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.
—Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)
It is a sad but unavoidable fact that bad writing gets into print rather more often than those of us who claim to enjoy a good book would wish. Horrendously long opening sentences are a clue, of course, and occasionally the author accidentally trips himself up in the middle of one, to our everlasting joy. So it was with Bulwer-Lytton… And so we have The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.
The first seven words of our opening quote are not at all coincidentally the opening phrase of the novel that Snoopy never finished. That quite remarkable self-applied custard pie has inspired an annual contest sponsored by the English Department at San Jose State University. That’s in the USA in case you wondered; if you didn’t wonder it’s still in the USA. Geography’s like that. The basic requirement is to provide the worst possible opening sentence of a fictional novel.
The published entries may be compared with howlers committed by real, published, and sometimes even respected authors. H.P. Lovecraft and Baroness Orczy are in there of course: great plots, wonderful imaginations, but bloody awful writing styles.
There is also a Poetry section, dedicated to the immortal William McGonagall, who really did exist and wrote poems that are probably still reducing Scots O-level English classes to tears of helpless laughter. A required detour for fans of Spike Milligan or Terry Pratchett.
- The Annual Bulwer-Lytton Bad Fiction Contest (neatorama.com)
- Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest Winners (coudal.com)
- Bulwer-Lytton prize for bad writing goes to brutally mangled metaphor (guardian.co.uk)
- Terrible prose wins literary prize (independent.co.uk)
- Worst Sentences of the Year! (bookclubbabe.wordpress.com)
- 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Winners Announced (omnivoracious.com)
- Worst words (teensread.wordpress.com)
- Slaughtered sparrows simile wins bad writing contest (today.msnbc.msn.com)
- Professor wins bad writing award (cnews.canoe.ca)
- Word Play – Bulwer-Lytton Contest Winner (dorothybinder.wordpress.com)