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Celebrating bad writing

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Monday, Jul 9, 2007

NPR News this week interviewed Scott Rice from San Jose University about the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest “honoring the very best of the worst in fiction”. The contest invites writers, published and not, to submit the very worst opening line to a non-existent work of fiction. Winner of last year’s contest, Jim Guigli of California, ripped on Raymond Chandler to come up with this classic:


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.


Honestly, I’d read that book. But, you get the idea. Contest mascot Edward George Bulwer-Lytton is the man behind Snoopy’s favorite opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night”, and Rice reveals in the NPR interview that he also invented the phrases “the almighty dollar” and “the pen is mightier than the sword”. So, while the poor guy is often regarded as a terrible writer, he pulled out a few gems in his lifetime.


Among the fun to be had at the contest website is a competition called Dickens or Bulwer?—you’re provided with a published paragraph and must identify its author as either the revered Dickens or the reviled Bulwer. (It’s actually not that easy.) You can also check out some actual real-life bad opening lines worthy of the Bulwer prize, such as:


Anthony Rowley didn’t look like a self-confessed sadistic rapist.
—Sarah Lovett, Acquired Motives


By the end of the alley the fine hairs in my nostrils were starting to twitch.
—Lindsey Davis, Shadows in Bronze


An ineffable tranquility hovered over the villa, was broken only occasionally by the intermittent sounds of the staff going about their duties: the whirr of the vacuum, the faint birdlike chirpings of the maids as they dusted adjacent rooms, the echo of the butler´s brisk tones issuing orders, the click of a door closing, the patter of distant busy feet. Gradually these individual noises were beginning to merge, flowed together to create a vague and muffled hum that hardly intruded at all on her gentle peregrinations through the labyrinth of her mind.
—Barbara Taylor Bradford, Voice of the Heart



Results of this year’s contest are released 30 July.

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