Outlander Season Two: Secrets Revealed*

Written by: Holly Richter-White



While I don't have gossip on characters or casting or costumes to share,  I do have insights into TV writing and how I think Season Two will be portrayed on-screen.  

How many times have we heard (or said) the same thing for Outlander S1?...

"I like the book better, it's more detailed."  
OR  "The TV show glossed over it."
OR  "They removed that whole chapter of the book."  
OR  "That character didn't do that in the books."  
OR  "They made that scene up -  it wasn't like that in the books."

So let's compare book versus screen, and the adaptation of detailed 947 page book into 13 sixty-five page screenplays. That's 150,000 (min.) word count versus 65,000 (max.).  So yeah, at less than half the words, we should expect that a few details might be missing.
First, let’s look at "flashbacks" or the toggle between future, past, and future as is done in DIA.


Screenwriters do not like to use flashbacks.  There, I said it. Whew!   It’s preferable for a story to be told linearly on-screen.  Flashbacks lose continuity, immediacy and threat “in-the-moment”.  They also lose viewer connectivity to the story.

Think about DIA from a TV-only viewers perspective, not from a book-lovers viewpoint.  Ron D. Moore must assume that the "lowest common denominator" is watching- meaning those with no knowledge of the books, Scotland, the Stones, and (gasp!) those who didn't watch S1!  So imagine if S2 started with Claire, like it does in the books.  You would always know that she would be okay.  You ruin the opportunity for high stakes for our main character.  Where's the drama in that?

You can't achieve the same sense of emotional impact no mater how good the scenes are from the past.  And on TV you won't be able to give as much detail. (remember, it's less than half the detail of the books)  While it's important to know how they arrived at this junction, even better is to see dramatic scenes in the present with an unknown outcome.

Structure in a novel is less circumspect as you can flip back and forth, and re-read for better clarity.  With film or TV, you are unlikely or less likely to do that (of course, with binge-viewing, future screenwriters may want to take a different approach, realizing people will PVR and forward/rewind).

Now I don't mean they’ll prohibit "quickflashes" which visualize something from a character's memory (ie. Outlander flogging scenes) which were tremendous in gaining Jamie's backstory.  There may be some in DIA, but I imagine when (not if, right Starz?) Voyager comes in 2017, we'll see a lot more "quickflashes" again.

"Show and tell" for novelists becomes "show DON’T tell" for screenwriters.  I think this was the very first rule I learned.  Dialogue is simply not an engaging way to offer factual details to an audience.  Viewers can't process nearly as much information when it’s merely spoken in dialogue.

Character development and situational factors are best exposed via dramatic, emotional, and entertaining scenes. The information is absorbed indirectly through character actions, and the actors portraying reactions and feelings to help audiences learn and understand the story.  

Dialogue should never be just "exposition."  The higher the stakes when it simply MUST be spoken, the better the scene and audience's retention of what threat that scene was trying to convey. A good example is S1 Ep. 16, the brutal assault of Jamie by BlackJack.

“I know that there are a lot of people out there that hated this scene and felt that it completely diverged from the book.  It didn’t. The description in the book was not exactly how it was portrayed on screen, but only in that it was not as detailed.  Jamie told Claire that Randall aroused him. What exactly do people think he meant by that?”  https://justagirlwithspirit.wordpress.com/category/outlander-2/

So for Season Two, this is what I think we should expect to see:

An increased role for Murtagh.  Whom else is Jamie going to disclose things that Claire doesn’t know?  Also, aren’t the stakes higher for Murtagh’s fate if there’s more TV audience investment than only what’s in the books?  And the writers LOVE Duncan Lacroix.  It think casting exceeded their expectations and they WANT to write for him.

Scenes changed around or merged (including adding some into on-screen DIA that are originally in the book, Outlander like the hand scene, or in the book, Voyager such as BJR’s last act (I have some theories on this being his last act of narcissistic repentance).

Number of secondary characters reduced and/or merged.

Voice-overs added where none existed before (to allow for Claire to share her thoughts, like when she’s being healed).

Events displayed or dialogue added that needed to be said out loud, not just in a character's head (sometimes we’ll see Claire do, rather than think).

Supporting characters in scenes they weren't before in order for the main characters to disclose needed information (like Murtagh to Jamie)

Elimination of dialogue in moments where silence/screams/gasps would be more dramatic (yes, we all have certain favourite lines we want them to say but sometimes action IS better).

“Oh, I really liked the way you did it. it was a difficult plot, I know, but I think you really found the essence of it. You really found the through line that really defines what this part of the journey is.” So I feel good about it. It’s not going to be a literal adaptation because I don’t think that’s possible with the second book…. But I think it’s very much the same story, the major characters are all represented, the major scenes are all represented, and it still gets you to all the same places you want to go.                        
DIA adaptation-  Diana Gabaldon

I admit it, as a screenwriter by trade, I do a little "fanscription" for my own personal benefit- that's fanfiction, but in screenplay format (I don’t go off story).  Doing these exercises, I've learned a lot about how to adapt from DIA to screen and the necessity to alter some scenes even slightly to show and not tell.  While not as difficult as writing an original story (right DG?), DIA’s adaptation still is not easy given the change between eras and disparate locations.

Warning: Major spoilers to follow.

For instance, when the scene at Craigh Na Dun occurs, I think extra dramatic conflict will be added for Claire’s escape as she goes one way and then also for Jamie’s as he goes another.  Jamie doesn’t know what happened to her.  But we’ll need to see that Jamie and Claire’s safety, each, is in doubt to hook the TV viewer.  
Couldn’t you picture him saying “Lord, let her…” here for the first time?   

And then there’s the beloved Stones.  Do we need to see her go through/explain the Stones again or will we just see her on the other side, in utter and sheer devastation?  Well, we can’t count on the TV viewer being either a book reader or a S1 viewer, so...  

Also, when Brianna is born, we’ll see Frank’s immediate reaction/connection.  Really, how connected would you be as a tv viewer to just hearing about it afterward? Perhaps he too won’t like the name...

As any book lover knows, the “spirit of the book’s intent” is here, but these are not the actual events transcribed by Diana.

Well, there it is.  It’s all speculation really but I find that awareness leads to expectations being met and not disappointed.

I have some ideas of how the the season’s plot lines will link through France, Scotland, and America.   Do you?

Do you have favourite lines that are “must have” in on-screen Dragonfly In Amber?

Do you want more Outlander chat? Get your fix by listening to The Outlander Cast Podcast with detailed show discussion and amazing interviews with cast, crew, writers and directors of Outlander on Starz.


  1. I'm not answering your question directly because I have a favorite line from your post - "Show and tell" for novelists becomes "show DON’T tell" for screenwriters. I think fans' entire approval or dismay at how the seasons will look and feel in comparison to the books is summed up with that one line. Well said! At this point, I'm just excited for ANY Outlander to appear on my screen. I'll be a happy camper no matter how it's adapted. And I say that knowing it's a ridiculous feat Ron and the crew have in their hands.

  2. Good thoughts. I'm not a writer but have been playing with these thoughts as well. Rereading DIA and making notes of pertinent details to see how I would fit them into 13 episodes. Just a fun exercise to help fill Droughtlander. Even think S2 could be done without Brianna and Roger. What do you think?

    1. I agree they could go without older Brianna/Roger (and end the season with the life/death cliffhanger instead), but I don't know if they will.

      In the least, Brianna as a wee babe will debut. I wrote up a hospital scene (she obviously has to have emergency surgery) where Frank doesn't know Claire already has a name for the(ir) baby, and raises her ire by suggesting Charlotte or Augusta (after Charles and Cumberland). He's a Jacobite scholar so it seems innocent enough, but that's not his intent. I think Frank's heart ices after their years apart, and never thaws.

      Just my reflections.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I think the reason we haven't heard about the casting for Brianna and Roger is because they are not going to use these flashback scenes for season 2. Not enough time to bring in that story line and get in all of France and the battles in Scotland.To your point--we may see baby Bree being born to Claire and Frank at the end after Claire goes back through the stones.

    1. Agreed. I think some of the details of Voyager will be in DIA TV episodes and vice versa, to maintain linear storytelling.

  4. For me the important thing is to remember that Claire and Jamie will always love each other so don't over do the drama with any problems they are going to go through. There is enough drama and we like knowing their love is never in question

    1. Surely miscommunication b/w Jamie and Claire will be the source of much drama in DIA. The great thing is that book lovers know the secret of how it all ends.

  5. Thank you so much for explaining how a screenwriter thinks. Hopefully it will help me with the differences in S2.

    1. I was never really interested in writing adaptations until I saw/read Outlander - only originals. This helps me as much as you, so thanks!

  6. It will be interesting to see where Ron Moore and company have chosen to go with the story. I agree the more linear tale will have the most strength in a visual setting. But there are so many subtleties that come in to play.

  7. This is a really interesting blog! Diana has let slip recently that Claire's miscarriage and how she and jamie reconnect are done differently than in the book. I think this may mean the whole trip by jamie and murtagh to damage the prince and comte's sherry or port may not happen and there will be another reason claire has to see the king to get jamie freed from the bastille. But I also think they will do 20th century bree and roger...The casting call for bree has been out with a December start date. But I have faith that their adaptation will be as true to the essence of dia as the first series was to outlander.

  8. This is a really interesting blog! Diana has let slip recently that Claire's miscarriage and how she and jamie reconnect are done differently than in the book. I think this may mean the whole trip by jamie and murtagh to damage the prince and comte's sherry or port may not happen and there will be another reason claire has to see the king to get jamie freed from the bastille. But I also think they will do 20th century bree and roger...The casting call for bree has been out with a December start date. But I have faith that their adaptation will be as true to the essence of dia as the first series was to outlander.

    1. Yes, it feels like a crap shoot as to what minor plot points they'll keep. Good thing we have the books.

      But yes, truly all of the major plot points stayed for Outlander and if Diana is happy about DIA then so should we.

  9. Thank you for this,I agree writing & adaptation for TV are so different,looking forward to it how it will pen out in DIA,glad that there will be more Murtagh,as Duncan is just simple marvellous in that role!I just hope we'll see a bit more of Jamie's humorous side,I didn't like the way Claire insisted about BJR being left alive for Frank's sake,sorry bit of a spolier for people,well after what Jamie has been through bc of BJR,hope Jamie doesn't have to witness the wedding of Mary Hawkes was a bit unbelieve able for me in the book!

    1. Agree with all. But I do think Jamie's role at the wedding leads right into BJR's last act for Jamie so viewers might need to see it.

  10. Great piece, Holly! I think this should be required reading for ALL avid book readers who want Ron to adhere strictly to the book. It sounds as though it is impossible, especially in so many episodes. I love the books. Love the stories and the details. But the screen is a different media. We should just take it as the extra nugget that it is and just enjoy. One can always go back to the book and read what is missing.

    1. Thanks Denise for your kind words. I have learned to enjoy the beauty of both mediums too.

    2. I'm working on My Plea for Willie Coulter! Going forward I can see Willie usefully fulfilling many objectives that Diana has invested in other characters. SAY NO MORE!

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