It Was a Dark And Stormy Night

“Though her beloved Roger had departed hours ago, Lila remained in her rumpled bed, daydreaming about his strong arms, soulful eyes, and how, when he first fell asleep, his snoring sounded not unlike two grizzly bears fighting over a picnic basket full of sandwiches, but as he drifted off into deeper slumber, his snoring became softer, perhaps as if the bears had decided to rock-paper-scissors for it instead.”

Thus began one of last year’s runners-up in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Run as an annual event since 1982 by the English Department at San Jose State University, the aim of the competition is for entrants to compose the worst possible opening line to a work of fiction. The competition was founded in honour of the minor Victorian novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who was responsible for coining phrases such as “the pen is mightier than the sword” and “the great unwashed”, and whose novel Paul Clifford opened with the line – since immortalised in parody by Shulz’s famous cartoon beagle Snoopy – “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…………..”

The rules of the competition are very simple. Each entry must consist of a single sentence but you may submit as many entries as you wish. Since its inception, tens of thousands of submissions have been made to the competition, resulting in the publication of five collections of the best of the worst. Sadly, however, all are now out of print.

Try your hand also at Literacy Adviser’s “Dark and Stormy Night Competition” with a difference! Using Twitter, the challenge is made more difficult by restricting the opening line to 140 characters. In this case the entries have to be on the theme of education and you should send your entries to @literacyadviser using the hashtag #DSN ie simply put #DSN before your opening line. For some inspiration, here is another entry from last year’s Bulwer-Lytton:-

“The pancake batter looked almost perfect, like the morning sun shining on the cream-colored pale shoulder of a gorgeous young blonde driving 30 miles over the speed limit down a rural Nebraska highway with the rental car’s sunroof off, except it had a few lumps.”

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