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Article: Outlander: Episode 1 - Sassenach (Story Structure/Breakdown)

Outlander Story Structure Breakdown - Image of TV Show Poster

Outlander: Episode 1 - Sassenach (Story Structure/Breakdown)

Written by Ronald D. Moore
Based on the book "Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon

In the first episode of Outlander, the Set Up takes quite a bit of time (40 minutes in an hour-long show), while the first turning point, call-to-action, and debate occur in rapid succession, overlapping one another, and are quickly followed by the midpoint and second turning point. As a non-"episodic" television show, there is no resolution, simply a cliffhanger to entice the viewer to return for the next installment. While this post focuses on story structure, if you are interested in learning more about foreshadowing, I recommend watching this episode, which offers an excellent example of this writing device.

Point of Attack | Opening Image

A serene and picturesque view of the Scottish Highlands sets the tone for the series' blend of romance, history, and mysticism. A voiceover of Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) narrates about how people disappear often. She ruminates on choices, and the changing nature of time and place.

THEME REVEALED - The theme of fate and destiny is subtly introduced through Claire’s reflection on her life and the concept of time. Her voiceover mentions the unpredictability of the future, hinting at her imminent journey through time.

SET UP - Claire Randall and her husband, Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies) are on a second honeymoon in Inverness, Scotland, in 1945, trying to reconnect with one another, and adapt to life after the end of World War II. Their relationship dynamics and individual personalities are established, along with Frank’s interest in history and genealogy, and Claire’s background as a combat nurse, as they explore the Scottish countryside.

Inciting Incident | Catalyst

Claire and Frank secretly witness a Druid ritual at Craigh na Dun, a stone circle. This event foreshadows the mystical elements of the story and serves as the catalyst for Claire’s time travel.

First Turning Point | Plot Point 1 | Call to Action (and Debate)

Claire returns to the stone circle alone to gather some medicinal plants. She touches one of the standing stones and is suddenly transported to 1743. Confused and disoriented, she debates her own sanity and tries to understand what has happened. Claire realizes she is no longer in her own time when she encounters British Redcoats and Scottish Highlanders engaged in a skirmish. This marks her transition from the familiar world of 1945 to the dangerous and unpredictable world of 1743.

SUCCESS & FAILURE - After hearing gunshots, Claire attempts to flee the area and is assaulted by a Redcoat, Frank's ancestor "Black Jack" Randall. She is rescued by a Highlander and is taken to their hideout. The Highlanders question Claire. She uses her medical knowledge to gain their trust, particularly when she treats Jamie Fraser's (Sam Heughan) dislocated shoulder. This section showcases her resourcefulness and adaptability in this new world.


Claire realizes the gravity and danger of her situation, and that she might be stuck in 1743 for some time.

DESCENT - Claire is taken against her will by the Highlanders (who are suspicious of her and believe she might be an English spy), as they begin their trek to Castle Leoch, the stronghold of Clan Mackenzie. As they pass a familiar rock outcropping, she alerts the Highlanders to a potential ambush by Redcoats (based on her historical knowledge of the area). She then uses the distraction of the attack as an opportunity to flee the Highlanders, but is caught by Jamie and forced to continue riding with them. Along the journey, Claire tends to Jamie who was shot during the recent battle with the Redcoats. She implores the Highlanders to stop riding so that Jamie can heal, but learns they cannot stop for long as Black Jack Randall will pursue them relentlessly.

Second Turning Point | Plot Point 2 | Cliffhanger

Claire and the Highlanders arrive at Castle Leoch (a place she had visited only two days earlier with her husband, in her own time). Claire reflects on her changed circumstances, "So far, I had been assaulted, threatened, kidnapped, and nearly raped. And somehow, I knew that my journey had only just begun."

Get the TV Series: Digital Series (AppleTV)

Get the Book: Digital Book (Apple Books) | Audiobook (Apple Books)