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Jamie and the Rule of Three

I had a male reader (Justin Brady (@RandomAngst), who runs the Random Angst book review/rating site at www.randomangst.com) on Twitter just today who said he’d just finished reading OUTLANDER and enjoyed it a lot “until the prison chapters.” I tweeted back that I’d be kind of worried about him if he’d _enjoyed_ the Wentworth part {g}, to which he said, “but why put our hero through such pain and suffering? :)”, adding in the next, “I know I’m late to the #Outlander party & you’ve probably already addressed this; but that was intense emotional, physical pain.”

I was on my way out to dinner, so said I’d reply to him later (haven’t done that yet), but have been thinking at brief moments just _how_ to reply to that. The simple answer is just that that’s what I saw happening, but that’s not enough for the reader. There always _is_ a reason why things happen or are necessary, whether I know what that is when I write it or not. So what is it here?

In part, it’s because it’s a High Stakes story. Almost everybody understands that you have to have _something_ at stake for a story to be good. And way too many thrillers and sf/f novels assume that nothing less than the Fate of the Known Universe will do {g}, these authors mistaking scale for intensity. No matter what the background may be, a story that focuses on the impact of events on one or two individual _lives_ will be–generally speaking–much more engaging and emotionally intense than one where everyone is just rushing around trying to save a planet or get their hands on the fortunium bomb that could Destroy Everything!!

So OUTLANDER is a high stakes story–on an individual level–throughout. It’s a love story, sure, and it’s all about what people will _do_ for the sake of love. Claire, for instance, chooses to abandon the life she knew (and was about to reclaim post-War), the safety of the 20th century (and she of all people would value that safety, having come through such a war), and the husband she’d loved. She chooses hardship, danger, and emotional pain, in order to be with Jamie.

But love for these two is always reciprocal. It’s not about one partner making a sacrifice for the other’s sake. Throughout the story, they keep rescuing each other. And the stakes are high. Jamie marries Claire originally in order to save her from Black Jack Randall. Would that be a striking thing to do, if Jack Randall was not, in fact, a serious threat? He _is_ a serious threat; we learn that from Jamie’s backstory. The man’s a genuine sadistic psychopath, who has essentially destroyed Jamie’s family and seriously injured him, both physically and emotionally. And here’s Jamie swearing to give Claire everything he has; the protection of his name and his clan–and the protection of his body–in order to save _her_ from this man.

He then does save her, physically and immediately, from Randall, when Randall captures her and assaults her at Fort William–even though by doing so, he puts not only himself, but everyone with him, in serious danger, _and_ does so at some emotional as well as physical cost. “I was tied to that post, tied like an animal, and whipped ’til my blood ran…Had I not been lucky as the devil this afternoon, that’s the least that would have happened to me. ….[But] when ye screamed, I went to you, wi’ nothing but an empty gun and my two hands.” The stakes are higher; the threat to Jamie (and Claire) from Captain Randall is increased.

One, two, three. The Rule of Three. It’s one of the important underlying patterns of story-telling; one event can be striking. The next (related) event creates resonance. But the third brings it home—WHAM. (That is, btw, why classic fairy tales always involve three brothers, three sisters, three fairies, etc.—and why the most classic form of joke always starts, “A priest, a minister and a rabbi…” The climax of the story, the punchline of the joke, always comes on the third iteration.) The third encounter with Black Jack Randall is the climax, the point where the stakes are highest. Jamie’s been captured and seriously hurt, Claire’s come to save him, but Randall turns up and takes her captive, threatening her life.

OK. This -has- to be a credible threat. Ergo, we have to have seen (and heard about) the real damage Randall has done to Jamie thus far; we have to be in no doubt whatever that he’d do real damage to Claire. We can’t just _say_, “Oh, he’s _such_ a nasty person, you wouldn’t believe…” We _have_ to believe, and therefore appreciate _just_ what Jamie is doing when he trades what’s left of his life for Claire’s. (Show, don’t tell, you know?)

And because we do believe that, we share both Jamie’s despair and Claire’s desperation.

So, OK. Throughout the book, we’ve seen that love has a real cost. Jamie and Claire have built a relationship through honest struggle, a relationship that’s _worth_ what it’s cost them. This is the final challenge, and Jamie’s willing to pay what will apparently be the ultimate cost.

Why would I throw that away? To have him escape rape and torture (he–and we–_know_ what’s coming) by the skin of his teeth would be to undercut his sacrifice, to make it of little moment. (It would be like someone turning up in Gethsemane and telling Christ, “Hey, buddy, you don’t _really_ have to do this. Come with me, I got a secret way outta here…”)

So love _has_ a cost, and it’s a real one. But they do rescue each other, and Claire saves not only his life, _but his soul_. (Yes, it is redemption and resurrection, and yes, there’s Christ imagery all through the story–it was my first book, OK?) His soul wouldn’t have been in danger, had he not been really and truly nearly destroyed by his sacrifice.

I.e., had Claire shown up with reinforcements in the nick of time and saved him before he’d been put through such pain and suffering….well, then it would have been a nice, heart-warming story in which Hero and Heroine conquer evil and ride off into the sunset together. But it wouldn’t have half the power of a story in which Jamie and Claire _truly_ conquer _real_ evil, and thus show what real love is. Real love has real costs–and they’re worth it.

I’ve always said all my books have a shape, and OUTLANDER’s internal geometry consists of three slightly overlapping triangles. The apex of each triangle is one of the three emotional climaxes of the book: 1) when Claire makes her wrenching choice at the stones, 2) when she saves Jamie from Wentworth, and 3) when she saves his soul at the Abbey. It would still be a _good_ story, if I’d had only 1 and 2–but (see above), the Rule of Three. A story that goes one, two, _three_ has a lot more impact than just a one-two punch.

24 Responses »

  1. Ok I do have a question unrelated to the specific blog. It is about the actual time sequence in the story that didn’t make any sense as I began to get to the end of the second novel. Every Legend you said in the first novel happened has a two hundred year gap right. So when Claire went through the standing stones it took her back exactly two hundred years. 1945 back to 1745. That made sense but then how did Gillie Duncan go back further instead of going back to 1768, that would have been after the first rising. I know it’s suppose to be a novel and it’s suppose to be fiction but is their suppose to be something more to legends and the standing stones? I am going to finish the novels because they are really enjoyable but this is a small dilemma I have.

    Crystal Browning

    • Dear Crystal–


      a) Claire didn’t go back exactly 200 years; she goes from (actually) 1946 to 1743–but in terms of legends, I think that’s close enough to 200 years to make no never mind. {g]

      b) The fact that Geilie goes back _farther_ is in fact a Clue–or at least an intriguing question–regarding the nature of time-travel. Since no one in the books knows anything about how time-travel works (how would they?), we don’t lay out the whole theory and operation in the first book; the readers discover it along with the characters, working it out by trial and error and observation. In other words…

      c) if you keep reading, you’ll find out more. {g} Hope you enjoy the trip!


      • Diana,

        I’ve been reading some interesting, yet ignorant comments, on the new episode Wentworth Prison which appears this Saturday night. In my frustration, I started searching and found this reply to someone who had a hard time dealing with what was happening in the books and it settled me to read it. Just a suggestion but maybe it would be good for you to post something similar to it after the episode airs on Saturday (or maybe before) because it really makes sense why you did it in threes and what he was willing to sacrifice and how it would take from it without everyone knowing what Jamie went thru and what Claire is willing to sacrifice to have the love of her life back. It’s so well written and it explains so much for those who are making an issue of what is to come. I feel people don’t understand what true sacrifice is for someone you love.

        Thank you for writing such wonderful books! They have gotten me thru some hard times in my life. I’ve been a fan since the beginning and I appreciate you even more now than before. Ron Moore is doing a wonderful job putting your *thick* books to screen! Sam and Cat are just perfect for their parts and its so enjoyable seeing it on screen after 20 some years!

  2. I really appreciated this post. Throughout the first 6 books, (that I’ve just devoured this past month,) I’m constantly asking myself, ‘How much will these two have to go through to just be together??’

    Just speaking in terms of Outlander, I was exasperated with the scene directly following Randall releasing Claire and the prison and then him going back to Jaime, when the wolves showed up to further deter Claire. After everything she’d just done to get into the prison, after going through the trauma of reaching Jaime and still being forced to leave him there, helpless, she had to overcome another obstacle outside the prison.

    But she does overcome it. And together, they overcome a lot. and it is a testimony to their love. and to love in general.

    What you wrote here, “Real love has real costs–and they’re worth it.” That’s it. I know it to be irrevocably true.

    And even though I’m kept on the edge of my seat, screaming at each of the books, ‘ Noo!’ – it makes it real and even more beautiful when love wins.

  3. I think you’ve just summed up the exact reason why certain books should work but don’t and why some books work so incredibly well. Take for example Jean Auel’s saga – the first books were wonderful, just… awesomely good. But the further along she got, the less it became a story about the characters and the more it became a story about this All-Changing Realization. Similar to your own books Robin Hobb is really good at keeping the character-investment really high throughout several series.

    I can only imagine how hard it is to keep the intensity up – it’s easy enough to become numbed to the number of times Claire or Jamie have almost died but somehow you manage it. I don’t know how, but you do.

  4. Thank you for writing this.

    For me, it’s a toss up between Outlander and Voyager, on which book is my favorite, but having just reread Outlander, I feel it tugging at my heart strings for the reasons mentioned by you. It still and shall always boggle my mind how captivating you have created these characters and their trials and tribulations!

    I got to take my dream trip to Scotland this Summer, and I thought of you, the books, and Jamie and Claire constantly! It was so amazing and cool to be there and see things, another thing I likely wouldn’t have done had I not encountered your books =)

    I will forever be a fan. I read vociferously, but I always come back to the Outlander books, and anything new by you, Diana, can extract me from ANYTHING I am currently reading…I wait for new material from you like a junkie awaiting a fix! The three triangle image gives me an awesome idea for a new tattoo! Will let you know when that happens =)

    Thanks for being you!

  5. i LOVE the world I am drawn into time & time again with Jamie, Claire & co…or I should say Clan! I immerse myself In History, especially Scotland, England, Ireland & Wales. It rather fascinates me, yes, due in part to my own Ancestory! As soon as open the 1st book….AGAIN, for the umpteenth dozenth time, I SEE’ everything in my minds eye with such clarity! Thank you, Diana for giving me that & Historic detail! I do have 1 question though, in the above blog, you seem to be appologising for the references to Christ…Salvation, sacrifice, redemption etc…I was wondering why you feeel the need to do so?! I myself think it to be a perfect representation & wonderfully written whilst being something I think we can all relate to! Cheers, Sonja

    • Dear Sonja–

      Not apologizing at all; just explaining, as these days a large number of readers wouldn’t notice or understand those references at all.



      • Ah, thanks Diana! That makes complete sense to me now! Thank you for answering me! I hope you had a lovely Christmas & just quickly, though you wouldn’t know it…you recently made my YR, by signing 2 books for me & wishing me a Happy Birthday! I would like to say Thankyou SO very much! Xo

  6. Oops, was trying to edit my post, it won’ t let me! I would like to rephrase (. Also, there was a spelling mistake!

  7. Hi Diana,
    Just found this explanation by you of your Rule of Three. Having read all your books and seen the first half of Season 1 on TV I have started re-reading the books again. Almost finished the Fiery Cross now. I do however, keep coming back to Outlander again, reading certain passages over and over again. I think it will always be my favourite of the series.The hardest part getting through without a doubt is the Wentworth Prison pages. Your analysis of why and how you wrote it helps me understand it better.Absolutely not looking forward to seeing it on TV but will watch it and see how Ronald Moore has depicted it.
    Thank you for your books, I love the story of Jamie and Claire and feel that Sam and Cait have been perfectly cast to play their parts. They are exactly how I pictured them in my mind.
    Joan Fader
    Vancouver, BC Canada.

    P.S. It won’t be shown on TV here until about 2 to 3 weeks after the April 4 start in the US. No confirmed date yet. It’s going to be hard waiting with all the buzz that will no doubt be on all the social media sites.

  8. Hello. I also had a hard time with jamies rape scene. Due to the fact that it went to Jamie’s private life with claire and his soul. With black Jack bringing up how Claire cannot give Jamie the same kind of erection, and pleasures, when they met later. Then having to hear it back from the ugly creeps own mouth. Which again is brought up in every forth coming book after after the event. Especially, when Claire won’t let jamie kill Randall and then in later books, Jamie walking Randall to his barracks, after Alex dies????? My husband said, phycologically, after being raped the first time, all the mental trauma would have caused any hedero male to ripe out Randall’s vertibrae like Jamie did to Hodgepile for raping Claire. (In a later book) Not begging him to let him sleep, when Randall wants more…. I feel Jamie never got justice for the worst offense known to man…

    • Dear Dorianne–

      Your husband is right. However, two things are preventing Jamie from ripping Randall limb from limb: Claire is still within capturing distance of the prison; he _has_ to keep Randall occupied/satisfied long enough to make sure she gets away. Even if he killed Randall, he can’t get out of the prison, and there are other people who know Claire was there; the moment they find him with Randall’s body, the hunt for her will be on. And more immediately and pragmatically–Randall broke his hand in nine places. Aside from the debilitating pain of that–and you have Claire’s very vivid description, there–all Randall would have to do to bring him to his knees is grab that hand. And both of them know it.



  9. Thanks so much for the Outlander Series and now the Starz Series! I have read and enjoyed most of the books- getting ready to read MOBY. I was wondering since Jamie remembered his palm reading by a gypsy (when he was in France fighting the war) will Claire ever reference her palm reading by Mrs. Graham?

  10. Ms Diana. Thank you for your response. I re read my comments where I made many spelling errors and feel like a twit because you ‘actually’ read it and responded. Thank you for that. I agree with your insight but meant on a visceral level toward the end of the raping. I guess other people who’ve become huge fans (I blew through every book you’ve written so far on Jamie and Claire and Lord John, twice) must also feel intense, about Jamie’s rape. It goes to his soul, goes to his life with his love. Almost through every book. Strange thing when a woman reads about such a terror. I’d look across the room where my husband would be, trying to imagine what I was reading on a real level. I couldn’t of course, (except for the love and sex) so I’d ask him what he thought of a piece you wrote. Obviously, his opinion would be from instinct, and he lost it when I read him the part where Alex dies and Jamie helped Black Jack. And Making it more difficult for me, my husband is 6’4, all male, with a smile in his blueish eyes too, light brown hair that has ginger in it, and his name IS Jaime. I couldn’t make it up I swear.

  11. Hello Diana, and mountains of magical wishes to you on your birthday!

    I’m embarrassed to say I came late to the Outlander party but once I arrived, I wasted not one second diving into every book! Like a rabid dog, I would burst into every bookseller’s shop in the very small mountain town where I live in Northern California, panting and glassy eyed, hoping they would have a copy of the next book I needed! I could barely get through work each day and rushed through my chores at home, impatiently waiting for my husband to turn off the TV and go to bed so I could finally have peace and quiet to enjoy my fix, which would often last into the wee hours of the morning! I am truly addicted now and will forcefully refuse any attempts to send me to Outlander rehab! I finished “. . . . My Own Heart’s Blood” a couple of weeks ago, and have been moping around ever since wondering what I’m going to do now. I read another book, but, nyeh, I didn’t get the same rush and actually took “. . … . ..Blood” out of the bookcase and reread the last chapter just to keep Jamie and Claire close.

    My mother is an avid reader but usually sticks to “bodice busters” and bad westerns, so I gave her a copy of Outlander for Christmas, and will send her the next book as she finishes each one. We are polar opposites in opinion regarding most subjects; maybe we’ll be able to bond a little over Jamie and Claire’s adventures!

    I drive for a living and see all kinds of bumper stickers every day. During one of my boo hoo moments, I asked myself “What would Claire do?” and then thought, “Hey! That would make a great bumper sticker!” One for Jamie, too, of course, or both of them! You could pass them out at book signing events!

    Diana, thank you profusely for sharing your truly stunning gift of wordsmithing with the world! We are all better people for it!

    Happy Birthday!

  12. Hello to you Diana Gabaldon. I, too, am late on the Outlander scene. I confess I haven’t read your books, but picked up the Season 1a DVDs (don’t get Starz) & have decided to wait to read the books after I’ve experienced watching the DVDs (wish they came out sooner!). Anyway, you’re stories are incredibly historic, in-depth, never haphazardly thrown together or hurried, & exceptionally told. I feel as if I’m a participant in the story! I’m an American whose nephew has been researching our family ancestry. He hasn’t completed his search, but has found that we have over 1/3rd Scottish ancestry. The Outlander show is so superbly acted with gorgeous cinematography, & I have decided to travel to Scotland to track my family there. I hope to go within the next year or two & for several of my family members to accompany me. As I said before, being new to you & your book series I wondered if you are of Scottish ancestry & what caused you to base your stories in the Scottish Highlands, the historical era of the 1700s, & their struggle with England? I love the excitement of the time-travel aspect of the story, & because of your book theme I’m now very interested in learning more of the bloody barbaric true wars that ensued. Thank you for bringing entertainment to a new higher standard; with historical accuracy & never shying away from details as you describe what it really was like to live the life of a post World War II nurse, to be scourged as Jaime was, or to suffer at the hands of a sadist such as Black Jack Randall.

  13. Dear Diana…I need some help in understanding how Randall was able to capture Jamie’s soul during the rape. At what point did he weaken Jamie’s resolve? Did it result from the physical pleasure that Jamie felt against his will? Was it caused by some aspect of the physical torture? Or, was there some emotional component that Randall was able to latch onto that I just haven’t grasped?

    I am having a terrible time suspending my disbelief that Randall could penetrate such a formidable constitution as Jamie’s.

    • Dear Wanda–

      Have you read the book, watched the TV show, or both? I think the book probably gives a more thorough picture of Jamie’s state of mind. In essence, though, Randall deprived him of hope, hurt him badly and repeatedly, and when he was in complete despair, then “made love” to him, and made Jamie’s body respond to him. This betrayal by his own body made Jamie feel that he had completely lost himself. (I’ve read many accounts by rape victims, and it’s not uncommon for people who’ve been abused over a long period of time to feel increasing helplessness–and depending on the circumstances and what’s done to them, sometimes to feel involuntary sexual response, which horrifies them and causes terrible guilt, as they feel complicit in their own rape.)

      And if you have been reading the books, I’d direct you to the part of DRAGONFLY where Claire mentions to Jamie that William Grey (in his bravado) said that Jamie couldn’t break him To which Jamie wearily responds, “Christ, Sassenach. Ye can break anyone if ye’re willing to hurt them badly enough. I ken that, if anyone does.”



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