Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

sensory sex writing: tips from Diana Gabaldon May 18, 2013

Filed under: OUTLANDERishness,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 7:22 pm
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Diana Gabaldon posted on Facebook today that she’s writing an ebook about writing sex scenes.  As an example, she posted a selection that appeared to contain most of the “How to Write Sex Scenes” article she wrote for Chatelaine that she has posted on her website .  If the title of this post drew you here, and you just want to hear how to write sex scenes, head right to that article.

Her  basic premise is that sex scenes are about emotional connectiveness, not the sexual act, so a sex scene isn’t about the sex, it’s about something else, and there are ways to amp up the emotional quotient of a scene to show that.  She advocates the Rule of Three: include three senses in the descriptions and the scene will be rich and evocative.

In the ensuing comments, Diana made some interesting observations that I’ve been pondering.  Teacher Patricia Davis said she coaches her students to follow the methods Diana espouses and Diana responded,

Diana on writing emotion

 “the key to writing strong emotion is restraint.  You actually don’t write “about” emotion, you just show it happening.  You don’t want to get between the reader and the emotion, is what it comes down to, so the writing can’t show.”

It’s the old adage about showing not telling.  Show the emotion, don’t tell about it, but don’t show it in such a way that the writing is apparent.  Like cameras and microphones appearing  in the frame in your t.v. shows, if the writing technique is obvious, it kills the magic of the illusion.

I have to confess, the more workshops I take on writing, and the more authors I interact with, the pickier I become as a reader.  I know what should be done and whether I manage to do it in my own work (fingers crossed!) I want excellence in what I read now.  Like an amateur magician, I’m harder to fool and less tolerant of incompetence.

There are tricks and tips out there like the Rule of 3 that she outlines in the article.  Writing isn’t magic.  You don’t put things on the page and have them perfect immediately.  Writing is a craft, and you must practise it in order to be good at it.  To a compliment about her writing and observations by Magsasakang Pinoy, who said if he wrote, he’d follow her suggestions, she responded,

Diana on writing

“There are really two parts to writing fiction: finding the story, and then getting it from your head onto the page, in such as  way that it arrives more or less intact in the reader’s head <g>  I don’t know that you can teach anyone how to tell stories, but you can certainly teach them the craft of putting words on a page.”

It’s a little like Oz requesting we “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”  But even if we know ‘how’ we can still be manipulated by a master hand wielding the craft to create the magic.   A weak writer will have us stalking up to pull back the curtain and shout, “Ah ha!  I knew it!” but a strong writer will leave us happily suspending our disbelief as the magic unfolds.  When the scene is over we blink happily back to real life, and savour the mastery we’ve just experienced, even more impacted than the non-writer reader, because writers know just how skillfully we’ve been manipulated (and we LOVE it when it happens!).

We are so lucky to live in a time when writers can use social media to interact with their readers, and when it is so easy to give and to receive coaching and encouragement!  I am thankful and awed on a daily basis.

(Thanks for staying with me.  Now go read Diana’s article if you haven’t already, and I’ll get back to editing Grace Awakening Myth.  I need to use that Rule of Three in a few places!).  🙂



4 Responses to “sensory sex writing: tips from Diana Gabaldon”

  1. onewithclay Says:

    I think that the “rule of three” has a danger of leading to a feeling of contrivance. If the intention is to put the reader into the experience, I’d venture that the best approach is not to play it by the numbers but play it by the emphasis and intensity.

    • Shawn Bird Says:

      It’s all in how well it’s used. It certainly could produce contrived writing if you used it obviously, and in the same way every time. However, used subtly and masterfully, a reader wouldn’t even notice the rule in action, he’d only notice the power of the resulting scene.

      Did you read the article and see Diana’s examples? You can’t call it contrived at all. It’s simply powerful.

  2. Couldn’t open Diana’s article (who knows why) but I’m sure you’ve included the important bits here. As always it’s so nice to find a kindred spirit. Thank you. Lynn

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