• “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.”
    —ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

FILM/TV COMMENTARY, Part I: Adaptation, Logistics, and Testicles

Reaffirm Life memeSince book-touring is done (thank GOD!) and the show is on hiatus, we have a bit of time to stop, think, and catch up on the email…

So—I thought I might address a few recent comments and questions on Episode 8. Not to refute people’s opinions—everyone’s entitled to think as they like, and say so—but just to show you a bit about How Things Work.

While most people were riveted—as they should have been; it was a terrific episode—there were a few who were upset at things they perceived to be "missing"—these including:

  • Scenes of one-on-one dialogue between Jamie and Claire
  • More scenes of intimacy
  • Claire patching people up and doing healing
  • And specifically… the "waterweed" scene following the Grants’ raid.

(One person also thought we should have seen the redcoats stalking Claire, rather than have them pop out abruptly to seize her as she reaches for the stone.)

And there were a number of questions regarding the "Deserter" scene—mostly as to whether Claire had actually been raped or not (and if she had, what kind of doofus was Jamie for going off to talk to Dougal instead of tenderly cradling her and soothing her, etc.).

OK.

As I replied to one such commenter:

"Well….your comments pinpoint the major difference between Book and Show: Time.

ALL the things you wanted to see—one on one Jamie and Claire, more scenes of intimacy, relationship building, Claire patching people up, etc.—ALL of them, are things that would require extended chunks of time (‘extended,’ in a TV show, is anything that lasts more than 60 seconds). None of these things are ‘action,’ none of them move the plot in any direct way.

The show has 52-55 minutes in which to do everything that has to be done. They don’t have time to do nice-but-nonessential "Oh, wait while I triage the whole group, bandage Angus’s scorched hand and reset Ned Gowan’s tooth," or "Oh, my God, I know we just had sex, but let’s do it again…"

In short…if you want more of all those things—you can have ‘em. In the book. <g>"

Now, a successful adaptation is always balancing the needs of the story versus the exigencies of the form. As Andrew Marvell notes to "His Coy Mistress,"— "Had we but world and time, this coyness, mistress, were no crime…" I have world and time in a novel; pretty much all I want. I can shape the story to fit my own notion of pace, rhythm, focus and climax. So can a show-runner and his gang of writers—but they don’t have world and time. They have to decide what’s essential, and then shape the story to the time available and to the necessity for each 55-minute episode to have a satisfying dramatic arc of its own.

So—

(in reply to the person complaining about the redcoats’ abrupt appearance):

"But…the redcoats came out of ‘nowhere’ in the book, as well, when they pull Claire out of the stream. It isn’t that they aren’t ‘there’—it’s that in neither case does Claire see them, because she’s so totally focused on her goal…and we’re in her head, so we don’t see them, either.

To have shown the soldiers sneaking in from the side, while Claire was laboring up the hill, calling for Frank, would have given us a different sort of suspense in the scene—but would have been a distraction from the growing sense of desperate hope between Claire and Frank. And that was the true point of the scene.

See, one of the main tools of good story-telling is focus; getting the reader/viewer to look where you want them to look. And physical reality is really a pretty small part of that. The fact that X must have been there may be logical—but it isn’t relevant, so you don’t show it. Q.E.D. <g>"

Now, the focus of that scene is really what’s controlling it, and thus dictating changes from the book. Several people expressed disappointment at not seeing Claire fall into the water and be pulled out by the redcoats. Amusing as that might have been, it’s merely a way of interrupting her headlong rush toward the stones and getting her into Captain Randall’s clutches. The way it was done instead accomplishes that same plot goal—but also makes a very solid and dramatic point about her longing for Frank and his for her. So the adapted form is not detracting from the original version; in fact, it’s adding to it, and giving us a really good two-for-one, combining plot and character development/backstory reminder.

When Ron and I met in New York for the first-ever Outlander Fan Event, we shared a long cab-ride to the event, during which we talked Book. I told him why the flowers at Craigh na Dun are forget-me-nots and why the ghost is there (and no, I’m not telling you guys; you’ll find out, eventually <g>), and he told me about his vision of that scene with Claire and Frank approaching the stones from either side. I thought that was a great idea and said so.

See, that’s something that I couldn’t have done in the book, because it’s told entirely from Claire’s point of view. We can’t see what Frank was doing and going through after Claire disappeared. I preserved Claire’s worry about/attachment to Frank by having her think about him and grieve for him periodically—but that’s all internal; the only way of doing internal monologue in a visual medium is voice-overs, and I think y’all would agree that it’s best to keep that technique to a minimum…

But it’s simple to change time, place and viewpoint in a visual medium; one shot and you’re there. Also, since you’re working in a constrained time-space, the balance of viewpoints is easier to manage.

Technically, it’s possible to use multiple viewpoints in a book — (in fact, I got a note from one of my editors (regarding a chunk of MOBY I’d sent him) saying, "Congratulations… I think you’ve just done the literary equivalent of juggling half a dozen chainsaws.") — but OUTLANDER was my first book, written for practice, and I wasn’t out to make things too complicated. Had I used flashbacks of Frank’s life in the context of a book of that size, they’d either be overwhelming, or trivial distractions. Used in the context of a 55-minute TV episode, they were beautifully balanced against Claire’s 18th century life.

In addition, there’s a visceral punch to seeing Frank’s actions that gives you an instant emotional investment in him and his story. I probably have the chops to do such a thing effectively in print now, but I didn’t when I wrote OUTLANDER (and in fact, I wouldn’t have thought of doing it; I wanted most of the focus on Jamie and the 18th century, both because that’s where most of the color and action and Story was, but also to assist the reader in falling in love with Jamie along with Claire, so that we would understand her later choices. But just as the visual invests the viewers in Frank, it does the same for Jamie—are we in any doubt, following "The Wedding" that Claire is falling in love with him?).

See, a visual medium speeds things up. You don’t necessarily need the longer build-up that you have in text, because the images are much more immediate, and easier for the audience to absorb in an emotional way.

OK, moving on to the was-it-rape? scene and the aftermath…

Well, the people who’ve read the book (and remember it <g>) know it was attempted rape. Claire grabbed her attacker around the neck while he was fumbling for a, um, connection, pulled him down and stabbed him in the kidney—but he never did succeed in penetrating her.

The TV-only people probably think he did succeed because one of the "warnings" at the beginning was an "R" for "Rape," even though there isn’t one in the episode. Now, whether whoever put the warning on thought that’s what happened, or whether it’s merely a "trigger" warning (i.e., people with a sensitivity to scenes of sexual assault might want to know there is such a scene in this episode)…I don’t know.

But this is one of those things where stuff from the book actually can’t be shown adequately. It’s absolutely clear from the book, because we’re in Claire’s head, and we know what she was perceiving. But the shot can’t be under her skirt—and unless they put in a line where Claire tells Jamie, "Don’t worry, he didn’t manage to get it in…" (which would not only be crude, but would grossly undercut her—and the audience’s—sense of shock and dislocation)…then it’s not going to be clear to viewers, who will have to be left to draw their own conclusions.

Same diff with the "waterweed" scene. This is a scene in the book that occurs between the fight with the Grants and the men instructing Claire next morning in the art of killing people. It’s a very vivid scene (sufficiently vivid that the U.K. editor asked me to remove it from her edition of the book, she thinking it "too graphic" for her audience. <cough> So this scene is in OUTLANDER but not in CROSS STITCH. The relevant part of the scene is available below, for convenient reference), and extremely memorable to readers, many of whom complained about its omission in the episode.

I didn’t discuss the decision to omit this scene with the production team, both because I try not to nitpick them, and because I could easily see why it was omitted:

  1. It doesn’t advance the plot or develop an important bit of character. It reaffirms Jamie and Claire’s strong sense of/need for each other, but there are a lot of other scenes that do that (we see one within the next five minutes). Ergo, it’s not necessary. (And that consideration is why I reluctantly agreed to remove the scene from the U.K. book. Its removal didn’t damage the plot structure or deprive us of anything we really needed. In that respect, it’s one of only two scenes in OUTLANDER that aren’t structurally attached to something else (the Loch Ness monster scene is the other one)).
  2. See remarks above about time. Including this scene would have meant leaving out something else; and everything in this episode is necessary to the purpose intended by the writer/production team.
  3. The scene wouldn’t have been nearly as effective on film as it is on the page—and the reasons have to do with Claire’s subjective sensory perceptions. You simply can’t show most of what she’s experiencing without it being pornography (and even so, there’s no possible way of showing a man’s testicles contracting at the moment of orgasm, no matter how professionally accommodating your actor may be). But you can describe it, vividly and straightforwardly in text, without it being gross. Without those subjective bits from Claire’s interior point of view, though, the scene doesn’t have either the deep sense of intimacy or the intense sensuality that you have in the book version; it’s just another sex-scene (albeit one admittedly with some fairly funny dialogue). And while some shows would likely use repetitive sex-scenes just because people will watch them… that’s luckily not a technique this show goes for. Every sex-scene you see has an emotional point or a plot point to make.

And now I really must go and do some work. <g>

-Diana


#ReadWhileYouWait #OUTLANDER #RaidersInTheRocks #NoSpoilersInThisOne

[The rent party has retired for the night, and Jamie and Claire are conversing quietly under their blankets.]

I rolled over and put my arms about his neck.

"Not as proud as I was. You were wonderful, Jamie. I’ve never seen anything like that."

He snorted deprecatingly, but I thought he was pleased, nonetheless.

"Only a raid, Sassenach. I’ve been doin’ that since I was fourteen. It’s only in fun, ye see; it’s different when you’re up against someone who really means to kill ye."

"Fun," I said, a little faintly. "Yes, quite."

His arms tightened around me, and one of the stroking hands dipped lower, beginning to inch my skirt upward. Clearly the thrill of the fight was being transmuted into a different kind of excitement.

"Jamie! Not here!" I said, squirming away and pushing my skirt down again.

"Are ye tired, Sassenach?" he asked with concern. "Dinna worry, I won’t take long." Now both hands were at it, rucking the heavy fabric up in front.

"No!" I replied, all too mindful of the twenty men lying a few feet away. "I’m not tired, it’s just—" I gasped as his groping hand found its way between my legs.

"Lord," he said softly. "It’s slippery as waterweed."

"Jamie! There are twenty men sleeping right next to us!" I shouted in a whisper.

"They wilna be sleeping long, if you keep talking." He rolled on top of me, pinning me to the rock. His knee wedged between my thighs and began to work gently back and forth. Despite myself, my legs were beginning to loosen. Twenty-seven years of propriety were no match for several hundred thousand years of instinct. While my mind might object to being taken on a bare rock next to several sleeping soldiers, my body plainly considered itself the spoils of war and was eager to complete the formalities of surrender. He kissed me, long and deep, his tongue sweet and restless in my mouth.

"Jamie," I panted. He pushed his kilt out of the way and pressed my hand against him.

"Bloody Christ," I said, impressed despite myself. My sense of propriety slipped another notch.

"Fighting gives ye a terrible cockstand, after. Ye want me, do ye no?" he said, pulling back a little to look at me. It seemed pointless to deny it, what with all the evidence to hand. He was hard as a brass rod against my bared thigh.

"Er…yes…but…"

He took a firm grip on my shoulders with both hands.

"Be quiet, Sassenach," he said with authority. "It isn’t going to take verra long."

It didn’t. I began to climax with the first powerful thrust, in long, racking spasms. I dug my fingers hard into his back and held on, biting the fabric of his shirt to muffle my sounds. In less than a dozen strokes, I felt his testicles contract, tight against his body, and the warm flood of his own release. He lowered himself slowly to the side and lay trembling.

The blood was still beating heavily in my ears, echoing the fading pulse between my legs. Jamie’s hand lay on my breast, limp and heavy. Turning my head, I could see the dim figure of the sentry, leaning against a rock on the far side of the fire. He had his back tactfully turned. I was mildly shocked to realize that I was not even embarrassed. I wondered rather dimly whether I would be in the morning, and wondered no more.


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127 Responses »

  1. I’m just wondering did anyone else find themselves finishing off lines that were in the book but not in the show?

    When Dougal helps her onto her horse that first time and says “give me your foot” I hear him in my head saying “your OTHER foot”

    I’m so glad that this is a tv show and not a miniseries or a movie. My friends and I got together and watched all 8 episodes in a day (yay DVR) and we made a “traditional” meal of potato leek soup, oatcake, and sticky toffee pudding. Of the three of us I’m the biggest Outlander Fan so the little things irked me more than they ought I’m sure and I got laughed at plenty of times watching this but overall. I loved it and April is oh so far away.

  2. Dear Diana,
    Last year I was in the mood to read and was looking for something that would grab my interest. My parents handed me the first seven books and told me I would enjoy the story. I looked at the size of the books and said it would probably take me years to read. lol I was wrong. I had them all read by May 2014 and in June my husband and I traveled to Scotland. It was the most fantastic vacation we have been on and plan to visit there again in a few years. I bought MOBY at a book store when we went to St Andrews. I’m 46 yrs old but found myself skipping down the sidewalk after I purchased the book. My husband has not read the books but he enjoyed the TV show. I would tell him after each episode the differences between the book and the show. lol Even though there are differences the show still captures your attention and the characters still feel like family. We can’t wait until April.

  3. Dear Diana,

    Congratulations on successfully bringing your beloved books to life on screen. I, however, will not be watching.
    Jamie, Claire, Ian, Fergus, the whole lot live in my imagination and will remain there.
    I think I understand the uproar that happened when actor selection was made for 50 Shades. While I didn’t read those books, one invests time and thought into those stories and characters. If the screen version doesn’t match your ideal, then it ruins everything!
    I just re-read book 7 so that I was well prepared to dive into 8. I encourage your new audience to invest in the books. They are every bit worth it!

    All the Best~

  4. I love your breakdown of the show vs. the book but in my opinion you shouldn’t have to stand up for the show. The show is amazing, particularly episode 8. I LOVED the thrill of the redcoats pulling her back at the last second, even having read the book, I thought for a moment (did she really try and go?). What good would the show be if it were EXACTLY the same? I could just go read the books again for that (not that I haven’t). I love your books, I love the show. Wonderful work, all around.

  5. This is not in response to Diana’s post but was not sure where to leave my comments on how much I love these books. I was introduced to the Outlander books late in the game (just started reading them in August) and have read all of them in a couple of months. My husband calls himself the “Outlander widower”. I just love them. The writing is terrific and the characters are a so captivating. Thank you so much Diana for writing them. I have not found something that has captured me so completely for a long time. Thank goodness I just retired so I can spend my time reading these books. I am on book 8 and hope there is a book 9 coming soon. I will be in mourning when I finish book 8. The series is terrific and I can not wait till the next round of shows. I hope they continue through all of the books with the tv series.

  6. I think the show has been fabulous so far. I’m sorry, but a movie can NEVER come close to a book. Thank you, Diana for many hours of great entertainment.

  7. Ms Gabaldon, you are hilarious! As I read the following, I spit my ice cream out of mouth in laughter.

    ” You simply can’t _show_ most of what she’s experiencing without it being pornography (and even so, there’s no possible way of showing a man’s testicles contracting at the moment of orgasm, no matter how professionally accommodating your actor may be)”

    “No matter how professionally accommodating your actor may be.” Ha!

    Very enjoyable post…thanks for the inside look.

  8. Many years ago I stated that I hoped you, Diana, would finish the series in my lifetime. The Gods have blessed me and at age 83 not only have I read every book in the series, but have seen 8 episodes of Outlander. My wish is almost complete, and soon I can watch reruns of the entire series.
    Thank you for giving me the pleasure of reading and rereading your books, and some special scenes I read many times. Romance is alive once again in my heart.

  9. I’m loving the series, although it reminds me of another excellent adaptation of my childhood – the movie of Watership Down. I remember thinking that they had got the tone perfect, but how could anyone who hadn’t read the book truly experience the depths?? The little excerpt above missing from Crossstich reminds me why I love reading.

    One mild point – the tv show seems to make less of Claire falling for Jamie and more of Claire missing Frank, in terms of time devoted to each. I do wonder if the non reader watcher is picking up on the depth and trajectory of her growing feelings for Jamie (although his for her are coming through nicely).

    Regardless, what cruelty to make us wait so long for the next installment!!! Good thing we’ve all learnt patience from the books :)

    Oh and Diana, may you live for many decades to come, but just in case a plane crashes, it’s good to know that someone knows the truth about the Jamie ghost in Inverness! I’ve speculated about that since the beginning!

  10. Perfection has been given to each and every episode and I especially liked the wedding scene, the way Jamie describes how he felt/saw…”it’s like the sun came out”. I realize that the pure physical size of Jamie as described in the book would be dificult to find in the flesh, as Claire often refers to finding that perfect notch in his chest that her nose fits just right…but they do make an amazing couple on screen.

    I look forward to the next chapter on screen of this wonderful series…again…well done Diana and exceptionally well done to Ron Moore…I still think he would have made a great Dougal MacKenzie !

  11. Hi Diana,

    First, thank you so much for YEARS of joy and entertainment! I have laughed, cried and yelled as your story has unfolded. I first read Outlander in grad school (I’d “reward” myself with 30 min. reading time after I finished studying at night!). The portrayal of Claire and Jamie’s love story/adventure shaped the qualities I looked for in my own husband. My “Jamie” is 6’5 with dark hair and an owl like wink, though he doesn’t wield a sword!! However, I learned a lot about what marriage *should* be from reading your books. As I’ve read each new book (and then re-read its predecessors) my perspective has changed, from that of a young, idealistic 22 year old to that of a 40 year old with children of her own. I love that your books transcend time (literally and figuratively!!).

    As to folks being peeved about what was/wasn’t in the TV series, if the author Herself isn’t upset, then no one else has the right to be! The fact that Ron and Co. have been so faithful to the book is amazing when you consider how long it takes to produce each scene (I read your description of your TV debut (brava, by the way!) and was amazed at your description of the arduous process required for “just” one scene.).

    I am thoroughly enjoying re-reading the series from the beginning (again). Somehow, it’s even better, if that’s possible, now that I see/hear Sam/Cait as I’m reading. It’s that much more real somehow. Anxiously awaiting the next 8 episodes, Season 2 and the next installment of the book! Many, many thanks for the very real way you have shaped my life.

  12. I am truly enjoying the screen version of Outlander and I`m looking forward to Dragon Fly in Amber. Your books were wonderful and couldn`t wait to start each one of them. Hopefully the book you write after Written in My Own Heart`s Blood won`t be too long from now.

    This series being shown in Ontario Canada is shown in a time period of one and one half hours. I really wish the scenes were more than eight minutes with commercials for five minute. I understand it is the commercials that pay for the series but really, eight minutes with a commercial break of five minutes. They must be able to do better.

  13. I was very satisfied with tv series the casting could not have been better. the costuming was the best i’ve seen anywhere. the acting was like the book. good work

  14. Diana,

    It’s good to read your opinions on the show episodes that so many fans had a problem with. I think for the most part the show is really good. I love the casting and the scenery of Scotland. I have to admit however that I loved your books better! but as you said, it is a matter of time and emphasis. It’s understandable that a show has to fit into a 50 min. time slot and many things will get cut from the books to accommodate that format. I personally do think the story, as seen from a woman’s perspective (Claire’s), is unique to what we typically get on TV today. So I hope they keep that as the major emphasis in the show and not move to the man’s view too much. I think it’s interesting that we can see pornographic type sex on Game of Thrones every week but if it’s romantic sex from a woman’s point of view we might have to water that down.. Anyway

    Your book fans have had 20 years or so to envision their version of a show, so I also understand how they might be disappointed that the show is not as they envisioned it. I think they fear the show may move too far away from the books they love when it starts to diverge. Other shows based on books have done that in the past.
    I haven’t seen that here yet so I’m sure you’re right when you say we all need to relax, enjoy and stop nit picking. But you are still the Queen! (LOL!)

  15. Hello Diana and Outlander Fans…

    Have enjoyed all of the books, and am dazzled by the series – The costumes, sets, countryside, acting, fine details and the MUSIC are exceptional!

    The best adaptation of a book ever. Accomplished with artistry.

    Now I have to wait for April. Drats.

    Will go fiddle around on some Scottish tunes in the meanwhile – and try to nail that perky fiddle tune heard in the first episodes.

    Musically Yours, Martha

    • Dear Martha,
      If I haven’t bought it yet on iTunes I would have to wait until spring 2015 to watch it in Germany.

      You may want to try music from a band called Clannad or try Enya! Though I am not sure whether Clannad are still together but if you can get hold of their old CDs I am sure you’ll like the music.

      Enjoy!
      Sabine

      • Okay…..bad English…..
        It should read in the first sentence “If I wouldn’t have bought it yet on iTunes….”

  16. My goodness, I am so sad that you have to write these posts. I know that everyone is entitled to their opinion and that there are those who don’t understand the concept of an adaptation, but really? Are we really still having to go through this again and again? Do these naive readers remember the enormity of the books? The show would have to be filming 24/7 for months in order to incorporate every tiny detail that we savor as we read, and while I’m sure there are fans who don’t understand why that would be impossible (lol), I’m sure cast and crew etc. would have something to say about it!

    You are too kind with your continued, (and kind) explanations, I hope that as we move into the last 8 of this season and, hopefully, many more seasons, viewers will begin to understand and appreciate the wonderful show for what it is… an adaptation of our favorite books. :)

    • Totally agree with this, but it was sadly predictable that there’d be a significant number of “WAAAHHH it isn’t exactly like the book!” carry-on. Someone has dubbed the whiners “Poutlanders,” which IMHO is perfect. ;-)

      Along with the not-exactly-like-the-book complainers there is a subset of those who can’t take the violence. I’ve seen a lot of “it’s a beautiful series, but I can’t watch it because rape blood ew ew etc.” To which I’ve responded more than once with, “Well, you had better stop now, because you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

    • Nicole, I agree with you. There are probably millions of fans, which means there are millions of versions of Jamie and Claire. The actors can never live up to the characters in our imaginations, but I think Ron and Starz have done a fabulous job with the casting, script, and overall adaptation. No, it’s not exactly how I pictured it, but it is so well done, it only adds to what I have visualized all these years, not takes away.

      But since you mention 24/7 filming for months to capture every detail, I wouldn’t complain about that either! LOL

      I commend Diana not only for her imagination and her writing skills, but also for her patience with all of us.

    • I agree! Ron and team are doing wonderful work! Wow, so much better than could have been. I am so thankful. I have read and reread all be books too. I understand the difference with the show and the books. I love it. Thanks to all involved!
      Meli

  17. Diana, you have done a wonderful job. I cannot wait until the next 8 episodes air next year.

    • Dear Tina–

      If you mean the TV show, I haven’t done anything (other than support the people making it). But I’m thrilled with what they’ve done, to be sure!

      –Diana

  18. Thank you for your post and clarification – I’m loving the series (can’t believe we have to wait 6 months!!!) and I have truly enjoyed listening to your books, in fact I am on my 3rd listen (it makes my commute to work that much more enjoyable).

    Very well done Ms Gabaldon, very well done. I have no idea why some people don’t like the “graphics” whether they be in fighting or in “loving” – your story is so well done it needs all aspects to complete it. So don’t cut a thing if you don’t have to :)

  19. Regarding the “waterweed” excerpt.

    I had forgotten this part and after reading it again I have only one comment:

    verra nice!

    Thanks you so much for sharing!
    xoxo

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