Beginnings: Outlander

As I’m countinuing to write Gwen’s story, I’m still trying to figure out the best way to start it. Instead of reading more books on how to begin a novel, I thought I’d study beginnings of very popular books. The first I chose is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.

It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearance, at first glance. Mrs. Baird’s was like a thousand other Highland bed-and-breakfast establishments in 1945; clean and quiet with fading floral paper, gleaming floors and a coin operated hot-water geyser in the lavatory. Mrs. Baird herself was squat and easygoing, and made no objection to Frank lining her tiny rose-sprigged parlor with the dozens of books and papers with which he traveled.

I met Mrs. Baird on the way out. She stopped me with a pudgy hand on my arm and patted my hair.

“Dear me, Mrs. Randall, ye canna go out like that! Here just let me tuck that bit in for ye. There. That’s better. Ye know, my cousin was tellin me about a new perm she tried. Comes out beautiful and holds like a dream. Perhaps ye should try that kind next time.”

So the hook comes with the very first sentence: It wasn’t a very likely place for a disappearance, at first glance. And then the narrator goes on to describe the place. When I first read this, I thought it was an omnipotent narrator. It’s not till the second paragraph that the narrator is established as first person. We know Frank has lots of papers, so we can conclude that maybe he’s a teacher of some sort, but we don’t know yet his relationship to the narrator. We have a very good picture of Mrs. Baird, but the only thing we know about the narrator is she has untidy hair and isn’t too concerned about it. And her tone of narration makes me think she’s a bit sardonic, which I like.

Mainly, we’re waiting for the disappearance to happen, and that isn’t going to happen for a long while.

What do you think of this opening? Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Do you like the style?

I like this beginning. I enjoy how she’s easing in to the story by establishing place. She isn’t trying to hit us hard with a lot of drama or action up front with a bunch of characters we know nothing about.

2 thoughts on “Beginnings: Outlander

  1. (I haven’t read this so can only go by what is here and what little I know of the series)

    It is an effective hook, if a bit heavy handed for shock value. But it does engage the reader. An interesting aspect of it is that it does not yet tip its hand to reveal the fantasy element of the story. A disappearance could be many things, an abduction, a lost hiker, a DB Cooper event of getting lost, but a transference to the past would not be running through your mind at this point. Of course, “Its Magic” kind of plot twist can put off some readers who might not like reading books with fantastical elements when it catches them unaware.

    But without the hook, the opening would be dreadful and one would wonder if that was the right place to start the story.

    I also like slow boil beginnings. So I appreciate this topic. I read too many contemporary books that literally start with an explosion or someone getting shot and then flashing back to why that happened…ugh…but some of them are best sellers, so who am I to judge.

    • I should’ve posted that this was written in the early nineties. I haven’t read this book either. My understanding is the later part of the series is super boring, so I’m fascinated that people hang in there to the end. I have no problem walking away if I think a series has lost its umph.

      I read further into the chapter without seeing the magical element or the disappearance. I think I’ll probably read this book since I liked the beginning.