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The First Sentence: Dark and Stormy

8 August, 2011

'Dark and stormy' author, Bulwer-Lytton


The popular advice is to make your first sentence grab readers’ interest. But a contest invites writers to pen awful intros. What gives?

The annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest encourages people to write the worst possible first sentence for an imaginary novel. The contest was established 29 years ago by US academic Scott Rice. Its  name refers to the Victorian author who began one of his novels with this now famous sentence: It was a dark and stormy night. Years later, the cartoon character, Snoopy, relied on it to start all his unsuccessful works.

Each year, an overall winner is announced, plus winners in various categories:  vile pun, purple prose, historical fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, crime, romance and western.

2011’s winning entry

Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.

My Pick: Best of the Worst

  • Sunburned and lost, Jake tightened the noose around Randy’s diaper-white neck and growled, “Any last words, varmint?” to which Randy replied, “Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb, Jake–that’s where all the fruit is!” which marked the first and last time Jake and the boys hired a life coach to lead one of their cattle drives.
  • Day broke upon the Baroness von Hestach with the pitiable insistence of all that she despised–a gray and unattractive intrusion into her sumptuous bedchamber, much like the Baron.
  • As the young officer studied the oak door, he was reminded of his girlfriend — for she was also slightly unhinged, occasionally sticky, and responded well to being stripped and given a light oiling.
  • LaTrina—knowing he must live—let her hot, wet tongue slide slowly over Gladiator’s injured ear, the taste reminding her of the late June flavor of a snow chain that had been removed from a tire and left to rust on the garage floor without being rinsed off.
  • As she downed the last Dixie cup of Listerine and let every drop of its 21.6 percent alcohol content hit her like an icy mint anti-cavity brickbat, Karen squinted at the breasts dangling like two electrocuted ospreys from the powerline of her heart and, with a despondency born of a thousand nights spent gaining a decent skill level at internet mahjong, wondered how she and they had all three sunk so low.
  • As I stood among the ransacked ruin that had been my home, surveying the aftermath of the senseless horrors and atrocities that had been perpetrated on my family and everything I hold dear, I swore to myself that no matter where I had to go, no matter what I had to do or endure, I would find the man who did this . . . and when I did, when I did, oh, there would be words.
  • From the limbs of ancient live oaks moccasins hung like fat black sausages–which are sometimes called boudin noir, black pudding or blood pudding, though why anyone would refer to a sausage as pudding is hard to understand and it is even more difficult to divine why a person would knowingly eat something made from dried blood in the first place–but be that as it may, our tale is of voodoo and foul murder, not disgusting food.
  • As his small boat scudded before a brisk breeze under a sapphire sky dappled with cerulean clouds with indigo bases, through cobalt seas that deepened to navy nearer the boat and faded to azure at the horizon, Ian was at a loss as to why he felt blue.
  • The Los Angeles morning was heavy with smog, the word being a portmanteau of smoke and fog, though in LA the pollutants are typically vehicular emissions as opposed to actual smoke and fog, unlike 19th-century London where the smoke from countless small coal fires often combined with fog off the Thames to produce true smog, though back then they were not clever enough to call it that.
  • Like a bird gliding over the surface of a Wyoming river rippled by a gentle Spring breeze, his hand passed over her stretch marks.
  • She held my hand as if she were having a swollen barrel of fun which was off considering that my teeth were sitting on my bathroom cabinet (eight miles away, no less) and my elbow was peeling like a soggy coconut, the fine hairs of which were standing on edge in fear, as if the coconut had been reading “Dracula.”
  • As the dark and mysterious stranger approached, Angela bit her lip anxiously, hoping with every nerve, cell, and fiber of her being that this would be the one man who would understand—who would take her away from all this—and who would not just squeeze her boob and make a loud honking noise, as all the others had.
  • Detective Kodiak plucked a single hair from the bearskin rug and at once understood the grisly nature of the crime: it had been a ferocious act, a real honey, the sort of thing that could polarize a community, so he padded quietly out the back to avoid a cub reporter waiting in the den.
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 8 August, 2011 6:01 pm

    Hilarious. Inspired! The second last had me guffawing out loud.

    Like

    • 8 August, 2011 6:34 pm

      Yes, that’s a good one, with its slide into silliness right at the end. One could use the sentences to teaching writing–examples of when positive elements are pushed toooo much.

      Like

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