In 1830, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (an English politician, poet, playwright, and novelist) penned the infamous opening line, “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.”
These words are widely regarded as the prime example of a bad opening line. I’m not sure why that is so. I am no literary scholar, but I am sure I have read worse. Dickens’ opening lines for A Christmas Carol come to mind.
Nonetheless, the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest since 1982. This is a whimsical competition that challenges entrants to pen the worst opening sentences for a novel their imaginations can conjure. Well, I suppose it’s all good fun till somebody loses an eye.
Entries are judged by categories, from “general” to detective, western, science fiction, romance, and so on. Following dog show rules, overall winners are named, as well as winners within each category.
For 2011, the overall winner was this entry from Sue Fondrie of Oshkosh, Wisconsin:
“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.”
My personal favorite was the winner in the Romance category. Ali Kawashima of Greensboro, North Carolina took the prize for this one:
“As the dark and mysterious stranger approached, Angela bit her lip anxiously, hoping with every nerve, cell, and fiber of her being that this would be the one man who would understand—who would take her away from all this—and who would not just squeeze her boob and make a loud honking noise, as all the others had.”
I also liked the winner in a category called”Purple Prose.” This one was submitted by Mike Pedersen, of North Berwick, Maine:
“As his small boat scudded before a brisk breeze under a sapphire sky dappled with cerulean clouds with indigo bases, through cobalt seas that deepened to navy nearer the boat and faded to azure at the horizon, Ian was at a loss as to why he felt blue.”
You can see the rest of the winners, runners-up and dishonorable mentions here.