Diana Gabaldon’s Advice for Writing Sex Scenes: Dial Back on the Adjectives

Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander  series, taught the “How (and How Not) to Write Sex Scenes” workshop at Bubonicon 45 on August 24th.


The room was packed and the audience enthusiastic.

“How many of you are writers and are here because you want to learn about how to write sex scenes?” Diana asked.

Quite a few hands went up.

“How many of you are here because you want to hear me read sex scenes?”

Quite a few more hands went up, along with laughter.

And to illustrate her points, she did read sex scenes from her own books out loud. Without the help of Vodka.

The session included a lengthy (no pun intended) recitation of all the different references for penis (“yogurt squirter” unfortunately sticks in my mind) and a shorter reading (because apparently there is less of a need to name women’s sex parts) of the references for female genitalia (“muffin” comes to my mind, only because Lady Gaga used it in “Poker Face”).

About actually writing the sex scenes, Diana had this to say: don’t use too many adjectives.

I’m a little guilty of this. I blame Sex and the City. Remember when Samantha described her new lover’s dick as “long, pink, amazing”? That was great. It paints a memorable picture. A part of me tries to mimic that poetry when I’m describing certain things. And certain acts. Anyway—

rose red

Diana recommended that we try reading our own written scenes without any adjectives and only put back what is needed. When you throw too many adjectives in there, readers disengage. Leave enough white space for the imagination, she said. A reader’s own imagination is what draws one into the scene.

I’m looking forward to reevaluating adjective use in my own manuscript. It’s not like I ever get tired of reading sex scenes.

I’d be in trouble if I did.

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