Great insight… From someone who knows…Outlander from a scriptwriter’s perspective 

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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.  

Thanks Lori! 



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)

 

 

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46 thoughts on “Great insight… From someone who knows…Outlander from a scriptwriter’s perspective 

      • Rules for adapting a book to the screen:

        1) Always keep the essence and the foundation of the book intact.
        2) Always keep the characteristics and personalities of the main characters of the book intact.

        The writers, of the screen adaptation, did a fantastic job in Season 1, but lost their way in Season 2. They basically followed the book, but lost the foundation, THE LOVE STORY. The drastic change to JAMIE’S CHARACTER made watching the show almost unbearable. A show, one could not wait to watch, became a show one watched in dread, for worry of how the writers would portray the book on screen. Taking all of your thoughts of adapting the book, Dragonfly in Amber to the screen, there is no excuse for the drop of the book’s foundation and the ridiculous change of its main character. Season 2 has resulted in a poor adaptation, due to the loss of these two very significant parts of the books. A show, which should have doubled, even tripled its viewing base, barely hung on. It would be in the show’s best interest to restore these two very important parts of the book, to the screen adaptation of Voyager, if the show is to survive.

      • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, but I have to disagree that the core of the story and characters was changed. They sold the show/network to “investors ” and I’m pretty sure a show that is barely hanging on would not be considered an asset. Thanks again!

    • Thanks so much, Beth–sad that so many “fans” have no understanding for the changes made. The series is now being shown in Germany with dubbed voices and MANY alterations in the text as a result. Claire comes across as much more harsh and shrewish and her “native speaker” has a somewhat unpleasant shrill voice. I feel that I am watching a different person–but that is fascinating and I feel that I have changed perspective and am seeing different facets of the story and of her character. If I want the original, I can always read the book; the changes in viewpoint are wonderful. I wish that people were not so angry and judgemental and so quick to criticize
      and reject…

  1. Nancy

    The more I read about adaptation – and your insights – the more grateful I am that we have been given this wonderful series to watch. Thanks, Beth, for continuing to give us bits and pieces of Outlander. And for the record, Outlander got totally screwed by the Emmy’s!!!

  2. Alma Ortiz

    Oh, that was great, thank you so much! I have never complained about the show, I love it no matter what, love the books no matter what. They are both beautiful to watch and read, that’s what matters to me!! Really love her explanation though, and people should read it so they stop the being disappointed! Thanks again Mrs. Wesson!!

  3. Mothertucker

    Excellent explanation and one I agree with regarding this being the best ever adaption from book to screen that I have seen. Thank you.

    • myrnaberry

      Dear Lori, Thank you for your insights. Everything I read about the adaption is a learning experience and enhances my appreciation of the show. It is great to hear from the mouth of someone in the biz doing adaptions that Outlander is as remarkable and unique as it seems to be in terms of everything involved with the production.

      • What a wonderful comment! Thank you so much for brightening my day. 🙂 I am blown away by what they’ve done with Outlander. I was hesitant when I came to the show – these characters are more like friends than fiction! But I’ve been really amazed at how well the entire team has held to the overall vision. Some bumps and lumps along the way (I have at least one episode I really didn’t like!) but when I step back and look at the big picture, it’s amazing!

        Thank you again for the wonderful compliment! What a great way to greet my Tuesday!

  4. Betty

    Beth – I love time travel, that brought me to watch the first episode, which brought me to the books, read them all – and I am not a big reader of books. I love the show and the books. And… I love your blog. I check my email daily – did Beth write something – YES – and I excitedly read it. I hope you continue during the drought. Thanks for your lovely thoughts.

    Betty

  5. Linda Smith

    Thank you Beth for having Lori explain the challenges of adaptation. And thank you Lori for helping us understand and maybe not complain too much anymore when something we think is so important in the books is left out on film!

    Linda

  6. Thanks for this! The adaptation is wonderful, and people truly do not understand what a challenging and complicated task it is. The Outlander tesm is amazing in its ability to stay true to the spirit of the books.

  7. Thank you for this, Beth. I read every blog of yours and enjoy your respectful insight into all things Outlander and life. I have read and reread all the books and have watched and rewatched all the episodes. I am so grateful to Diana and to Ron, the actors and every person involved in producing Outlander. I think they are all very intelligent, dedicated, professional, respectful, talented and genuinely good people. We fans are so lucky to have this great group of people working so hard to produce such a high quality show.

  8. Nancy

    This is random, but I was given permission to do this awhile back. Beth, thank you for that. My son-in-law, Noah, is going back to Boston tomorrow for his final biopsy to tell if his trial treatment for leukemia is working. Please, everyone, send messages of goodwill or prayers his way. Noah, a very bright light here in Minneapolis and Menominee, WI, is a slight but humerous kind of Jamie Fraser – a man that is beloved and strong. And is loved – very loved. I am reaching out to everyone. Given that Sam is directly connected to blood cancer and research, you can see how I would appeal to his fans. Thank you, Beth, for allowing me to be here.

  9. Panda

    Beth , that was fantastic. I do often feel the essence of the books on the screen version. Such as the last episode of season 2 , I was encouraged how it was all tied together and heading to Voyager. Yes there was a disappointment about the initials not being done. I really understand that now with future shows although i think it would not be unreasonable that it would fade with time and not be visible. I really am glad you added this post to your blog. Thanks !

  10. TheresaW

    I look forward to these blogs SOOOO much,always a great perspective,Beth. I admit I’m one of those people who cries out at the end of some eps I’ve watched and said WHAT WERE THE WRITERS THINKING WHEN THEY CHANGED THAT??!! But I get it now,mostly in part because of your blogs. Love the show,and love your blogs,thanks for all your insights😘👍

  11. Navora Cordova

    I knew from beginning that the show would be different from the book but I am also thankful that certain passages are word for word from the book. I hope that continues with season 3 & 4.

  12. sheila

    Thank you, Beth, for posting this wonderful behind the scenes look at a real writers’ room. Over the last two seasons you have helped me to calm down and understand the true gift we have been given by this team. I’m sure in anyone else’s hands Outlander would have floundered. Ron not only brought us his expertise in television writing, but along the way he brought us Terry and Bear and Jon Gary who would not have been on this project without Ron.

    The only other book to mini-series adaptation I find compares in honoring the source material, and even surpasses Outlander in my opinion, is the 1995 Andrew Davies version of Pride and Prejudice. That mini-series hit every note of the book and even expanded it where the book’s 1st person POV opened up and we were able to see a bit of Mr. Darcy’s life away from Elizabeth. But Pride and Prejudice is under 200 pages while Outlander and its sequels are magnum in size. Squeezing all that into 13 or 16 – 52 minute episodes is your proverbial 50 pounds in a 10 pound bag. And they also have to take in pace and arc and everything else an episode of television entails.

    There’s a tv show on Ovation or Bravo (can’t remember which) called Inside the Writer’s Room. I watched it this weekend. It was the writers for Dexter. I hope to see our Outlander writers on this show very soon. It would be so wonderful to hear them tell us what’s going through their heads and their understanding of the books. Keep an eye out for this to happen! Maybe everyone can email the station/program and request they get the Outlander gang.

      • sheila

        Right after I posted this I looked up the show. It’s on Ovation, actually. I emailed the station and requested they look into adding the Outlander writers’ room to their show for the future. Of course, didn’t hear any response, but fingers crossed that maybe they will look into it.

  13. jomarie54

    Thanks for another excellent post. I’ve reflected on this many times. I only read the books three years ago, before the series came out, but I have a friend that has read them from the beginning. I’ve had to talk her off the ledge a number of times because she wanted to see things done a certain way.

    I have found that after I watch an episode (never before!) and then read the corresponding passage from the book, they always seem to have captured the essence of the story. They really have done a great job with it.

    That’s not to say that I don’t occasionally have an issue with something. The “Boob Massage of 109” ( that sounds like it could be a title for something) didn’t go down well, because I really don’t think Jamie would have forgotten himself like that.

    But then, that gets to the crux of the matter; I imagined something different because of my experience of his character from reading the books. And I’ve often thought that people want to see what plays out in their own head right there on the screen. They seem to want to replicate their book reading experience in every way. And that, of course, is just not happening.

    And there’s the issue of physical characteristics that seem to drive people bonkers. My friend had an issue with Brianna not being tall enough. You could probably write a blog (if you haven’t already) about how hard it is to find an actor to adequately portray a role. I’ve often thought that there could be walking the earth right now, two people who more perfectly fit the physical descriptions of Jamie and Claire that Diana imagines for instance. And they probably wouldn’t be able to act their way out of a paper bag.

    So, I will now and in the future have faith that the cast and show runners are doing their very best to bring this story faithfully to life. I think it’s helpful to remember that it is in many ways, a different version of the story, but enjoyable in it’s own right.

    Gosh, this got long ~ sorry about that!

  14. Yvonne Pirch

    Thank you very much for these little insight. I’m no writer and don’t really know how a book to screen adaptation works, but over the last 2 years with OL I’ve read a lot of interviews with the resonpsibles persons (aka Ron, Maril, Matt etc.) and have an idea what it means to adapt a book.
    I think they all did a wonderful and successful job and I’m proud that such intelligente, sensible and honest people bring my favourites books to screen.

  15. Edie Parker

    Your insight just adds more to my love of all things Outlander. I came to the TV show looking for a good romance to teach me about structuring the first novel I’m writing. Someone said they stretched the first kiss out to the 6th or 7th ep. That sounded like darn good suspense to me. Of course then I was hooked and have read and listened via audiobooks to books 1-8, have the cookbook, got the Claire, Jamie and blackjack funky pop dolls b/c the instagrams people do w them crack me up, and went to the Paley costume and set design show. Yeah, I’m hooked and totally happy.

  16. Cheryl

    to the writers who created the “war nurse Claire and the dying soldier” … for most of them did call out for their mother and all us war nurses thought it..or prayed it…or whispered shut up……….Thank you. And to the writers of that last touch at the stones when he sends her back……….I HATE YOU TO THE MARROW OF YOUR GREAT WRITING BONES!! you tore out my heart!!!

    • I love your observations!! Good going! Thank you for your service as a “war nurse”. As hard as that has to be, I am extremely grateful for those like you. As for your thoughts on the adaptations: You are Right On !!

  17. Dear Beth, I love your blogs and have just finished a binge of reading all the various essays, comments and explanations from you, your fans and followers, the happy and the disappointed and the angry and vicious. I´m truly an Old Lady, I grew up before Computers and still refuse to buy a “Smart Phone” , and I have never followed a blog or read comments from readers before. An astonishing experience!–and only because I love Diana´s books so obsessively was I drawn into it. And because of your intelligent and well-written comments and contents I have become a fan. Thank you!

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