This week we attended the “Inside the Writers Room with OUTLANDER” event at the Writers Guild Foundation. The hit STARZ series was adapted from the novels by Diana Gabaldon by Ronald D. Moore, who was joined by the show’s writer-producers Toni Graphia, Anne Kenney, and Matthew B. Roberts. They chatted with moderator Kate Hahn about the benefits and challenges of adapting from existing material, the processes of their writers’ room and much more.
On adapting from existing material: To balance the room, Ronald D. Moore found it advantageous to bring on a combination of writers who were both fans and non-fans of the books. He found that this approach helped to calibrate meaningful discussions about what the writers would keep and what they would change from the original IP. The group noted the benefits and challenges in the writing process of an adaption. Even when the team would prefer to throw out a character, storyline or move in a different direction, the parameters of the books dictated that they stay on course. Some of the writers, however, enjoy working within those restraints, as it creates more of a road map for them to follow.
On straying from the existing material: Though the writers’ room collectively aims to honor the source material, their approach is to deliver the familiar characters and events in new and surprising ways. Moore summarized this notion perfectly: “No one says, well that show sucks, but at least they stayed faithful to the books!” He always wants to be surprised by the show, so the writers aim to carve out spaces for spontaneity and originality within the well-established “Outlander” world.
On collaborating with the author: Author Diana Gabaldon has been fully supportive of Moore and his team of writers. She recognizes that changes to her work are inevitable. Moore reports that Gabaldon is not shy about voicing her concerns as they arise, but is incredibly respectful and always (eventually) defers to their creative licenses.
On writing a good sex scene: This wouldn’t be an Outlander writers’ panel without an in-depth discussion on the topic of sex! Anne Kenney, who wrote the steamy episode “The Wedding,” noted that sex means something more than just sex for the characters in this world. It is not to be gratuitous or lewd. Kenney’s advice for writing a successful sex scene is to identify the emotional intent and purpose of the scene, just go for it and do not let insecurities hold you back.
On the writers’ room: As we’ve heard time and time again at these events, the key to ensuring a productive and respectful writing environment is that showrunners hire kind and truly considerate people. The “Outlander” writers admit that their room isn’t always free of debates or disagreements, but these discussions are built on a foundation of respect for one another. It’s so important to recognize that a showrunner is looking to hire a writer who will make their life easier, who they enjoy being around, and who can get along with others.
“Outlander” is currently in its second season and has recently been renewed for a third and fourth season. New episodes air on Saturdays at 9 p.m. PST on STARZ.