What Outlander Taught Me About Writing.

If you are not acquainted with the Outlander books and Starz series here’s a quick rundown. The first of Diana Gabaldon 8 books was published in 1992. The TV series first aired in 2014 and is now in the 4th season.  It’s about a woman, the Sassy Sassenach, who sets her clocks back too far and lands up in 18th century Scotland.

Her goal is the get back to the 20th century. But there is a hot Scot, Kilt Daddy, whose goal is to keep her there.

Her motivation is to get back to hot baths and toilet paper. His motivation is love. He loved her from the moment he saw her. Sigh.

Conflict is behind every bush. Redcoats waring with Highland Clans. Waring 20th and 18th century morals and values. I could go on but think you get the point.

I’ll begin by saying I feel the Starz series does a good job of transferring the book to the screen. I don’t agree with all the changes they’ve made but, no one asked me for my opinion.

I believe no two people read the same book or see the same TV show.  We read/watch with our own POV. Our world views and experiences. Everyone’s mileage differs. This is my perspective. 

The author  intrigues me most with her characters emotional connections and journeys. Everything between tender to brutal, funny to heartbreak is on the page. Her intimate scenes are more about sensual emotions than the physicality.

Gabaldon weaves her fiction around historical events. She immerses her characters in actual places and events. To the point the settings and events become characters. When the very name of a place is mentioned a reader is able to conjure up the image. Not so much because of complicated physical details but because of the addition of sensual details. I’d venture to say everyone knows what a rock wall or tree looks like. But a rock wall with lichen the same as covered the grave stones. Or the oak tree live the one he’s carved their initials in.      

We are frequently treated to 18th medical practices and all manner of lotions and potions that are still in use today. There is an Outlander Kitchen Cookbook. Do you remember in a Breath of Snow and Ashes when the kiddos get into the Cherry Bounce? There is very little about taste. There is plenty about the effects. The reactions of the unaffected. The reader can’t help but smile.  BTW I imagine it tastes like industrial strength cough syrup.

As the family grows so do sub plots. The reader becomes as deeply involved with secondary characters as they are the main characters. Every single character elicits emotional responses from me. When Fergus had his hand severed. O. MY. The death of a beloved child.  Some characters we absolutely hate. These books have many villains. Some we know the motivation for their evil doing. Others we don’t know. Whatever the reason they cause emotional and physical havoc. Secondary characters are popular enough to spawn character spinoff novellas.

I adore the way this author uses animals as characters. Ian’s dog. The family mule. Sassy Sassenach’s chitty. Kilt Daddy’s horses. They have their own personalities. Their interactions with humans is amazing. The readers become emotionally vested in the animal’s stories.   

Okay, I’ve rambled long enough. My point I’m trying to make is the story isn’t simply being told. I feel I know Kilt Daddy, Sassy Sassenach, their family and their connections to each other. When something happens to them I feel it. I have an emotional connection to people, places and animals in this book.

How does Outlander speak to you?  Does it give you ideas to improve your writing?  

Thanks for stopping by.







17 responses to “What Outlander Taught Me About Writing.”

  1. Alyssa Henderson says:

    Interesting post! I am not an Outlander fan. I’ve tried it and it just didn’t fit for me. BUT… I will say I know many, many people who love it. Why? Because of the characters and the emotions they make the reader/watcher feel. Soooo many people feel they really know Jamie and Claire. Which is kind of the whole point, right? Thanks for sharing Rita 🙂

  2. Elizabeth Langston says:

    I love how she shows us that people are just people–no matter the era they live in. They love, hate, try, do their best with the technology they have. They trust–or don’t. Evil exists, but it can be conquered by good people who won’t give up. And when things go wrong, you can get them back on the right path with patience.

  3. I’m another of those people who could never really get into the books or the show, but I can see why it’s such a cultural phenomenon. Enjoy the new season, Rita!

    • Rita Henuber says:

      I read the first 3 when they came out and I was meh. When I had more time to read I enjoyed them more. Super glad we have a huge variety of reading material to feed our individual likes.

  4. Addison Fox says:

    This is a great post, Rita and you’ve touched on all those things that make for great story telling. It’s so much more than just words on a page – but HOW those words elicit memories, emotion, a connection – it all mixes and blends together. Enjoy season 4!!

    • Rita Henuber says:

      Everything connects. Showing instead of telling connects the character and reader. Connecting the fact to a personal significance for the character. It’s not about the light coming through the window. It’s the floating dust moats or how it sparks in a lover’s hair. Sigh. I have so much to learn.

  5. I loved the books, especially the first three, and definitely felt something for every character. If I can just learn a little bit from that…Thanks, Rita.

  6. Darynda Jones says:

    OMG this made me laugh so hard. “….sets her clocks back too far.” Ha!

    To me this all brings home the fact that we don’t just want to know what happens to the characters. We want to KNOW them. To become a part of their lives. To cheer for them and cry with them. That’s what storytelling is really about.

    Love this post!

    • Rita Henuber says:

      🙂 Yes. But getting it out of our brain and onto the page is a bugger. Read a crime novel last week and the MC says “he felt her breast against his chest” and I’m yelling, “What did it feel like? Did you like it? What did you do? OY.

  7. Liza says:

    So true! Thank you for your viewpoint and reminders about what is important in connection to character. I love how we are drawn into Diana’s world and connect with the “ family” within it. It’s the little things thst connect us to the characters and we imagine ourselves there and what we would feel and do. This draws us in and soon we are living and breathing the whole experience for ourselves. I think she does that to me as I haven’t been so intimately connected to a tv show and hook in forever lol. It’s the little things that most tv shows or books don’t actually go into detail about that make us intimately connected I think. Like seriously where have you ever seen someone just have a baby and race on horseback across the country and then express milk before moving on to complete a mission? It shocks and connects us right away with her experiences as a woman and mother.

    • Rita Henuber says:

      Hi Liza. Thanks for stopping by. Yes. We don’t need to be told Jenny loves her brother. She gives birth, gets on a horse and goes looking for him. You have to have a strong love and connection to do that. 🙂

  8. Melanie Macek says:

    It’s true that no two people read the same book. My best friend and I have been reading the series since 2004. In book 8, there were back to back deaths. One affected her strongly, but the second one, not as much. I was affected by both, but the second death connected to an event from my childhood and I was so torn I walked away from the book for two days to recover.

    It’s not just the writing, but Diana’s attitude that’s made me a better overall writer. Write the story that needs to be told. Don’t let anyone away you or tell you it’s horrible. If it is, then fix it and move on. She’s unapologetic about keeping the story true to the time in which it’s set and I’m so glad she does, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be.

    • Rita Henuber says:

      Melanie, thank you for sharing your experience. It is a joy and pleasure to hear what other authors and readers think and feel about books as I also learn from their take away.

  9. Great reminder to make our characters human, Rita. Flaws and the emotions that are conjured up by them is what connects with readers.

    And yeah, love the series. Also a PollDark fan. WINK


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