The Book Was Better

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The Outlander series of books by Diana Gabaldon, now a tv series called Outlander on Starz

Lots of movies and some television series are based on books. “Based on”, that’s the key word. Many times the movie takes an idea from a book and builds a whole new thing. Books generally contain so much detail that a movie can never fit everything in so naturally, it feels like a book is far superior to a movie.

When the author sells the rights to their work, what happens to make the end result  is pretty much out of their hands but sometimes an author is lucky to be allowed to write the screenplay. I’ve even been aware of a book that was written *knowing* it would be then made as a tv mini series and the series written by the book’s author.  It baffles me, then, when events in a book are completely changed for the movie. If the author knew they’d be writing the screen version, why didn’t they write the story to match in the first place? The specific book I’m thinking about is a sequel to Gone With The Wind, called Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley. The mini series had major changes which didn’t enhance the story at all. Boggles the mind.

I’m sure most writers try to be as faithful to a screen adaptation as they can. Changes always have to be made and things have to be left out because they don’t always work in the visual version or the budget might require it. Most of the time, you never know what goes into adapting a book for the screen and why.

Two years ago, my absolute all time favourite series of books was turned into a tv series. Or, at least, the first two books have been turned into series, so far, with the third book/series in production now, I think. The author is Diana Gabaldon and the series is the “Outlander” series. It’s difficult to nail down the genre really. It is superb historical fiction with a time travel element and romance and adventure. The first book, Outlander, was published in 1991 and there are currently 8 books in the series, two companion books and a few “spin off” books about a secondary character. The historical period is the late 18th century, starting in 1743, just before the Jacobite Rising in 1746 and following through to the events before, during and after the American War of Independence.

Ms. Gabaldon has had much interest over the years but wanted to make sure it was in good hands and the producers at the Starz tv channel in the US have taken it on board and ran with it. She has been closely consulted along the way though she has no actual final say in things. She did get the opportunity to write an episode and she had a cameo appearance in another one. She’s been great at keeping the fans informed and often explains *why* things are different book-to-movie which is really great. You get a bit of insight into the production of it. I still hear people complaining that the books are better and yes, yes they are, but I also really love the series and since I understand why things have been changed, I can take the series for its own merits. The changes haven’t been too jarring so far and the interpretations have worked very well, I think.

It still doesn’t mean that I always accept a movie or filmed adaptation’s changes. Sometimes they just don’t make sense to me and sometimes a really interesting or seemingly important part of a book is dropped or changed and it is upsetting when you do love the book. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that was better than the book aside from possibly added special effects that were jaw dropping.

I could go on and on about various movies and books specifically but I think I’ll leave those for future posts. There will likely be another blog post about Outlander at some point, as well!

How do you feel about book-to-screen adaptations? Do you dread them? Are you often pleasantly surprised? Can you accept changes to the story? Which ones have been done well or not?

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