After four episodes, Outlander is finally heating up. Problem is, the heat is coming from someone other than hero, Jamie Fraser.
Watching the producers adapt Outlander to the small screen, condensing the 800+ book while staying true to the story, has been an education in writing and editing. Thus far the series writers have done a good job of figuring out what to show vs. tell, but they’ve been slightly less succesful in handling the extensive backstory that’s necessary to the story. The first two episodes have been “a wee bit” slow.
Perhaps the most valuable writing “lesson” I’ve learned so far is something that was pointed out to me early on at McD. The first draft of my first scene introduced antagonist, Hawk, but the details and descriptions I used screamed “hero” to my beta readers. I was advised to rewrite that scene and introduce my hero ASAP, and in a way that left no doubt who he was.
Outlander has a bit of the same problem. So far, Dougal McKenzie (uncle of Jaime and brother of Laird, Collum McKenzie) has supplanted Jaime as sexiest man in Outlander. Dougal is power hungry, but he’s not without charm where the ladies are concerned. In the latest episode, Dougal pulls Claire from the fire twice—first when he rescues her from a band of rowdy, drunken bores with rape on their mind, and later from a charging wild (real) boar. That the slightly drunk Dougal put the moves on Claire after vanquishing the ruffians (to the victor go the spoils), only deepened his sex appeal. He was forceful as he stole a kiss (and a grope) but the fact that Claire was able to halt his assault with a slap and a shove, speaks volumes about Dougal (a rogue he may be, but he doesn’t hold with rape). Later in the same episode as Claire and Dougal work together to comfort Geordie as he dies, the two of them exchange a look that is so intimate they appear to be of one mind, silently telegraphing messages the way lovers do.
The other problem as I see it (and this isn’t really writing related) is that to this point, older and more experienced actor, Graham McTavish (Dougal) has had a powerhouse on-screen presence that dwarfs Sam Heughan (Jamie) each time they share a scene. The producers tried to remedy this by showing Jamie tossing Dougal over his shoulder like a sack of wheat during a cricket-like game at the gathering, but frankly, Jamie still hits me as a “lad” while Dougal is a man (I’ll admit I might be taken with Dougal because he’s of my generation).
Luckily, I know it won’t be long and Jamie will emerge as the hero we know and love, particularly as Dougal shows his more despicable side (he uses Jamie’s scars to wheedle money out of villagers for the Jacobite cause). Still, the fact that Dougal has stolen the show for the past three episodes illustrates the high wire act an author must balance when having two (or more) strong, sexy male characters competing for screen/page time. In the interest of building the story (important of course) and staying true to it, the producers may have minimized Jamie — something they will have to overcome, and quickly.
If you’re watching, what do you think of the screen adaption of Outlander so far? If you’re not, what do you think are the necessary ingredients for creating a strong (if flawed) hero? Do you think age is the best way to distinguish between a strong male character and the hero (as I’ve done in my WIP)? What else can the author do to make the hero stand out in a sea of sexy, strong male characters?