Monday, July 5, 2010

Night: dark & stormy

In the Bulwer-Lytton contest – named after the originator of the “It was a dark and stormy night” line – writers compete to devise the worst opening line for a novel. These are usually fun to read, but many of them are so long that by the time I get to the end I’ve started to forget the beginning.

Here’s an example from It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: The Final Conflict.

While the luminescent moon swelled in the sky like the bloated belly of a tuna, Michael, sitting on the deck of his large yacht, stared at the rolling waves and remembered the last time he had seen Greta, her lacy pink dress besmirched with a blob of chocolate ice cream, her black patent leather shoes still shiny, as he made a tearful farewell and sold her for medical experiments to the university’s primate institute.
Kelly J. Messinger

The premise is funny, but the line is too… constructed. The idea behind it – that what we think is a little girl is actually an ape – should be able to stand without the deliberately awful simile at the start. That way the sentence could be read in a single breath, too.

Enter the Lyttle Lytton contest.

In this contest, which has run for ten years now, opening lines not only have to be short but the humor has to appear unintentional. Therefore, no puns or attempts to increase the atrocity of the writing with ghastly figures of speech. The apparent intention of the lines must be serious, but their end result has to be comedy.

The contest has proven popular enough to inspire a sub-category – worst last lines – and it’s just fun to read because the entries are so short and pithy.

Bob is sad. :(
Mozell Gibbons

Brevity is the soul of wit, as it turns out. And try imagining what kind of novel might follow; that’s when you scare yourself. From the same year:

Because they had not repented, the angel stabbed the unrepentant couple thirteen times, with its sword.
Graham Swanson

This is my favorite:

His eyes were brown, although you wouldn't know it just by looking.
Dan Shiovitz, quoting Paul Panks

And although this would be from a fanfic, it’s well worth quoting.

MacGyver had grown old.
Mathias Frank

As the host of the contest said, “I like the solemnity of that one. Angus MacGyver, lion in winter. Making radios out of denture adhesive and jars of Metamucil.”



writtenwyrdd said...

I love that contest!

Abby said...

This contest sounds so fun!

Shannon said...

I think I could probably win the contest just by digging up my old manuscripts from my pre-teen days!

Marian Perera said...

Go for it! I like the offbeat, subtle tone of many of the entries.

Vegetarian Cannibal said...

Hahahahaha! That's great! The angel stabbing the unrepentant couple was total lulz, I must say...

Gotta give that contest a look...

Anonymous said...


I love the, "Bob is sad".