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    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

An Excess of Eyes

papa-johns-heart-shaped-pizzaWell. First, HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! I hope you all had plenty of chocolate, and a nice day filled with warm breezes and spring flowers!

Weirdly enough, today was also Ash Wednesday—some of you will likely have seen the occasional person going about their business with a smeary black thumbprint in the middle of their forehead; this is the application of ashes, which Catholics take as a sign of the beginning of Lent, a season of penitence and preparation for Easter.

The combination of Ash Wednesday (when Catholics commonly fast) and Valentine’s Day (when people commonly eat chocolate) is a trifle disconcerting.

I thought I’d offer you a small, non-food-related valentine, to mark the day:

heartsA few days ago, a writer friend asked (in the LitForum) what to do about an excess of eyes. <g> She explained that she’d noticed, reading some of her work, that there seemed to be eyes and mouths all over the place — eyes narrowing, lips pressing together, etc. — and asked if there was a way of describing emotions without constantly having the characters grimacing or bugging their eyes out, etc. (I paraphrase…)

I think this may be a common concern, going by the sorts of examples people post. As it was, I’d just been reading through a chunk of Book Ten, and there was a passage of conversation in which—purely by accident; I didn’t write it for illustration <g> — the emotions and responses of the characters are apparent, but there is no description of their facial expressions.

So I thought I’d post it as a small writing exegesis. (You may have seen this, or bits of it, before; I post it here just as an example of technique.)

[Excerpt from BOOK TEN (Untitled) Copyright © 2024 Diana Gabaldon]

Rather to William’s surprise, Fraser appeared for departure clad in a faded kilt with a ragged hem, this worn with a hunting shirt shadowed with ancient blood-stains, and a belt from which depended an assortment of weaponry and a small goatskin bag whose purpose was a mystery. Tartan stockings and a cartridge box that hung from a strap over his shoulder completed the ensemble.

“Camouflage,” Fraser said with a shrug, answering William’s look.


“Oh.” Fraser was evidently taken aback for a moment, and his face reflected an extraordinarily rapid series of uninterpretable thoughts. “It’s, ah… from the French, I think. Camouflet, ye ken that one?

“I don’t, no. What does it mean?”

“Aye, well— camouflet is a whiff of smoke that ye blow in someone’s face. Camouflage just means ye want folk not to notice what ye are or ask what ye’re up to.”

“And… that is camouflage, is it?” William asked skeptically, gesturing at Fraser’s kilt. “You look like a bandit.”

Fraser smiled.

“Aye. And what would ye do, if ye met a bandit on the road? Stop and ask him his business?”

“I take your point.”

As he spoke the words, he had a sudden odd qualm and a coldness down his jaw.

Fraser’s smile changed to a look of mild concern.

“What is it, lad, are ye taken queer?”

“I—no,” William said abruptly. “I’m fine. And what, may I ask, am I meant to be, if you’re a bandit? Your accomplice?”

“If necessary,” Fraser said, “but I suppose ye could be my prisoner, in case of need. There’s a bit o’ rope in my saddlebags.”

“Jesus,” William muttered, and Fraser laughed. The man was in bloody high spirits, for someone snatched away from hearth and home to go off on what anyone might legitimately call a crackbrained venture.

OK. See what’s going on? I’m showing you the emotional response each of the men has to the other, not describing the details of their expressions. (Not that there isn’t a place for things like, “… he said, narrowing his eyes,” or “she bit her lip and looked down, lest he see what she thought of what he’d just said.” But if you feel overwhelmed by body parts in your writing <g>, this is one simple technique for dealing with the problem.)

If William asks something “skeptically,” I don’t have to describe what his face is doing; you know. Ditto, “a look of mild concern” doesn’t need physical detail — you know what that looks like. It’s evocation, rather than explication. Hope this may be of help, sometime.

[Many thanks to Papa John’s, for their lovely heart-shaped pizza!]

2 Responses »

  1. Dear Ms. Gabaldon,

    As the consultant to the TV production I am sure you will know to whom to pass on this request.

    On the Prague set, how many different carriages and wagons were used?

    How many total horses were used – teams and saddle horses?

    How many total swords were used in the production?

    In the fights, were metal swords used or was there metal-on-metal sound effects added later?

    Thank you for your time.

    Anxiously awaiting book 10 (and Iʻm older than you!).


    • Hi, Marty,

      Why in the world do you want this information? Are you ramping up your own tv series or something? :-)

      I’d be willing to bet that the busy production team of Outlander doesn’t have time to compile information such as this for fans of the series. And may have a policy against releasing such information anyway. All released production information on any project has be approved by those in charge and also go through their news media reps, i.e. their official channels.

      Diana is an executive and consulting producer for both Outlander tv series, plus writes full time. She doesn’t have time to relay requests like this, plus pros in tv and movies don’t do that for reasons listed above.

      If you’re researching an article about the production, you’d need to contact Sony and Starz directly. Their press releases about the two Outlander series include contact information for their news media staff.

      Good luck!

      Diana’s Webmistress

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