Saturday, 9 February 2008

Can I really start a novel with the word fuck?

Just to get an idea of general opinion, I set up a poll in my building a novel blog and suggested these four opening sentences.

  1. As a distant crash of waves broke upon the shore, Max stood at an odd angle outside his heavy oak front door.
  2. Max was blind drunk and angry.
  3. Max swayed outside the heavy oak door, in time to the sound of the waves in the distance.
  4. "Fuck this" shouted Max, loudly enough to drown out the sound of waves crashing in the distance.

The most popular was: “Fuck this” shouted Max… But is it really possible to start a book with the word fuck? Firstly – is there a publisher out there that would be prepared to back this opening line? Of course, an opening line does not a novel make, but it’s pretty damn important!

How many readers would you lose due to the usage of fuck as a first word? Yes, it’s in every film and even printed in newspaper these days, and of course there’s many a novel out there that swear throughout the pages – but is it different as an opening word? Would it be applauded or be put straight down for trying to hard? Or is just that my balls have shrunk a little out of the fear of what others think?

I don’t know whether I prefer “Max was blind drunk and angry” or the “fuck this” opener. The first has less impact, less edge – and perhaps even a lot less of my voice. It’s more telling than showing, and I prefer the romanticism of the sway of the sea and the reality of one angry drunken man screaming his head of in the street. So I guess I do know really…writing this blog is clarifying it just a little!

So what was it that made me send the first draft of my novel to be doctored, with the opening line Max was blind drunk and angry. In fact, fuck this, I’ll change the first sentence and resend, and ask for a comparison. Can’t hurt, right?


christopher nosnibor said...

I'd say go for it.

I know writing and film are entirely different media, but it didn't harm 'Four Weddings and a Funeral.'

Besides, there are so many novels out there, throwing whatever you've got at the opening line to grab the attention of the reader (in whatever capacity) can only work to your advantage...

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Yes you can. If you believe the use of the word is warranted and not gratuitous, you can.

Hope that helps,


Dan said...

When I consider things like this in my own writing, I always remind
myself of this example of "tell" vs. "show":

Tell: Bill was a jerk.

Show: Bill walked over to the sleeping dog and kicked it in the head.

Show beats tell every time.

ho//ace said...

9 Feb 2008 21:43
i think it's a perfect word!

seems that the radio in Belgium likes it with the new song i'm working on... so... who knows! seems like you will find your audience no matter what.

a work being good is in your own heart, i believe.

Anonymous said...

"Fuck" - as any Irish person will tell you, it;s the ONLY word that should be used in most circumstances.

Amy said...

yes, deffo. Iain banks did it, I think, in the wasp factory.

also, is one of the oldest words in english language so I’m told. saxon for something… cunt means sheath! for putting your sword into… hee hee hee

Book Doctor said...

Taking the 1st sentences out of context I agree that the dialogue opener looks strong. But in the context of the entire first paragraph - which was the context in which I read the 2 comparisons - I was instantly drawn to 'Max was blind drunk and angry.'

3 reasons. Firstly, Elizabeth has quite a descriptive style and so the short, sharp sentence contrasts with the rest of the paragraph. Secondly, it stands out without trying to stand out. And thirdly I feel that opening sentences should mirror some of the content of the book. A huge part of the novel is Max's alcoholism, by getting this into the opening sentence, his character is set up immediately.

So for me, I find it difficult to grade an opening sentence if I can't see what follows.