Writing sex …the difference between Outlander and Fifty Shades of Grey.


fifty-shades-of-grey-lip-bite Fifty Shades of Grey, a movie based on the novel of the same name, is premiering this week and the media frenzy/blitz has been filling up the air waves and internet pages. It is hard not to know about the phenomenon that is FSOG, because it’s every where. I must first disclose that I have never read the novel nor do I intend too.  I have read excerpts and know the premise behind the story and that was enough for me  to know this wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m sure there are people who do want to spend their time reading this story. In fact, there are millions of them. To say their interest baffles me would be a gross understatement.  I understand sex sells, but this is being touted as a love story! The timing for its release was Valentines’s day! Really?!  Sex story? Okay. But, love story?

This past year, I  was shocked to find my high school students reading this novel.  When I asked a particular student if her mother knew she was reading this book, she informed me , “My mother is the one who gave it to me”.  It is hard for me to believe the mother thought it to be a typical and relatively harmless romance novel.The apparent “mainstreaming” of this book and its subject matter is, in my opinion, a step backwards for women and relationships in general. I’m dismayed when I hear woman talk about Christen Grey, the main male character in the novel, as if he represents the ideal in romantic heroes.  I know I shouldn’t have to make this point, but sex and love are not necessarily the same thing. I know the book is part of a trilogy and I’m told the relationship evolves.  There are folks who have read the novels and believe it is a love story. However, once again, I find myself grateful for Diana Gabaldon, her characters and the story she has written.

I want to tell the world there are better relationships to read about and some of the best can be found in the pages of the Outlander series! Let me say again, I have not read  FSOG, so it would be difficult for me to make a side by side comparison between the fictional couples Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele and Outlander’s Jamie and Claire Fraser.  However, I can describe the relationship between Jamie and Claire and let you decide which couple best represents the kind of a love story and relationship women should want. Outlander is not without sex. In fact, some of the hottest sex scenes I’ve ever read are found in Ms. Gabaldon’s books, Like a good life, a good story is enhanced by good sex.  One of the main reasons the sex scenes between the main characters in Outlander are different  is the context.  The hot sex between this couple is part of a loving committed and passionate relationship.  It isn’t all about the physical act.  The reader isn’t subject to a play by play of people touching each other’s body parts in inventive ways.  Not that Jamie and Claire don’t explore each other’s bodies, they do, its just that they do it as part of the bigger whole of their relationship. And in my opinion, the writing and relationship is the sexier for it.

One of the most quoted lines of dialogue from FSOG is Christian Grey’s informing his partner, “I don’t do romance”. However, he does give her the grand experiences that only a young kinky billionaire can provide.  It is then insinuated that Mr.Grey is unaware that his actions are indeed romantic. Their relationship is sealed with a contract spelling out the terms of her submission…literally.  He says, ” I don’t make love, I f*ck…hard”.  I know this kind of “rough” talk is a turn on for some and to each his own. I prefer my love stories to sound like this….After twenty years apart, Outlander’s Jamie and Claire have just made love and are lying in bed together and Jamie is trying to tell her their relationship isn’t just about the hot sex: “…to have you with me again_ to talk wi’ you, to know I can say anything, not guard my words or hide my thoughts_God Sassenach” he said, ” The Lord knows I’m as lust crazed as a lad and I canna keep my hands from you _ or anything else_ ” he added wryly, ” but I would count that all well lost, had I no more than the pleasure of havin’ ye by me, and to tell ye all my heart”.—Diana Gabaldon, Voyager

Diana Gabaldon is known to be generous with her wanna be writer fans and often writes about writing. She explains that writing a great sex scene is about the exchange of emotions…”not body fluids”. She goes on to explain that she believes lust is a hormonal response and not an emotion and as such, “going on” about is essentially boring.  She chooses to use dialogue and the senses express the emotional response her characters are feeling and experiencing  and…to great effect… “And I mean to hear ye groan like that again. And to moan and sob, even though you dinna wish to, for ye canna help it. I mean to make you sigh as though your heart would break, and scream with the wanting, and at last to cry out in my arms, and I shall know that I’ve served ye well.”  Diana Gabaldon, Outlander And, for me the most important part of the difference between the two stories is who these characters are as people. I was reading some reviews of FSOG and one readers’ comments caught my eye (and helped make my point) she said, “I love christian 😀 he´s so god damn hot and so f***ed up :D”. Jamie and Claire are characters with redeeming character.  They are people you could fall in love with, people to admire and emulate.  They are people with integrity, strength and kindness. They never lose their own identity in this relationship.  In fact, I don’t think they ever fail to appreciate who they are separately and the books are full of examples of them supporting and encouraging each other’s interests and endeavors. They are always foremost concerned for the other’s happiness and well-being. I’ve been known to read romance novels and enjoyed them… for about as long as it took me to read them, unlike Outlander, the one series of books I have read multiple times because I never tire of the relationship between the two main characters. When Jamie and Claire ” fall” in love the “slow burn” leading to the consummation of their relationship is exhilarating, but the maturing of their love is intoxicating and inspiring.  Their love spans impossibilities, heart-break, centuries and even time. Their love and attraction for one another is passionate, committed and mutual. Wisely, Diana Gabaldon knew that although falling in love is wonderful and interesting, there has to be more to keep a reader interested for the long haul!  Her characters have been written with depth. The reader continually learns more about Jamie and Claire as people and becomes invested in their relationship. The reader has the history of the long love story from which to draw understanding of what the characters are feeling when they come together physically. Their couplings are far from one dimensional. Outlander is a story full of passion, adventure and deeply satisfying relationships. The sex scenes are moving and far more interesting than hormone only driven scenes.   “


42 thoughts on “Writing sex …the difference between Outlander and Fifty Shades of Grey.

  1. Dr. M

    It is unfair to criticize FSOG when you have not read in its entirety, and if you had read it before writing this post, you would know that FSOG is a trilogy rather than a single novel, and that the love story between Christian and Ana grows quite a bit, to include marriage and all the struggles that come with it. It is most definitely a love story, but too many uninformed reviewers reduce it to a BDSM sex feast because they know that garners attention. I agree that there is a vast difference between James’ writing and DG’s, but please remember that FSOG is told through the POV of a naive and sexually inexperienced young woman, whereas Outlander is told from an older, much more mature and sexually experienced woman. All along your posts have been carefully and convincingly argued, so I am disappointed to see that you would base your opinion on what other people have said rather than on your own experience of reading the trilogy. Hate it if you want, and there is much there to dislike, but read it before you critique it.

    • I did understand it is a trilogy. And I did say from the beginning that i had not read the story. I did research critiques of the story. my focus is on Outlander. If you found it to be a compelling love story great. I, however, remain unconvinced. maybe will read…maybe. Thank you for reading and commenting.

      • Dr. M

        Research is one thing; reading is another. How can you claim to be “unconvinced” without reading it? Consider this: I study Outlander, and I read many claims about it that consider it a feast of sex and violence. How would you react to those who make that claim without having read at least a few of the novels in the Outlander series?

        Both Outlander and FSOG are romances, and they are Old Skool romances. Until you understand the conventions of that genre, avoid making claims about them. Plenty of people are eager to throw stones at women who read this genre; don’t get in that line. You are too smart and too savvy a reader and writer.

      • Dr. M

        I just read your reply and appreciate your candor. You write one of the best blogs out there, and I read, and will continue to read, everything you post.

  2. amorley552014

    I think one runs into trouble talking about something when they don’t know what exactly they are talking about. You shine when talking about Jamie, Claire, & Outlander. But about Fifty Shades of Grey you fall short. It is about a man discovering what love actually is & how woefully sad his carefully structured life is without the mess of it. It is not great literature but it is not about domination. It is about discovering how relationships work and believing in one’s own worth. Therein lies it’s success I believe.

      • KPierrot

        I think that the main problem with why so many people couldn’t get into FSoG, myself included, was because it is sooooo unbelievably badly written. I tried many times to read the first book, couldn’t do it. Once you read a truly gifted author, it is very difficult to settle for such drivel. Even the BDSM community thinks it’s crap and a complete misrepresentation of their lifestyle.

  3. Marsha Lipps

    Beth… All my friends were raving about the 50 shades of grey…the same friends that always dismissed my 24 year obsession with Outlander as “just a romance”. As someone that has read and reread every word from Diana since the beginning- I simply couldn’t even pick up FSOG- it simply wasn’t worth my time. I think your words were spot on! And I did like Magic Mike- great eye candy… I just really don’t have time for women characters that are not empowered like Claire.

  4. Great post Beth! Thank for the the food for thought. It’s hard to have an objective discussion about things sometimes, but you always do a wonderful job of talking about things in a reasonable way.

    I am not a fan of 50 Shades and find it pales in comparison to many, many other novels that I have read. That being said, I understand there are those who are big fans of the books and movies. I think that’s great. Kudos to EL James for writing a blockbuster book! One of these days, I’d love to have a discussion about Christian Grey and Jack Randall with you.

    • wow! now there is food for thought! And thank you I do try to be reasonable. I don’t always succeed, but I do try. Broke one of my own rules today….read then review….sigh…

      • Nymerias

        There is enough 50 shades content out there for a blogger to get the gist of the storyline, pro or con,media or otherwise. You have your opinion and are entitled to it.

  5. Nymerias

    Great post Beth. It’s hard to get other books when you have read some really truly great love stories. Christian and Ana could have been a good love story if James would have made it one and more research had been done into the world she was writing about. It seemed to be a fantasy of the author’s and it lost momentum somehow.

    Just when I thought Christian was going to change in the name of love, he kept reverting back and I never really grasped that there was any real character growth.

    I give her kudos as well for writing a hit for some but for me it fell short for so many reasons that I won’t go through.

    Your blog. Your opinion, keep voicing it, no matter what!

  6. GinaW

    I did read the FSOG trilogy and Beth, I think that despite not having read the source material, you’ve got the jist of it. One commenter said that if you persevere you see growth in the hero, and while that is true to an extent, I didn’t find it to be compelling enough to garner the hype surrounding the books. I didn’t find Ana’s willingness to undermine her own personhood in favor of Christian’s needs to be healthy nor romantic or sexy. It’s not a series that I kept, nor would I feel inspired to re-read it! It was a fast read and didn’t require significant investment as a reader since, to me, there were no layered characters or relationships. Maybe at 51, I’m outside of the FSOG demographic and since I have a 23 year history with OL, I have more in common with the characters and have a deeper appreciation for the subtlety and complexity of a long, passionate relationship! If that’s the case, I’ll happily own it! Thanks for another great post!

  7. Hey Beth, Sorry you’re taking a beating on this. I read a portion of the book, but in my opinion, it was so poorly written as to be laughable. I couldnt continue to read, as I was afraid I might cause damage to my brain or I might suffer permanent side affects. You did a very decent job of comparing the relationships for someone who hadnt read it, so brava to you! Its the relationship that causes the sex to be red hot and Jamie and Claire have the ‘realest’ relationship I’ve ever read.

  8. I am a long time fan of DG and Outlander. It is my all time favorite story. It is as different from FSOG as night and day. I have read ALL of the books from both series. I see others have been commenting that you should read FSOG before reviewing it. I feel this is true too. Honestly, I didn’t like Anastasia’s character or Christian’s AT ALL in the beginning of the book. She was a very insecure, submissive, person. That is what attracted her to him since he was a controlling , dominant person. As I kept reading, it did get interesting and everything unfolded. The reason He was the way he was, the sexual exploits in the red room, the romance, (yes, there was romance),and the characters eventually falling in love. I admit, after a while , I was flipping thru some of the sex , because I had had enough and wanted MORE of the love story. It was a good trilogy, interesting story , and worth reading. If you don’t approve of the sex parts…..pass them. I consider it a different kind of romance story. Different strokes for different folks!
    I enjoyed FSOG. The writing was not great, but the story is excellent . Read it, please. In NO WAY WHAT SO EVER is there ANY comparison to ANY of the Outlander books. That is an EPIC love story , written in a completely wonderful, descriptive way by an AWESOME author.
    It is like comparing……nothing. There isn’t anything like OUTLANDER……Respectfully yours, Suzanne.<3

  9. Eileen

    Beth, I’ve been nodding all the while I was reading your post. (Valentine’s Day? Really?) You’ve articulated what I’ve been thinking–thank you! I think my thoughts crystalized when I read “Yeah, CG is so hot and so [messed] up.” CG might be a nice fantasy, but with Jamie you could have a lifelong relationship that wasn’t just sex, but companionship. And that’s what I want in my love life, companionship that trumps sex.

  10. bonn310

    the first time i read Outlander it was a book given to me by a friend to read on the airplane ride from Kauai to Albuquerque. at first i couldnt get into it and then it was compelling. I was on a two week cruise trip and picked of the first of the 50 shades book. i couldnt make myself stick with it. im sorry but nothing about it was compelling.

  11. cyn

    I’ve read both series. FSOG was not good literature, but it was entertaining. The Outlander series is good literature, and therefore entertaining. Kind of like a square is a rectangle but a rectangle isn’t a square… anyway, my point is my tattered copies of the Outlander series never leave my possession and they are tattered because I’ve read and re-read them so many times. On the other hand I’ve read the FSOG trilogy once and happily loan them out to any friend who asks. And having read both I will say that the love scenes/romance between Jamie & Claire is much more intense, arousing, and memorable than the scenes with Christian and Anastasia. Just my opinion!

  12. Diane Chapman

    I agree FSOG is not written on the same level as Outlander. But, to be fair, FSOG was written as fanfiction to Twilight. They are not on the same playing field. I have read both series and feel I can give a valid review. Diana’s work is perfect!! I am a huge fan!! But, after reading FSOG I could see clearly how these two characters ( Christian& Anna) had evolved because of their relationship. The appeal of any story is its ability to speak to the reader. I think there is something in all of us that says “We can both grow in this relationship ” that is what FSOG says to me. I work in the book publishing business. Ultimately, it’s content that gets a book published.

  13. Vivian

    Hi Beth, I do enjoy reading your blog and found this one spot on.
    Why would a mother give FSOG to a young daughter?
    Was thinking about it just this morning. I definitely wouldn’t.
    I have worked hard to raise my two daughters to be strong, confident and respectful women.
    And none of them, nor me, would ever allow a love relationship to be born from a sick sadist. Go heal yourself if you can and come back afterwards… We’ll see then.
    So here’s an anecdote:
    Last week my youngest daughter (age 24) watched FSOG. Her boyfriend was given tickets for an exclusive avant-premiere (sponsored by Audi !?) just an hour before it started so they went, without any idea of the story (they’re non readers and knew I didn’t like it).
    Both found it a bad movie and a disgusting story.
    Many people left the cinema before it ended and there was a general WTF?!? atmosphere in the audience.
    She’s been telling her friends to stay away from it, but there’s such a media frenzy that there’s FSOG everywhere!
    Again, even if the story evolves throughout the trilogy, the way this relationship begins should be enough reason to consider it disgusting, specially for young girls.
    And I’m not talking about the sex, but about all the manipulation and control he wants to have over her, even beating her!
    Where’s the romance in that?
    How can such a story be premiered on Valentine’s day with ticket giveaways alongside chocolates and flowers?
    On the opposite side entirely, Outlander is a hymn to a relationship born through mutual respect, strengthened by great sex (of course!) that grows throughout a lifetime. That’s what I call a real love story.
    Thank you for letting me share this.

  14. Heather

    I read FSOG and watched the movie. It reads very much like twilight fanfiction (I also read those books) and there is NO comparison between the two. There were so many alarming things about the relationship in FSOG that I just couldn’t get onboard with the “romance”. Watching the movie was even worse. I actually felt uncomfortable for the girl and had my internal “bells and red flag alarms” going off most of the movie!

    For me it’s like the difference between saying you love someone and proving it. And we’ll knowing how to write helps too 🙂

  15. TündeSzabó

    Dear Beth, I enjoyed your post very much, and I totally agree. I read Fifty Shades of Grey in 2013, when I was (almost) eighteen, and I hated it. I read that only because all my classmates loved Christian Grey and they were talking about that all day long, so, though I was sceptic, I wanted to know what it was about. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, it was the worst book of my life! I couldn’t decide to cry and curse because of such a torment or laugh ’cause it’s so terrible, like a very very bad joke. Then I wrote the most evil critics of my life, to recover from the torture and shock it caused me. And to take revenge. Even now, I can’t believe why so many girls and women like that mess. Grey is such an empty and cruel man, and I could vomit when I read or hear about people like him, who totally control their girlfriends/wives. I don’t care what happened to him in the past, because everything can’t be forgiven because of that. I don’t think it was a healthy relationship between him and Ana, it was something very disgusting and sick. By the way, it’s awfully written, so is its hungarian translation. (I’m from Hungary) I can’t understand this huge hype.
    On the other hand, Outlander is one of my favourites, even though I’ve read only the first two novels. (In my country only The Voyager will be published later this year, what a shame. And I haven’t got enough self-confidence to read it in english beause of the scottish accent.)
    Jamie and Claire’s love is so beautiful, heartbreaking and warming. Both of their characters are perfectly written, complex and real. I hope one day I’ll have “my own Jamie”, who I can love as passionately and deeply as Claire did. 🙂
    I think young girls should read about women like Claire and f.e. Lisbeth Salander who are wonderful and strong female characters, or amazing real women like Anne Boleyn or Nella Oortmann. As a young woman, I find it very necessary to read about these inspiring and great characters, and good female writers too. Diana Gabaldon is a fantastic writer, I love her works, both her stories and style are awesome. My biggest dream is to be a writer or a poet, and she’s so inspiring.
    So, it was a pleasure to read your thoughts, thank you. And sorry if my english was bad. 🙂

  16. Outlander books are like a full course, fully nutritional, gourmet meal. In comparison, the FSOG trilogy is like a triple decker Cheeseburger fast food meal. Everyone knows the gourmet meal is the best, but sometimes you just have to have the cheesebuger. I have read the trilogy and Outlander and am currently reading Dragonfly in Amber. I love BOTH series of books. There is room for both kinds of romances. That being said , I do agree with you, Beth that there were way too many explicit sex scenes in FSOG. I would have preferred more communication between the two characters.

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