• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor



Well, good news! I finally know what the shape of AN ECHO IN THE BONE is!

I think I’ve explained a little before, about how I write: to wit, not with an outline, and not in a straight line. [g] I write in bits and pieces, doing the research more or less concurrently with the writing (meaning that assorted bits of plot or new scenes may pop up unexpectedly as the result of my stumbling across something too entertaining to pass up).

As I work, some of these bits and pieces will begin to stick together, forming larger chunks. For example, I’ll write a scene, and realize that it explains why what happened in a scene written several months ago happened. Ergo, the later scene probably ought to precede the first, already-written scene. So I haul both scenes into the same document, read through this larger chunk, and at that point, sometimes will see what has to happen next. (Sometimes not.) If so, then I can proceed to write the next bit. If not, I go look for another kernel (what I call the bits of inspiration that offer me a foothold on a new scene), and write something else.

Anyway, this process of agglomeration continues, and I begin to see the underlying patterns of the book. I get larger chunks. And all the time, I’m evolving a rough timeline in my head, against which I can line up these chunks in rough order (E.g., the battle of Saratoga—which is in this book—was actually two battles, fought by the same armies on the same ground. But the dates of those battles are fixed: September 19th and October 7th, 1777. Some specific historical events occurred and specific historical persons were present in each of those two battles. Ergo, if I have assorted personal events that take place in the fictional characters’ lives, and various scenes dealing with those, I can tell that logically, X must have taken place after the first battle, because there’s a wounded man in that scene, while Y has to take place after the second battle, because the death of a particular person (who died in the second battle) precipitates Y. Meanwhile, Z clearly takes place between the battles, because there’s a field hospital involved, but there’s no fighting going on. Like that.)

Now, at a certain point in this chunking process (and I’ve been chunking for awhile now on ECHO; in fact, I’ve sent my German translator two largish chunks already, to begin translating), I discern the underlying “shape” of the book. This is Important.

All my books have a shape, and once I’ve seen what it is, the book comes together much more quickly, because I can then see approximately what-all is included, how it’s organized, and where the missing pieces (most of them, anyway) are.

OUTLANDER, for instance, is shaped like three overlapping triangles: the action rises naturally toward three climaxes: Claire’s decision at Craig na Dun to stay in the past, Claire’s rescue of Jamie from Wentworth, and her saving of his soul at the Abbey.

DRAGONFLY IN AMBER is shaped like a dumbbell (no, really [g]). The framing story, set in 1968 (or 1969; there’s a copyediting glitch in there that has to do with differences between the US and UK editions of OUTLANDER, but we won’t go into that now), forms the caps on the ends of the dumbbell. The first arc of the main story is the French background, the plots and intrigue (and personal complications) leading toward the Rising. Then there’s a relatively flat stretch of calm and domestic peace at Lallybroch, followed by the second major arc, the Rising itself. And the final end-cap of the framing story. All very symmetrical.

VOYAGER looks like a braided horse-tail: the first third of the book consists of a three-part braided narrative: Jamie’s third-person narrative runs forward in time; Claire’s first-person narrative goes backward in time (as she explains things to Roger and Brianna), and Roger’s third-person narrative sections form the present-time turning points between Claire’s and Jamie’s stories. After Claire’s return to the past, though, the story then drops into the multi-stranded but linear first-person narrative (moving forward) that we’re used to.

DRUMS OF AUTUMN…well, that one’s a little more free-form, but it does have a shape. It’s shaped like a curving, leafy stem, with a big, showy rose at the end, but with two side-stems, each with a large bud (these being Roger and Brianna’s independent part of the story, and the Jocasta/Hector/Ulysses/Duncan/Phaedre part).

THE FIERY CROSS looks either like a rainbow or a shower of fireworks, depending how you want to look at it. [g] There are a number of separate storylines that arc through the book—but every single one of them has its origin and root in that Very Long Day at the Gathering where the book begins. Each storyline then has its own arc, which comes down at a different point toward the end of the book.

A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES…Well, probably you’ve seen that very well-known Hokusai print, titled “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.” (In case you haven’t, here’s a link.) When I happened to see this print while assembling the chunks for this book, I emailed my agent in great excitement, to tell him I’d seen the shape of the book. “It looks like the Great Wave,” I said. “Only there are two of them!” [g] Notice, if you will, the little boats full of people, about to be swamped by the wave—these are the characters whose fate is affected by the onrush of events. And in the middle of the print, we see Mt. Fuji in the distance, small but immovable, unaffected by the wave. That’s the love between Claire and Jamie, which endures through both physical and emotional upheaval. (The waves are the escalating tides of events/violence that remove Claire and Jamie from the Ridge.)

So that leads us to the current book. And, as I say, I’ve just recently seen the “shape” of AN ECHO IN THE BONE. It’s a caltrop.


OK, normally I’d make y’all look it up [g], but the only person to whom I announced this revelation (husband, literary agents, editors, children) who already knew what a caltrop is, was my elder daughter (who is unusually well-read). So, all right—this is a caltrop (so’s this, which is very elegant, I think), and this is the definition thereof.

Nasty-looking little bugger, isn’t it? (And if you think this image presages something regarding the effect of this book, you are very likely right. Enjoy. [g])

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52 Responses »

  1. Oh my! Why am I not surprised? In a good way of course. I read every spooler I can get my hands on and I cannot wait to see the full effect of the caltrop! Laughing… Have a Safe and Product Day. Rosemary

  2. I’m not sure what to say except that I’m intrigued now more than ever. A caltrop… learn something new every day.

  3. Both look lethal in a primitive sort of way.

    Which one do you prefer? The one with the hole in the center that allows escape if the other end is plugged, or the one with the twisted center?

    Does this signify that there will be 4 stories going on simultaneously, but all stemming from the center and no matter which story we read, we will be left punctured?


  4. Dear Mitzi–

    Something like that. [g]

    I like the twisted wire one, myself–but I somehow doubt the publisher is going to let me put it on the cover.

  5. Diana,
    That would make an interesting cover! The twisted wire one reminds me of a barb on a barbwire fence… something that is not fun to try to climb over. I have heard of a caltrop before, but forgot what they were.

    Thank you for sharing the ‘shapes’ of your books. That is something new to me, that I did not know before. Now that you have explained it, I can see it.

    BTW, I love my new ‘Claire’s bracelet’! I wore it to my re-enactment event this weekend. I received several compliments. Also, I couple years ago I ‘hosed’ two of my co-workers. They also love the bracelet!

  6. Diana:

    The link to the wave painting didn’t come through for some reason. So here it is again:

    Great Wave off Kanagawa

    I've already said everything I wanted to say about caltrops <g>, but I just wanted to point folks to the recent discussion on Compuserve, here. Lots of talk there about the various meanings of the word, and speculation about the possible implications of this particular shape.


  7. I didn’t know books had shapes. Interesting… and a caltrop is a very intriguing shape. :-)


  8. “And if you think this image presages something regarding the effect of this book, you are very likely right.”
    Hmmm, that worries me. Sometimes it is so painful to read your books. It’s like being dragged through thorns by a horse that you love. You want the pain to stop but not the thrill of the ride itself.

  9. This is very exciting! Ooh the possibilities that arise with the idea of a caltrop… You have given me something to mull over in the wee hours. :-)

  10. What I find most interesting is that the definition Diana linked to for caltrop provided both a historical and a modern use for this deceptively simple device. Based on what we know about AEITB, I do not believe this to be entirely a coincidence.

    I too find the barb-wire version to be more appealing. Perhaps because of its familiarity.

  11. Now, I knew (sort of) what a caltrop was – but the image that came to my mind was of a jack, as in kids playing jacks or knucklebones. And for some reason it (the image in my mind) was green. I have NO idea why.
    I don’t suppose this has anything at all to do with the the shape of the book though [G]
    Jen in Oz

  12. Hmm I suspect this will be lots of forwards and backwards all meeting in the middle! ;) now if I only knew HOW lol. Stop blogging Diana and keep writing! LOLOL. xoxo melzie

  13. “enjoy”

    That is how one of my Graduate professors signs his e-mails right as he is giving us a hard assignment. [g]

    Regardless, I will “enjoy” the book no matter the shape!

  14. All I can say is “Ow”.

    Funnily enough I did know what one was, though my mental picture was more like the first one.

  15. When I saw the image, before I read the definition, I thought I was looking at a grappling hook. Like those used to scale walls.

    Having said that, your description of your writing method reminds me of rock climbing. Moving forward looking for hand and toeholds, sometimes going back to move in a different direction for a better route to the top.

    I will be in Surrey, and am looking forward to a great conference. I’m also shaking in my boots, as I’m going for my first blue pencil cafe!

  16. It looks like a nasty piece of barbed wired fencing. Can you imagine the mark it would make??


  17. *Simply cheers, waggling fists about ecstatically!*

    Wee! I’m sure this part of your process is both an exhiliration and a relief, Diana. Congrats! I’m all excited, now! :D


  18. Trying to analyze what shape your novels become is way over my head. All I know is I’m addicted to your writing.
    I’ve also learned words I never knew the meaning for (caltrop, antholgoy…etc). Thanks for making me click the light bulb on in my head once in awhile.

  19. Now I have a strange sense of foreboding (or foreboning – snicker). Um . . . thanks?

    Quick note to the fans and a bit of a non-sequitor, if you plan on attending Comic-Con, San Diego, JULY 23-26, 2009, to see Diana – get your tickets now! It has sold out ahead of schedule for two years running and they have just announced they will no longer even try to sell tickets at the door.

    I’ve been going since I was 8 and it was in one room in a dingy conference center and I am certain I was the only female in attendance for a good five years (can you say, Geek?), my how things change, but not the geek part! Diana, you’ll see what I mean about the convention changing and be overwhelmed.

    They do sell single day tickets, but to make that work you’d have to know Diana’s schedule at the convention. If you know a professional in movies, TV, etc they can get in for free along with a guest by going through the pro-registration and validation process – good deal if you can get it.

    Diana, I haven’t gone in a couple years because it is sheer sensory overload and I have two little ones, but I will be braving it again just for you (and leaving the youngsters with nearby grandma)! So excited and it is still only October.

  20. Dear Candace–

    I’m very flattered [g]! But really, _don’t_ race out and get tickets unti you know for sure I’ll be there (unless you’d be going anyway, I mean).

    The publisher _wanting_ to release the graphic novel then may not mean they _will_. If the artwork takes longer than expected, for instance, that would result in a later release date. Mid-2009 is what they gave me as a _desirable_ date for release, but it’s by no means carved in stone.

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