Saturday, August 20, 2011

"It Was A Dark and Stormy Night"

I don't know how I missed this, but the results of this year's Bulwer-Lytton Contest were announced almost a month ago. For those of you unfamiliar with the BLC, it's a contest sponsored by the San Jose State University English Department. Competitors strive to write the worst conceivable opening sentence for a novel--a tribute to the contest's eponym, Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873). Bulwer-Lytton was quite an accomplished man--the portrait at left was painted when he was Britain's Secretary of State for the Colonies, in which post he oversaw the development of infrastructure in the Crown Colony of British Columbia. He also played a minor role in the career of Charles Dickens, persuading him to change the ending of Great Expectations to something more upbeat than the original.

But sadly (or not, depending on your point of view) it's not Canadian bridges or Pip and Estella's connubial bliss that he's known for. Bulwer-Lytton is known for really bad writing. In addition to making sure Canadians had roads and bridges and telling Dickens how to end his novels, he also wrote novels of his own. One of them, Paul Clifford, begins:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Many of you probably recognize the first clause of that sentence as the opening for many of Snoopy's forays into fiction. But I digress. Without further ado, the winners of the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton contest:

Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.

Wearily approaching the murder scene of Jeannie and Quentin Rose and needing to determine if this was the handiwork of the Scented Strangler--who had a twisted affinity for spraying his victims with his signature raspberry cologne--or that of a copycat, burnt-out insomniac detective Sonny Kirkland was sure of one thing: he’d have to stop and smell the Roses.

You can read the others here.


Danielle said...

See, I was just so disappointed the lines were MADE UP.

Kevin said...

I think you should take one of those first lines and write an entire novel to go with it.

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