

Just as he’s about to disappear, Claire calls to him and warns him not to join Prince Charlie’s uprising, because, if he does, like all the Scots who fight with Charlie, he’ll die. Jamie looks stunned, but manages to walk away regardless.

Claire spends the entire rest of the day trying to convince herself to go through the rock and back to Frank. She tries to reason herself into it. She tries to use emotion to push herself to go. At last, she demands that duty should insist she return to Frank. By when night comes, she’s still sitting in the past and cannot bear the thought of leaving Jamie.

She goes to him in the croft and finds him asleep with dried tears on his cheeks. She slips in beside him, and when he wakes, he asks why she stayed. But she can’t quite answer except that she had to.

The next morning, filled with fresh purpose and life, they ride away. Part of Claire grieves for Frank, but a good part of her rejoices in having chosen Jamie. Jamie insists that finding the strength to let her go was the hardest thing he’s ever had to do. And now that he’s done it, he supposes it’s time to do the second hardest thing, to return home to Lallybroch.

Writer Comments: Such a touching scene! Honestly, this chapter may be the best in the book so far.

I have a feeling that Claire, despite her current intentions, will one day return to Craigh na Dun with the intention of returning to the world of 1945. Perhaps it will be to escape something. Perhaps it’ll be out of pain or sorrow. Perhaps it will be to utilize some necessary modern mechanism. (I have an image of her pregnant slipping through the cleft in the stone because she knows modern medicine is the only way to save her child.) Regardless, rather than close the possibility of Claire returning to her present, as Claire thinks herself, Gabaldon has actually thrown open the doors of possibility. We now know that Claire can probably return to 1945 whenever she wishes, and that may be a very dangerous thing. It’s certainly an intriguing one.

Further, Gabaldon utilizes a trick that really allows her to get down to Claire’s deepest desires. She gives Claire everything she supposedly wants, namely the ability and permission to return to her own time. Claire should leap at the chance, but instead, she hesitates. In this, Gabaldon removes any barrier save the truth of what holds Claire in the past, her love for Jamie. She strips Claire emotionally bare and allows us to see truth. As in life, choices are what define characters in fiction. One of the most interesting of these is when a character is presented with everything they wanted. It allows us to see growth. It allows for story complications. It’s an emotional and satisfying journey.


Thank you for joining me for this week’s read of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. We’ll resume this read next Monday. Until then, join me Friday for further forays into fiction, the speculative, and life.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Life Is the Best Writing Teacher

There are many answers to the question of how to become a better writer. A lot of people will say it requires reading and more reading, and that’s true. It also requires studying authors who inspire you. It requires writing horrible stories, countless thousands of words, until finally something kind of decent comes out, then something better, and finally something worth selling. But there’s another great teacher that’s absolutely free.

Life itself.

I know this sounds vague and, perhaps, overly mystical, but stop and think about it for a minute. While life will never teach us sound plot structure, all of us struggle, suffer tragedy, have known joyous moments, and have dealt with our own antagonists. There are real life examples of conflict and tension, which are essential ingredients to good storytelling.

Additionally, nothing else is a better teacher of sensory details and rich layers. If you step back from our electronics-drenched world--yes, I know that’s hard--and stop and let yourself experience the moment, you can learn to perceive and then incorporate into your stories incredibly unique and rich details.

For example, as I write this, if I stop to let myself really notice the world around me, I become aware of the mattress I’m sitting on, the lumpy springs and thin cover because it’s getting old, the slick keys of my keyboard, the soft whoosh of the heater, the scent of the aloe vera lotion I put on my hands just a little while ago, and the faint taste of the Snickers I snuck after dinner. I can feel the cold penetrating my sweater as it seeps in through the windows, the distant sound of my dog yapping in annoyance that he had to go outside, and the hum of car engines a few streets away.

There’s something about living in the moment and becoming aware of oneself and the surroundings that summons creativity and living. That sense of the now and that depth of descriptive abilities we can each tap helps give vigor to stories. So, in addition to reading, writing, and learning from fellow authors, let yourself experience your own life and, through it, improve your abilities as a writer.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: Read, Chapter 25, Part 1


Welcome to this week’s read of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we take a look at what makes this bestselling story work. As, like chapter 24, chapter 25 is a bit long, I’m taking two weeks to cover it.

Enjoy!

SPOILERS!

Chapter 25: Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live

Summary: Claire and Geilie are thrown into a stinking, filthy pit of a cell to await trial. Rodents and other vermin slither across the floor, and only a scant bit of sunlight reaches them during the day. At night, it freezes, and she and Geilie are forced to huddle together for warmth.

But Geilie quickly becomes an uncomfortable companion. In the frightful dark, she confesses to Claire, without a hint of regret, that she murdered her husband, that it isn’t the jealous girl Laoghaire who’s carrying Dougal’s child, but herself, and that she sold Laoghaire the ill-wish that was placed in Claire’s bed. Too, she confesses to diverting her late husband’s money to Scotland’s cause, that she’s a Jacobite, and in her word, a patriot. All this she says with pride.

Claire is horrified, but at this dreaded time when she has no one else, Geilie is also her only companion and the one thing to help her in the dark and cold.

At one point, Claire manages to doze, only to wake when Geilie asks her if she loves Jamie, for Claire apparently calls out his name in her sleep. Knowing she’ll likely soon die and unable to lie to herself any longer, Claire confesses that she does.

Reader Comments: This scene is a beautiful mixture of contrasting emotions. I was right there with Claire, horrified as Geilie revealed her secrets. She’s clearly capable of such evil, yet some of it is comprehensible. At the same time, she’s such a dynamic character. It’s hard to imagine Gabaldon killing her off. She was kind to Claire sometimes, but then, she’s clearly not to be trusted.

Obviously my opinions of Geilie Duncan are muddled because she’s such a complex character. I’m sure this is Gabaldon’s intent, to make her readers feel torn in multiple directions when it comes to Geilie. This is particularly beneficial to this part of the story because it helps really draw in a reader. If a reader feels invested in a character and doesn’t know themselves whether they want that character to meet a fair or foul fortune, it creates greater tension. In my case, part of me wants Geilie to burn for her heartlessly murdering her husband, but she’s such an interesting character.

Summary: When the ecclesiastical judges come at last, Claire and Geilie are dragged from the hole and placed before them to hear their charges and the testimony of villager after villager that they are indeed witches. For the most part, the testimony is against Geilie, but a few bring compelling evidence against Claire. The woman whose baby Claire found on the hill comes forward to attest that she saw Geilie and Claire pick the child up and say spells over it, that a demon came in the dark--really Jamie--and in the morning, they found the child dead. The youth who saw the waterhorse with Claire claims she drew it from the deep to do her evil bidding, but the judges have him locked up for drunkenness that caused him to spout such nonsense. Father Bane, the village priest, accuses her of setting the pack of dogs on him, then cursing him. For evidence, he shows his wounded leg, which has turned very bad. Claire exclaims that he must get it treated immediately, for he has blood poisoning; otherwise, he’ll die. This, Father Bane turns as proof that she’s cursing him again.

Claire knows no help is coming. Jamie is away and cannot come. Because Geilie is carrying Dougal’s inconvenient child, Colum needs to get rid of her, and if Claire gets caught up in the middle, he’s not going to make one move to help her. But as things look bleakest, a man on horseback rides into the village. To Claire’s surprise, it isn’t Jamie, but Ned Gowen, the solicitor who accompanied them on their tour to collect rents, the same tour that led to Claire and Jamie’s marriage.

Ned offers to help Claire and proceeds to spend the next several hours, to dark in fact, monologuing about the law and precedent and boring everyone mindless. Many of the villagers, who were earlier hot for blood, wander off in search of more entertaining things to do than listen to the solicitor done on and on and on and. . .

By dark, the tactic has worked somewhat. Ned convinces the judges to allow Claire’s case to be considered separately from Geilie’s and arranges slightly better quarters for Claire. As he explains to her in their brief conference that night, he intends to play up the fact that she’s English and so therefore didn’t know any better than to get mixed up with Geilie. Too, if they can force the trial to last long enough, the hysteria will die down. Boredom will give Claire a better chance at survival. She’s still very much at risk, but it’s about the only chance she has.

Just as Ned is leaving, Claire asks if Colum sent him. Ned confesses that the laird didn’t, and that, rather, he came of his own accord.

Writer Comments: Ned has just shot up to my list of favorite characters in this book. He’s awesome. He deserves something very happy. This is true heroism and honor, though of a far different flavor than that associated with Jamie.

In this scene, Gabaldon must save Claire. After all, Claire is the point-of-view character, but to have Jamie come riding in with bravado would be cliche and, ultimately, unsatisfying. Instead, Gabaldon plays on reader expectations and gives the story a twist. Who would imagine that thin, little Ned Gowen would swoop in as Claire’s hero, his weapon of choice words that bore their every listener, even the heroine. It’s humorous and fun and different. Unexpected twists make a story stand out and come alive. Ned is completely unexpected, yet he makes perfect sense. However, it isn’t until this last bit when he confesses he came to Claire’s rescue for himself rather than on anyone’s orders that shoots him up to hero status.

When writing, play with reader expectations, throw curveballs that make perfect sense in hindsight, and infuse the story with larger than life qualities. Ned is boring and plain, yet he clearly has a heart of gold.


Thank you for joining me for this chapter of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. We’ll resume this read next Monday. Until then, join me Friday for further forays into fiction, the speculative, and life. And stay warm!

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Reasoned Approach to Using Wikipedia

Having gotten a degree in a subject that requires quite a bit of research, I had the mantra drilled into my head that Wikipedia is not an acceptable source for research. I had professors who refused to count any research that cited Wikipedia as a source. However, Wikipedia is awfully convenient.

Fast forward several years. As a writer with many writer friends, I confess that almost all of us rely on Wikipedia for research. It’s easy. Much of the time, what’s on Wikipedia is copied from other sources or vice versa. If you do a search online, you’ll find exact quotes, and long ones at that, shared between Wikipedia articles and other online sources. (I won’t even begin to cover the potential issues of plagiarism there.) So, to be honest, Wikipedia isn’t the only research source that should be taken with a grain of salt.

Back to that convenience, though, Wikipedia also often offers a wider breadth of information than is easily gathered elsewhere online and especially via books. As a writer, if I just need to quickly check a fact or jog my memory, it can be a great resource. It’s also fantastic for getting a quick historical outline or list of subtopics. For example, this morning, while looking for new bread recipes, I looked at the Wikipedia article that lists types of bread, and oh so many yummy possibilities opened up that I would never have known about otherwise.

So let’s step back and take a look at Wikipedia beyond the issue of convenience.

First and foremost, the quality of the information should be the first factor in considering whether or not to use that information. It’s a well-known fact that anyone can alter the information on Wikipedia, which means that everything is suspect. At the same time, this is true of any information online. It’s true for print sources as well. While print sources go through more eyes, and thus presumably more oversight and critique, books and articles have been known to contain false information, to be misleading intentionally or accidentally, and to be proven false by later authors and research. So no matter what the source is, you should give the information it presents due consideration and not immediately assume it’s absolute fact. Perhaps it is truth, but allow reason, experience, and comparative sources to help establish that truth rather than blind trust.

Whether you determine that the information in a Wikipedia article is reliable or not, Wikipedia offers one nice resource at the end: Further Reading. This list located at the end of Wikipedia articles offers resources to help check facts or simply to expand your knowledge of a particular subject. Looking at the resources listed in the Further Reading can also give you an idea of how much research the author(s) put into the article. This list is a much easier jumping off point than the thousands and millions of possibilities a Google search will provide.

Beyond that, Wikipedia offers the See Also list. This web of links to related subjects open up a wide range knowledge and can help you spot connections you might not have known or realized. Sometimes the links aren’t helpful at all, but sometimes they contain gems.

Nowadays, despite my professors’ loathing for the source, I do use Wikipedia. However, I keep in mind that the source can be unreliable and faulty. Like anything in life, Wikipedia has it benefits and dangers. As long as I’m mindful of those dangers, I can reap the benefits of a convenient and helpful resource. I hope you can too.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: Read, Chapter 24, Part 4


Welcome to this week’s read of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we take a look at how Gabaldon weaves a bestselling story. As chapter 24 is quite long, I’ve broken it into sections. Today, we tackle the fourth and final section of the chapter.

Enjoy!

SPOILERS!

Chapter 24: By the Pricking of My Thumbs

Summary: Claire goes out with her friend Geilie, who is the village healer, into the hills to gather herbs and moss. While out there, Claire comes across a sick baby left in the hollow of a hill with a bowl of milk at its head and a bouquet of flowers at its feet. Claire makes to take the child back home and do what she can to help it, but Geilie refuses to let her. Reluctantly, Claire leaves the child, thinking the parents will return for it soon. But she discovers from Geilie that the child has been left out to die. Claire immediately tries to go back and save the child, but Geilie stops her, insisting that she dare not because the child will die and Claire will be blamed. It’s a changeling, and they’ve no business going near such a dangerous thing.

Claire refuses to give into superstition, and Geilie leaves her as she goes back for the child. It’s near dark, so Claire struggles to find her way back. At last, she finds the right hill, but in the dark, she runs straight into Jamie who’s come to take her home. He tells her he ran into Geilie who explained what she was doing, that he’s already found the child himself, and that it’s already dead.

He then escorts her back to Leoch. He’s at least understanding that she has a kind heart, which motivates her to do such things. But he tries to make her understand that the people who live nearby do not follow the reasoning of the educated. They’ve barely left the places where they were born and know only what the priest tells them and the old stories which are real to them.

At Castle Leoch, the lights are ablaze, for the Duke of Sandringham has finally come.

Writer Comments: Trying to save a baby left abandoned in the wild is classic heroism. That’s what makes Claire appealing in this scene. Even though I knew it would cause her all sorts of trouble to take a changeling child home, I wanted her to save it. But Gabaldon doesn’t just work heroism and sympathy in Claire in this scene. She manages it with Jamie too. Unlike Geilie, and I suspect any other character, Jamie is understanding of Claire’s need to save a helpless child. That sympathy makes him even more heroic.

But notice that neither of them succeeded in saving the baby. Their heroism doesn’t come in the actions they complete, but in their motivation and the actions they attempt.

Summary: A few days later, Claire goes with Jamie to fetch Geilie and her husband, the fiscal, to join the banquet at Leoch for the Duke. While there, Claire sneaks with Geilie to figure out who sent the “ill-wish”, the bundle of herbs Claire and Jamie found in the bed several days before.

Geilie takes her to an attic room locked tight and looking far more like a witch’s lair than what she’s seen of the rest of the house. Geilie even has a shelf with a grimmoire on it. Geilie assure Claire she only does white magic and proceeds to prepare a summoning to find out who sent the ill-wish.

But in the midst of the ritual, with fragrant smoke in her nostrils and candlelight about her, breathing deep and sleepily, Claire encounters something unexpected. A voice asks her who she is and why she came. Claire suspects she’s being hypnotized. She answers that she’s Claire and that she can’t tell how she came because no one will believe her.

Before the voice can extract anything more from Claire, the sound of Geilie’s husband banging on the door to hurry her up breaks the spell. Claire is numb and feeling odd. Geilie has her lie down while she finished getting dressed for the banquet. Mr. Duncan, Geilie’s husband, comes in again. He knocks on Geilie’s closet door. Claire hears a shriek and sees Mr. Duncan fall against the doorjamb. She jumps up to help him, but he staggers off. Thinking the shriek was Geilie, she knocks and asks if she’s all right. Geilie insists that she is.

When the girls come down, Claire finds Mr. Duncan seemingly recovered and drinking brandy with Jamie. However, at the banquet, just after Colum gifts Claire with a beautiful black rosary, Mr. Duncan falls and goes into some sort of convulsions. Claire rushes over to help Geilie try to save him, but nothing she does makes a difference. He dies on the banquet hall floor.

Writer Comments: The plot thickens. This scene is excellent for ratcheting up reader curiosity. As a reader, I suspect that Geilie knows Claire isn’t normal. Perhaps she doesn’t know that Claire is from another time period, but she knows something. The summoning was just a cover for her to find out what, which didn’t fully work. Additionally, I suspect that Geilie may be somewhat culpable in her husband’s death. There’s just a lot of implied suspicion there.

It’s good to keep readers wondering and theorizing. It gets them more invested in a story.

Summary: With Mr. Duncan’s funeral, the hunt involving the Duke, Jamie, and Dougal is delayed briefly, but soon after, Jamie must go, leaving Claire at the castle alone. They’re both reluctant to part, and Jamie insists Claire be careful and not go near Geilie as the villagers think her a witch. After Jamie leaves, Claire soon finds herself depressed and bored.

About two weeks later, the girl who first fancied Jamie tells Claire that Geilie requests her attend her, for Geilie is ill. Compelled by compassion and boredom, Claire goes despite Jamie’s warning. She finds Geilie in her house. Though the house is messy and rundown and Geilie well into her store of brandy, she isn’t ill at all. Just as Claire realizes that Geilie didn’t send for her, she hears the disturbing sound of an approaching mob.

Writer Comments: It’s always nice and good to end a chapter on a cliffhanger. All chapters, and for that matter all scenes, should en in such a way that they compel a reader to keep reading. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a dramatic event like a mob likely intent on burning themselves a witch. However, there must be something unresolved and intriguing or ominous, something that leaves readers craving more.


Thank you for joining me for this chapter of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. We’ll resume this read next Monday. Until then, swing back by on Friday for further forays into fiction, the speculative, and life.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Plotting Problems

A solid plot is essential for a good book structure. While the particulars can be as divergent as the stars in the sky, the essential skeleton of plot is formulaic. You can look up any number of description of how to break it down and plot. However, these cover plot based stories, or at least stories where action and events play major components. They’re trickier if you have a more literary story.

In my current WIP (work in progress), I ran into the challenge that the story is far more of a character story. Events and action occurs, but they aren’t the primary focus of the novel. As I’ve written stories that have strong plots in the past, this presented me with a problem. How do you write a compelling non-plot driven story?

Fortunately, people far smarter than I have asked this question and written about it. Donald Maass, in particular, had a very helpful article on the subject. Even if you have no intention of writing a non-plot driven story, take a look at the article to get a wider, better understanding of what makes a story compelling.

Here’s the article: Plotting the Non-Plot-Driven Novel. Check it out.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: Read, Chapter 24, Part 3


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.

Enjoy!

SPOILERS!

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.


Thank you for joining me for this week’s read of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. We’ll resume this read next Monday. Until then, swing back by on Friday for further forays into fiction, the speculative, and life.