Great Expectations

Okay, I’m a big fan of Outlander. Not only the series on  Starz, but of the books, as I’ve been reading them since a few years after the first book (named Outlander, oddly enough) came out. I had met series author Diana Gabaldon years ago at a cocktail party at a New Jersey Romance Writers’ conference, where she was so kind to explain to me just how she wrote one of her more grisly scenes (the memory of it and how my stomach lurched, will be better left unwritten at this juncture thankyouverymuch). She was very charming and personable, and years later I had the chance to encounter her again in New York, this time at a Random House Author Breakfast. It was there she disclosed for the first time that just the night before, she had finalized the contract for the Starz Outlander series, to excited gasps from her rabid fan base sitting in the audience, thrilled that Jamie and Claire would finally come to life. But I wonder ever since that day how many of her readers have been disappointed? Because how much is really lost when characters–and storylines–jump from the page to the screen?

I read a romance once where the author stated in her forward that she based her two lead characters, a pirate and a spoiled and screeching noblewoman, on George Clooney and Nicole Kidman. Really? The debonair Clooney as a peg-legged arrrrgh -ing privateer? The elegant Aussie as a continual pain-in-the-ass? Didn’t help that all they did in the book was fight. Just didn’t wash for me, especially since I saw Clooney and Kidman as having zero chemistry. But that was beside the point. I resented the fact I was being directed to imagine a character in a certain way, rather than to let their deeds and actions unfold in my own mind as to what they really were about. When I read a book, it’s should be my interpretation of the writing, not that author’s. That’s why there are book discussion groups, as every reader has a different impression of the author’s vision. And in when a book jumps to a screen small or large, that vision is then ceded by the author to the screenwriters and ultimately, the director.

Every Monday morning I read the Outlander recap in The New York Times and invariably, there’s someone bitching about how much the show is missing/has changed/has been altered from book to series. There’s some changes I’ve liked, there’s some that I’ve questioned, there’s some that I outright hate. Comments say the book is so much better, and some, who’ve never read the books, suggest avenues the characters can take. Those who are like me, enjoy it for what it is. I can live with both because I’ve experienced both, and I see each for what they are. As a writer, I know when I put my work out there, my characters are bound to be altered by each person who reads my story, as each approach it with different life experiences and expectations.

But that’s the chance we take when we become writers, as it’s nearly impossible for our vision to be transferred unaltered into another person’s brain. The best we can hope for is it’s intact enough to remain enjoyable and worthy enough to read. And that enough people end up reading it to end up transferring it from a Kindle into a more widely-distributed screen. Or so we hope.

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