I confess: I love to read. I love to write. I love stories – in general, whether I read, hear or watch them. Or even write them myself. I love disappearing into other worlds with protagonists and their problems – which, in the case of other authors’ tales, I don’t have to solve, and I can just sit back and enjoy. They can be true stories, outright history, or fictional ones. Or a combination of the two: historical fiction.
I can’t seem to get enough of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. In case you haven’t heard of it, it follows the fate of Claire Randall who travels back to 1743 by inadvertently touching a large cracked standing stone in a stone circle near Inverness, Scotland, in good time to be involved in the Jacobite Rising of 1745.
I’ve read all nine books (totaling an astonishing 9,673 pages), am up to date with the TV series, and am now listening to the audiobooks. What an imagination that author has! And what a nose! It never ceases to amaze me how many smells she adds to almost every page. With her tongue almost as sensitive, she describes everything from the metallic taste of blood to the sweetness of maple syrup pudding. Nor does she neglect the sense of touch. For anyone wanting to write a story that goes beyond the sights and sounds of a scene, her every page is a master class. We, as writers, can learn so much from reading these books. We just need to read as a writer, taking mental note of how the author brings her stories to life through engaging all five senses.
Here’s a sample of Gabaldon’s use of smell to set a scene:
“The militant smell of hot lead began to permeate the room, competing with the Major’s pipe smoke, and quite overpowering the pleasantly domestic atmosphere of rising bread, cooking, dried herbs, scouring rushes, and lye soap that normally filled the kitchen.” (taken from A Breath of Snow and Ashes”)
To sustain as long a series as Gabaldon does, she is no slouch on character development or plotting either. The love story between Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser takes on epic proportions, spanning two centuries as well as two continents, and is the leitmotif guiding her pen. With dozens of secondary characters and myriad subplots, she carries the reader inexorably onwards to a conclusion that we feverishly await. She is still writing the final installment.
To write a series of books that so captures the imagination of readers, well, as an amateur writer, I can only fantasize about it. And attempt to learn from Diana Gabaldon’s dizzying language prowess.