Feature Friday: The Bulwer-Lytton Award

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

A cliché, sure, but once upon a time, someone was the first person to begin his book with those words.  That person was Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, a Victorian novelist whose book Paul Clifford (1830) began with the immortal phrase in question.  But did you know that was not the end of the sentence?  The full opening sentence is as follows:

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.”

Photo credit: www.bulwer-lytton.com

In honor of the overused and often plagiarized opening sentence, in 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University sponsored the first Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.  Proposed by Professor Scott Rice, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is a witty literary contest that celebrates the art of the terrible opening sentence.  Entrants compose a sentence, and the worst of the entries are chosen as winners in each category.  According to the award website, “in keeping with the gravitas, high seriousness, and general bignitude of the contest, the grand prize winner will receive … a pittance.”

The winner of the 2012 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest has been announced, and this year’s top prize goes to Cathy Bryant! Ms. Bryant is the author of the following awesomely terrible sentence:

As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.”

Other winners were chosen by category, as were dishonorable mentions.  The following sentence by Dan Leyde, for instance, was the runner-up in the Romance category:

“Your eyes are like deep blue pools that I would like to drown in,” he had told Kimberly when she had asked him what he was thinking; but what he was actually thinking was that sometimes when he recharges his phone he forgets to put the little plug back in but he wasn’t going to tell her that.”

To see the other notably bad sentences, take a look at the list of 2012 contest winners!

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