Books versus TV, Narrative Voice versus Scripted Scenes Longmire, Outlander

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

Every author wants their novels to be made into a film or a television series. Right? 

So let’s take a look at how these two worlds of “series”—both the readable and the viewable kind—connect, overlap, or compete. Some people discover a great series first on TV, then want to dig deeper by reading the original books. Some don’t want to see the adaptation on a screen until they’ve delved into the books, sometimes referred to by producers as “source material.” 

Here we’ll take a look at works by Diana Gabaldon (the Outlander series), and Craig Johnson (the Longmire series).


Any author who sits down to write fiction has to choose whether to write in first or in third person. (Rarely, someone writes in the second person, but it’s very hard to sustain the “you” throughout a lengthy tale.) Neither first nor third are right or wrong. They’re both excellent, so it depends on whether you want your reader to know only what the “I” of the story knows (first person) or to know beyond what all the characters know (third person), which sometimes means your protagonist is in the dark, but your reader is not. In fact, the third person is often called the “unlimited” POV (Point of View.)

In the mystery genre, there are famous examples of the first-person-Seamus wise-cracking his (or her) way from crime scene to back ally to police blotter to aha moments. It can be an engrossing experience to be inside the head of the protagonist, peeping out through his or her eyes, seeing the world from someone else’s perspective. Peter Lewis wrote an excellence blog called The Five Best First-Person Crime Novels.

He mentions among others, Double Indemnity which started as a book and became the iconic film starring Barbara Stanwyck and FredMacMurray.

The Longmire books are written in first person. We climb inside Walt Longmire’s head and stay there as he rides roughshod in his Rum 1500 Laramie Longhorn truck from headquarters to the Rez, and wherever in Wyoming he needs to roam. We therefore have to gather important details about his attitude, fears, likes, and irritations from how he reacts to others, and how they react to him. The author know his character exceptionally well, but it takes us longer to know him than it might if we could see him from the outside. Walt thus becomes more accessible by listening to Longmire audios, beautifully narrated and performed by George Guidall; and Longmire leaps off the page and onto the screen in the television series, as described below. The audiobooks are, of course, in first-person. The television series, however, has no narrator, and is told in the traditional third-person style. Though many of the scenes include Walt, many do not, so we viewers get to know things Walt doesn’t know and has to figure out.

The Outlander books are also written in first person. We’re with Claire Randall when she inadvertently falls through the Stonehenge-style ring of stones and time-travels backwards by 200 years. Given the extreme disorientation this would produce, it’s probably the only authentic way to tell at least this part of the story, and it works well. Later in the series, Gabaldon is forced to write some segments in third person, since it becomes important to the story to show things Claire doesn’t know. The default first-person is retained in the television series, insofar as we hear intermittent pieces of voice-over narration. These occur just often enough to remind us that this is primarily Claire’s story, and though I’m not usually a fan of voice-over, here it’s handled very well.


What words of wisdom might Johnson or Gabaldon have for us about developing these characters?

1 – Dimensions. About his protagonist, Walt Longmire, Johnson points out that he’s given Walt a context that not only allows for, but requires multi-dimensions. He’s not out to solve one crime per episode, or per book; he’s a sheriff, so “He’s dealing with so many things that are going on in his county.” This is a great idea for lifting a crime-protagonist out of being driven by one storyline. You might enjoy the interview of Craig by bookseller Scott Montgomery on the Crime Reads blog.

Gabaldon began her story when the notion of a kilt-clad Scotsman captured her fancy. But when she introduced her female character Claire, “she took over,” the author declared. Bossy and determined, and with a modern edge to her voice, the female protagonist seemed to have come not from 17th century Scotland, but from an earlier era when women could express more overt power. When might that have been? Well, during WWII when the men were away in battle, women took over the jobs at home. And some of them joined the men at the front: Army nurses. So now Claire had a mandate with the determination to match. When she herself travels back to that earlier century, she takes her power, attitude, and skills with her, which places her, by turns, in positions of peril or power. The character is quite irresistible, for readers, for producers, and for actors, especially the one who landed the part and performs it so perfectly, Caitriona Balfe.

The author has a terrific post on her website: My Writing Process

2 – Setting. Johnson set his protagonist in as remote a setting as he could, while keeping him in the Lower 48. Because he’s in the “least populated county in the least populated state” he doesn’t have the usual access to technology, teams, or rapid response. Longmire and his bare-bones crew have to cover hundreds of miles a day to keep up with multiple situations. This gives the protagonist a hand-hewn self-reliance he must live up to, or wither and die.

To read more about this aspect of his writing, visit his interview on the Stories About America blog.

Gabaldon has several settings, both chronologically and geographically. These settings—some civilized some not; some bristling with untamed nature and some swishing with silks and velvets—serve to offer the extreme challenges her characters must face, even though some of the settings may be sumptuous in appearance. Though we do learn fascinating historical details, they are present to serve the advancement of the characters, more than to teach us the lessons of history.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

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