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How Claire came to be and who she is

How Claire came to be and who she is


This is just part of a discussion I was having elsewhere online, part of a larger thread concerning whether writers have “favorite characters,” and if they do, does this affect which character tells the story (i.e., what Point of View the writer uses). Which then kind of branched off into a sub-discussion as to whether OUTLANDER is “Claire’s story” (no) or whether Claire or Jamie (or a variety of other characters) is/are my “favorites.” (I’m particularly fond of a lot of characters—Lord John, Mr. Willoughby, Hal, William, etc.—but this has nothing to do with my choice of viewpoint.)

Anyway, since I’d seen small discussions here and there as to “whose” story OUTLANDER is, I thought y’all might enjoy this part of that larger discussion.

[Bear in mind that the following was addressed to another writer who was curious about the way in which I go about constructing a story, how I build characters (assuming such a thing is possible…) and how I decided things like which point of view to use, etc.]

“Dear X–

You know, it’s possible that many writers go about their work with a lot more pre-thinking than I do. <g> All I had, when I made up my mind to write a novel for practice (no one was EVER going to see it, so I could have perfect freedom to do anything I felt like, try anything I wanted to experiment with (in order to increase my skill), etc.)–was a man in a kilt. Period. That’s it. Man in a kilt.

So if one is going to say that OUTLANDER is „about“ any one character (and it’s not, but put that aside…), it would be The Man in the Kilt. However, about the third day of writing–and I didn’t think about what I was _going_ to write, I just wrote about whatever vague thing drifted into my mind, just to put fictional words down on paper (ergo, those first two days were entirely focused on the Man in the Kilt (nameless, then)….

Well, I’d gone to the university library (I was an assistant professor, which gave me really good access and borrowing privileges) immediately, when I decided to set my practice novel in 18th century Scotland, and as of the third day, I knew a few things–mainly, that the Big Conflict in Scotland in the 18th century was the Jacobite Rising of the ’45. Which–on a very superficial level (superficial is all you _can_ be, with two days‘ research)–seemed to be a war between England and Scotland. (It was, of course, much more complex than that, but then, all wars are a lot more complex than they seem on the surface.)

So–in possession of that fact <g>–I thought, well, obviously, I need a lot of Scotsmen here, because of the kilt factor, and if it’s a war, we’ll have them–but maybe it would be a good idea to have a female to play against them; then we’d have sexual tension–that’s conflict, that’s good…and if I make her an Englishwoman, then we’ll have _lots_ of conflict. So…

I introduced An Englishwoman. No idea who she was, what she was going to do, etc.–she was just An Englishwoman, whose only purpose was to interact on some unspecified level with The Man in the Kilt, in order to escalate the sense of conflict and tension.

So that’s who Jamie and Claire were, to begin with.

Now, it was my husband who observed to me, sometime last year (when some people started saying that Outlander was „Claire’s story“—and other people contended that it wasn’t), that in fact, it was Jamie’s story as told through (and by) Claire (who was naturally an integral part of said story).

I mentioned this quote to someone, observing that I thought he was right (not that I’d ever thought about it myself any time in the last 30 years…)–and suddenly we have Discussion online about it. (Not blaming anyone for this, I hasten to add…it’s totally fine for people to discuss either books or show in any terms they like. But since they do then tend to ask _me_ about it…I think I’m entitled to state my own opinion. <g>)

What _I_ think is that a) of COURSE it’s Jamie and Claire’s story. How could it not be? It wouldn’t be the same story without either one of them–as is quite obvious when you see the separate tracks of their lives in the first part of VOYAGER. And b) what is behind my husband’s observation is true, but it has nothing to do with the importance of either character _as people_.

It has to do with the fact that Jamie lives in much more interesting (read, dangerous, unpredictable, and to a large extent unfamiliar) times. Claire’s post-war, 20th-century life without Jamie is, on the surface, not real interesting. Re-establishing emotional connections with a husband (but in a context of mutual safety and mutual desire to make those connections), or (later) dealing with the challenges of becoming a professional woman and balancing those challenges against the responsibilities and emotional involvement of motherhood.

Yeah, you can make a good novel out of such material–hundreds of Women’s Fiction novels do. But the raw material is not intrinsically interesting. What makes it interesting is either the intense and unique personality of the main character and/or cultural interest/outrage on the part of the readership regarding the situations depicted. Women respond to this kind of story because they face those challenges, and they want to see how other women might manage them. Men, not surprisingly, don’t; that’s why it’s „women’s fiction.“

So, Jamie’s story. He’s a wanted outlaw, constantly at odds with just about everybody, from the British government to a large segment of his own family. There’s incipient social unrest surrounding him (and his whole culture), with the constant potential for violence, subterfuge, mistrust, and imminent execution. In other words, he lives in a high-stakes context; Claire lives in a very personal (but overall low-stakes) context. Adventure (and the demands of such things on character, for good or evil), vs. „My husband KNOWS I take care of a squalling baby all day, how can he bloody invite people to DINNER without asking me?“

So. You introduce Claire into Jamie’s time (and his life) and she immediately enters the much more adventurous, vivid context. A lot of what happens to her in OUTLANDER (and later books) has to do with who Jamie is and what he chooses or is forced to do. This doesn’t mean she’s a bystander, onlooker, or in any way a nonparticipant; the fact that she’s _there_ is vitally important, both to Jamie and the story overall, and she makes personal choices that shape her own life (and Jamie’s), as well as dealing with circumstances forced upon her. But it’s Jamie’s context in which both of them live their lives together. She’s telling it, because she’s the outlander, the fish out of water, the stranger–we identify with her, because that’s what our role would be in similar circumstances, and it’s a much easier way to tell a historical story, if you can use modern idiom and perception (and gives you the opportunity for subtle social commentary—at least we hope it’s subtle…). That doesn’t mean it’s principally her story, or that her part in it is either more or less than Jamie’s–as previously noted, the story itself doesn’t exist without both of them, and both of them _together_.

But if you’re looking at the structure of the story, then yeah, it’s Jamie’s story as told by (and lived with) Claire.


P.S. Yes, I know some people connected with the show say it’s “Claire’s story.” They do so for their own valid reasons, and they’re entitled to their opinions, too. I’m just telling you what _I_ know. The books are the books and the show is the show—and I write the books.