Monday, August 30, 2010

A How-To about Writing Scotsmen, Revolutionaries and Companions: Diana Gabaldon's Outlander Series

I had thought that I was the only one with  a weird writing style. I rarely write in a straight line (i.e. chronologically, chapter one follows chapter two, etc.). I end up writing what I call "snippets" of scenes that I fit into place later, as the story takes shape. Even my poetry tends to wander at times. I write anytime, anywhere, whenever I get the chance. This random functionality (or as a friend calls it, "chaotic scribbling") is a must for my busy mum lifestyle. Otherwise, I'd never get around to writing, and employ all sorts of excuses.

Yesterday, I bought the Outlandish Companion by Diana Gabaldon. It's a compendium of things related to her "Outlander" series. The series focuses on Claire Beauchamp Randall, a British nurse who served in World War II. In 1945, she and her husband go on a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands. There she stumbles into a ring of stones, which transports her to 1745 Scotland. She ends up in the middle of a clan war and is forced to marry Jamie Fraser, a young Scot warrior, for protection. Their journey includes the Battle of Culloden, the American Revolution, and time-jumps to 1968 Britain.

It's not quite historical fiction, not quite fantasy/romance, but has elements of all three. The Outlandish Companion includes things as varies as 1)synopses of each book in the series (up to A Drums of Autumn) 2) Scots Gaelic dictionary of expressions, 3) brief Scottish history, including clans and the events leading up to the Battle of Culloden, where the clans were defeated by the British, 4) character lists and geneologies, 5) an article about the medical practices of the era, 6) Frequently Asked Questions about the series, 7) Celtic musicology, 8)Celtic myths and legends, 9) How to conduct historical research and 10) her thoughts and ideas about the writing process in general. (Whew!)

Ms. Gabaldon is candid about her writing process. Before starting Outlander (known as Cross Stitch, in the UK), she wrote and published scientific articles in marine biology. When she made the decision to switch to fiction, she decided to learn how to write a novel by "just writing it". In fact, Outlander was meant to be her 'practice novel', and hadn't planned on showing it, much less publishing it. When she posted snippets of it on a discussion board, her fellow readers wanted "to find out what happens next", so she continued to write it. In fact, she admitted she hadn't planned on concentrating on 18th century Scotland at first, but through research and more writing, she completed Outlander and began a new journey.

The Outlandish Companion doesn't skimp on information; it's packed with notes, letters from fans, and copies of the original conversations on the old-style "bulletin boards" (before e-mail and chat). It can be overwhelming at first, but you can pick and choose which sections interest you. If you write in the historical fiction genre, this would be an excellent book to have on your bookshelf.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

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