Kat: Outlander – The Series

Outlander, Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies

“Outlander” (c) 2014 Starz Entertainment, LLC

One of my favorite book series is now a television show on the Starz network. Outlander is the story of Claire Randall, a married British World War II nurse who is transported back in time to eighteenth century Scotland where she finds her soul mate, Scottish warrior Jamie Fraser.

For those of you unfamiliar with this fabulous series, the first book (Outlander) is a huge departure from the traditional romance novel in structure (tops out at over 1000 page) and tone (realism is the norm). It breaks other “rules” too (lots of backstory, lots of trouble, among other things). So I was interested to see exactly how the series would be adapted to the small screen. Too many times, I’ve found that television or movie adaptions fall short of the original novels and are disappointing. I was familiar with the casting (and hardily approved!), so in my mind it was a matter of whether the adaption would stick close to the book, and if it did, how the producers would cram 1000+ pages into sixteen hours.

The first episode (aired last Saturday night on the Starz network)  covered a lot of ground by showing as well as telling. Narration (Claire’s voice) is used for “telling” vital backstory details that must be conveyed, but don’t need to be shown. There are also several scenes that aren’t in the book. They work though, because they remain true to the story and they condense events and/or quickly establish characterization.

For example, there’s a brief “after battle” scene that depicts Claire up to her elbows in blood as she tends wounded WW II soldiers. As I watched a running commentary played in my head. Ah ha, I see what they’re doing, they’re showing who she is, her medical background, her toughness. In that single scene the viewer sees the iron core of Claire Randall—no shy lass, that one. The scene also beautifully reinforces several writing concepts we learned at McD. Show vs. tell (good video here on the adaption process), when to use “tell”, deciding what details/events to show, the ways in which a scene can be multi-purposed.

So far (and it’s early), I love the series. It perfectly captures the essence of the main characters (oh, Jamie, oolala), the setting, and that indefinable something (tone maybe?) so necessary to the story. In the coming months, I’ll be posting Outlander updates. For those of you without Starz, the first episode (and only the first, alas) is available to view for free on starz.com.

Until next time, I leave you with some fun Outlander facts:

  • Diana Gabaldon says she wrote the first book as “practice” and never intended to have it published.
  • Outlander spans several genres: Romance, historical fiction, adventure, SF/fantasy.
  • Outlander wasn’t originally conceived as a “time traveling” novel. As Gabaldon wrote the story, Claire began saying and doing “modern” things that a woman from that time/place would not do. She decided Claire would have to fall through time.
  • Diana Gabaldon’s participation on the Compuserve Books and Writer’s Community played a central in her getting published.

For those of you who are watching the series: What do you think so far? Is the show living up to your expectations?

For those of you who are not watching: Have you read Outlander? If so, did it hook you in (I’ve read all seven). If not, will you be picking up Outlander now?

9 thoughts on “Kat: Outlander – The Series

  1. I love your fun facts! IWhat a great idea . . . if the character isn’t period, then find a way to make her NOT period! For me, I always thought of Outlander as a fantasy, so the time-travelling aspect works fine for me. It’s so funny that it wasn’t planned that way.

    I think the book is a good lesson to all of us: follow the Girls! Don’t worry about genre-busting. If it’s good, it’ll find an audience.

    • Exactly what I thought as I learned more about Gabaldon’s process as well as her non-traditional path to publication. The “rules” are great as a guide, but to quote an extremely smart lady, there are many roads to oz. We just need the guts to follow our own path 🙂

  2. Gabaldon’s process is interesting, and I’m always thrilled when a romance author gets the wider audience when her books are turned into films or TV shows. And it sounds like Starz is doing this really well—I noticed that the TV Guide reviewer likes it. But as for the Outlander book series itself—I remember our discussion during McDaniel! Some of us loved the series, and some of us didn’t. I’m among those who do not find these books to my taste. But still, I’m happy to see the adaptation, so that those who already like the books will enjoy more of what they know, and newcomers might find books they might not have without the TV experience.

    • It’s interesting just to see how the book is being adapted. What they chose to show and so on.

      I remember the McD discussion, too, and it seems the realism in the book put some people off.

  3. I could only read the first of the Outlander series. The second one bored/lost me. That said, I’m completely hooked on the TV adaptation and have watched the first episode 3 times already.

    Although I don’t remember much from the book (I read it so long ago), it seems to me so far that they’ve done a good job capturing who Claire is. I’m anxious to watch Saturday’s episode and see how they develop Jamie and Black Jack Randall.

    Who knows…perhaps now I’m old enough to enjoy the series and I should give it a second crack. I did enjoy the first book…I just got lost on the politics of the second one.

  4. I won’t be able to watch the series, Kat, so I’m not going to torture myself with the first episode, though I like the look of the principal characters from the thumbnail on your post. Like Justine I only read the first book in the series, because there was so much discussion about it in class. I’ll be very interested to know how you find the adaptation.

    I guess that’s sixteen weekly one-hour episodes? Does that cover the first book, leaving open the possibility of another six (or more) future series?

    • That’s my thinking. I think Starz only bought an initial 16, tho. Waiting to see how it does, no doubt. They also (bastards!) are showing the series using a split season. The first 8 will run and then they’ll make us all wait until January for the remaining 8.

Let Us Know What You Think

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s