Kat: Outlander: A Hero is a Hero…Except When He’s Not

Outlander 2014

“Outlander” (c) 2014 Starz Entertainment, LLC

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” (c) 2014 Starz Entertainment, LLC

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?

14 thoughts on “Kat: Outlander: A Hero is a Hero…Except When He’s Not

  1. These are great points, Kat. I hadn’t even thought about it, but you’re right–at this point, Dougal is the front-runner for Clare’s affections in terms of screen-time and the strength of their interactions.This is reinforced by our cultural expectation that women partner with men who are older than they, not younger. It will be interesting to see how successfully the producers manage changing our expectations.

    • Not that Claire is attracted to him but the strength of their chemistry has made me look harder at my secondary male characters, particularly Cord, Cheyenne’s brother and my next hero.

  2. I like the sound of this, Kat. I re-read the book recently, and Dougal definitely comes across as charismatic, powerful and attracted to Claire, though he’s also 100% politician. I’m glad they didn’t fudge it. I didn’t read Claire as being attracted to him and I think I’d have found that a problem – Diana Gabaldon does a wonderful job of balancing Claire’s loyalties between the husband she left behind and the soul-mate she discovers. Adding a third man to the mix would completely change my reading of Claire’s character.

    I’ll be interested to see how Jamies’s character develops. If he comes across as a bit of a lad, I think they’ve done him a dis-service. He is young, but from the beginning of the book he’s as politically astute as Dougal. Politics is as natural to him as breathing – he reads all Dougal’s moves loud and clear and negotiates some treacherous situations with considerable aplomb.

    I’ll also be interested to see whether viewers who have not read the book and do not know what’s coming invest in Claire and Dougal. If so, there’s going to be some almighty kickback.

    When I’m reading a romance, I’m all for a few extra hot guys on the landscape, but I want to know who the hero is, loud and clear with no shadow of doubt. I think the best way is to show as quickly as possible through a defining event or action the reason why the hero and heroine are uniquely suited. So in Georgette Heyer’s Devil’s Cub (one of my reference texts), the moment the heroine defends her innocence by shooting the hero is the moment we know they are done and dusted and no-one else will do.

    • I agree that Claire is not being portrayed (in book or series) as attracted to Dougal. And in a scene at the oath-taking, Jamie does pull off a political coup by the way he frames his alligance to Collum without being an overt threat to Dougal’s ambitions.

      This may be an age-thing with me. I find the Dougal character (and the actor playing him) much more “manly” than Jamie. Maybe once Jamie strips off his plaid, I’ll feel differently 🙂

  3. I haven’t read Claire’s interactions with Dougal as anything but her developing a newfound respect for the man who initially came off as her prison warden and enemy. I think her attitude of him changes particularly in the scene with Geordie. She sees a whole different side of him as a compassionate man who isn’t totally heartless (which is what I think her opinion of him has been thus far, given his actions and attitudes). I didn’t interpret any romance in their shared look at all. Rather, I saw it as two people acknowledging a common bond — helping a man journey over to the other side peacefully. And I think Dougal gained a newfound respect for Claire, as well, although I suspect he’s going to abuse that at some point (it’s been a long time since I’ve read the book).

    To me, the chemistry between Jamie and Claire is palpable, particularly that scene in episode 3 where she takes his neck cloth off to check his wound. Hubba-hubba!

    • I didn’t mean to infer that there was anything remotely like a romance between Claire and Dougal–definitely not. But obviously Dougal hasn’t met a woman like Claire before, and I think he’s got a thing for her.

      I also think (IMHO) that the actor playing Dougal (I initially thought he was too old to play him) has a sizzling sex appeal that I’ve yet to see in the characterization of Jamie despite the nice moments he and Claire have shared.

      See my comments above regarding the age of the audience coloring their (my) impressions…

      • That was my bad. I read everything too quickly the first time and sort of fired off a comment. *slaps hand* Bad me, won’t do it again. 🙂

        As for Dougal’s interest in Claire, you’re probably right. Powerful men (who are confident in themselves and not selfish about their power — as the priest is) can be drawn to strong women, and there’s no doubt Claire is that. I think there is some sex appeal to Dougal, but perhaps I’m still in my “Teen Beat” phase or I like them clean-shaven, but Jamie’s the one that does it for me. 😀

  4. I didn’t like (or finish) Outlander the book, and I don’t have cable, so I’m just shooting from the hip here. But having watched the first three or four seasons of True Blood (and many other adaptations, as well), it’s really clear that TV and film producers will use sometimes just the barest bones of a book—like a slate of characters and the setting only—to satisfy the demands of television or their own creative preferences. There’s really nothing to say, for example, that Jamie will be Claire’s love interest in the TV show, just because it’s in the book that way. If they’re not making him out to be the biggest, bravest, whatever-est, then maybe he’s not getting Claire. If the hero is ambiguous—if all the male characters are charismatic—the producers might be thinking of doing that. Or making it more of a contest. Or whatever.

  5. I do think a book has more in common with a series than it will with a movie. A series can play with some of these side relationships and develop them (like a book can). But just like an actor can sometimes steal the show, sometimes a side character can steal a book.

    • I agree and several of us have the next hero waiting in the wings (and on the page). So my take-away from this is to be careful how much page time a secondary male character gets & the interactions he has with the heroine. Don’t want to confuse the reader or undermine the hero.

      • To Kay’s point, TV producers often look to set up a contest (Team Jamie v. Team Dougal, or whatever), because they can use that to gain attention and drum up interest in the show. Viewers still get bent out of shape – remember all the discussions about Arrow on Argh? – but it seems to go with the territory.

        You see it sometimes in romance writing (Twilight, and of course Stephanie Plum) but personally I really dislike it. I want to know who the hero is and I want to be fully invested in him from beginning to end of the story.

        • I’ve seen that too, but it’s not really the case here since Claire obviously finds Dougal’s tactics distasteful at best and obscene at worse. Last night’s episode sealed the deal. Dougal is becoming less appealing with each subsequent episode. Although I know (I read the book) that he saves Claire at least one more time.

          Jamie’s the hero. Now if the actor playing him can pull it off…

        • Everyone has different tastes, and I really liked the Stephanie Plum dichotomy — mainly because I remember being young and crushing on two guys at the same time. I think Evanovitch didn’t go deep enough with the choices involved, and also, she just took too much time to resolve the thing (did she ever resolve it? I think I have read them all up to the Christmas special, and there was no end in sight — they were both so hot in their different ways, and Stephanie couldn’t choose one and go after him and tie him down, poor baby).

          I do like a good love triangle, and my book was originally supposed to be one (with one guy the winner/prize at the end of the book — I wasn’t going to drag out the suspense through a series of “omg, who am I going to give my heart to? They are both great guys, and they can both be utter jerks.”

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