I’ve said this before, but one of the great things about writing a blog is hearing from people from all walks of life. In the past, I’ve posted comments from actors and producers because of their unique perspective. This past week , I heard from someone who adapts books into scripts for TV. We all would like to think we know how to adapt Outlander for the screen (just look anywhere the show is discussed on social media), but this person KNOWS. She agreed to let me share her thoughts in a post.
I am an avid Outlander fan. Been reading the books since they were each released. I remember being at the library for each subsequent release and waiting anxiously for them to catalog it so I could be the first to take it home. (LOL – it got to the point that they’d call me the second it came in – small town libraries are wonderful!) That said, I am now a screenwriter. It has been my job to adapt books and stories for the screen.
There’s a lot that goes into storytelling on the screen that is totally different from what’s on the page. The reason that the books are always better is that an author has no limitation whatsoever in what they imagine. It can all come to pass. But for the screen, a variety of things need to be considered. Budget. Pacing. How does the action happen from point A to point B” Would the carving of their initials slow down the overall pace or cause it to stutter. Would it add to the storyline in the future? Is it something easily done by the props department or could that one scene add a hefty amount to the budget? On that one specifically, it would add a bit of a headache for the makeup department – ANYTIME their hands would be shown in the future, the initials would need to be exact. precise, and there. It adds a bit of a headache for continuity purposes. Cause I promise the second they would be seen without it, there would be an uproar! Heck, fans are angry now because it isn’t the proper hand on Jamie that was injured by BJR. I have seen entire blog posts on it -and that’s a simple one to explain!
When adapting to for film, you need to take the book (whatever length it is – 300? 500?) and put it into about 90-120 pages. MAYBE 150 if you have a good budget and are able to put a longer version into theaters. For television, it’s usually 42 pages per episode. That isn’t a lot of space to get in all the good stuff. And sometimes you just need to switch things up a bit to make the story flow better.
This is, by far, the best adaptation I have seen from page to screen. They have been beautifully faithful to the books. Often, when buying or optioning the rights to books, the filmmakers love the story, but they want to tell it their own way. They see it more as an inspiration. I have been brought in often by authors because they know how much I love the source material and that I will usually remain faithful to it rather than try to change it to make it my own. I have had a couple of authors who have given me leave to run with their characters and build what I want from their universe (Jodi Thomas was beautiful about that – just want to give a shout out there!) but more often than not, it’s the other way around. And authors just aren’t as understanding of how storytelling goes on the screen because it’s so different.
I deeply admire the creative team and showrunners on Outlander. I watch each episode and come away utterly delighted from the fan perspective and blown away as a writer. I know the razor’s edge they walk in order to keep fans of the books happy AND reach out to new viewers who have never read the books. It’s a horrible balancing act and it’s rarely done as well as it has been here.
Thank you for highlighting some of the differences and showing perspective on this! Love your wraps/insight! Lori Twichell (@Twichie)