I know that sentence doesn't make any sense. That's the point.
Emma over at Fueled by Coffee blogged recently about a very short story. That post reminded me to blog about one of my favorite contests, the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest, named after the author Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. No doubt many of you have heard of both the author and the contest. For those of you haven’t, I know that you have heard of some of his work—The Last Days of Pompeii, for example. Or at least you’ve heard of fragments of his work: it was Bulwer-Lytton, apparently, who coined the well-used expressions "the pen is mightier than the sword," "the great unwashed," and "the almighty dollar." But most famous of all, perhaps, was the opening clause of the opening sentence of his book Paul Clifford (1830)—the book begins, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
The sentence, in its entirety, goes thusly:
"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."
Inspired by such a sentence—which, let’s face it, is a doozy—every year, Professor Scott Rice and the English department at San Jose State University, conduct the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest in which “entrants are challenged to submit bad opening sentences to imaginary novels.”
This contest appeals to me on oh, so many levels. The fun that can be had with the English language is one of my favorite types of fun. And when the fun is purposefully bad writing, well, it’s a case of too wrong makes a right. It’s splendiffic. Fabulous, ladies and gentlemen, just fabulous.
If you have so far resisted temptation to click on any links and read some entries for yourself, I give you my favorite of the 2006 winners. I realize I’ve posted a lot of them, but if you go to the website and read all of the winning entries, you’ll see how hard it was to choose. Read on. If at least one of these beauties doesn’t make you laugh out loud, then I feel sorry for you, you sad, sad creature.
Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you've had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean.
Christy, lounging in the gondola which slipped smoothly through the enveloping mist had her first inkling that something was afoot as she heard pattering hooves below (for our story is not in Venice but Switzerland with its Provolone and Toblerone) and craning her not unlovely neck she narrowed her eyes at the dozen tiny reindeer, pelting madly down the goat trail.
--Irene Buttuls, Lytton, B.C
Winner: Detective Fiction [I won’t commit myself entirely but this may be my favorite]
It was a dreary Monday in September when Constable Lightspeed came across the rotting corpse that resembled one of those zombies from Michael Jackson's "Thriller," except that it was lying down and not performing the electric slide.
Winner: Purple Prose
A single sparkling tear fell from Little Mary's cheek onto the sidewalk, then slid into the storm drain, there to join in its course the mighty waters of the Los Angeles River and, eventually, Long Beach Harbor, with its state-of-the-art container-freight processing facilities.
--Bill Mac Iver,
Despite the vast differences it their ages, ethnicity, and religious upbringing, the sexual chemistry between Roberto and Heather was the most amazing he had ever experienced; and for the entirety of the Labor Day weekend they had sex like monkeys on espresso, not those monkeys in the zoo that fling their feces at you, but more like the monkeys in the wild that have those giant red butts, and access to an espresso machine.
Winner: Vile Puns [I had to post this one because I do so love puns]
As Johann looked out across the verdant Iowa River valley, and beyond to the low hills capped by the massive refrigerator manufacturing plant, he reminisced on the history of the great enterprise from its early days, when he and three other young men, all of differing backgrounds, had only their dream of bringing refrigeration to America's heartland to sustain them, to the present day, where they had become the Midwest's foremost group of refrigerator magnates.
--Dick Davis, Circle Pines, MN
From the category of Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mentions
The goose waddled slowly, heavily, across the road, exactly the way my mother-in-law would if she were a goose.
A Lodgepole Pine grew straight and tall in front of his cabin, sort of like a lodgepole, only with branches.
--Stephen E. Moore,
"Please, Jeffrey, don't tell him this time" a beautiful woman, with eyes like cobalt fire, implored of me as she staggered obviously a bit tipsy, if not completely obliterated, out of the Wagon Wheel Tavern and onto West Fourth Street and blinking twice from the afternoon sun managed to slink past me and into the arms of a fellow who I'm guessing was Jeffrey.
The day was like any other, except that this was a Wednesday so it was really only like 1/7th of the other days.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
If you liked those entries, click here to see a list of past winners. I love them all, but I’m posting just my absolute favorites:
The countdown had stalled at T minus 69 seconds when Desiree, the first female ape to go up in space, winked at me slyly and pouted her thick, rubbery lips unmistakably--the first of many such advances during what would prove to be the longest, and most memorable, space voyage of my career.
[This is one of my favorites and is rr’s absolute favorite]
The bone-chilling scream split the warm summer night in two, the first half being before the scream when it was fairly balmy and calm and pleasant for those who hadn't heard the scream at all, but not calm or balmy or even very nice for those who did hear the scream, discounting the little period of time during the actual scream itself when your ears might have been hearing it but your brain wasn't reacting yet to let you know.
--Patricia E. Presutti,
On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained.
[This is another one of my favorites and is rr’s second favorite]
They had but one last remaining night together, so they embraced each other as tightly as that two-flavor entwined string cheese that is orange and yellowish-white, the orange probably being a bland Cheddar and the white . . . Mozzarella, although it could possibly be Provolone or just plain American, as it really doesn't taste distinctly dissimilar from the orange, yet they would have you believe it does by coloring it differently.