Sunday, August 17, 2008

It was a dark and stormy night...

Have you ever wondered who penned that immortal phrase? It especially seems appropriate with all the dark and stormy afternoons we've been having.

For the sentence, not the weather, we have Victorian novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton to credit, or perhaps blame. It's just the first phrase of an excessively long first sentence from his novel, Paul Clifford, published in 1830. The full sentence is:

"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."

As a result, San Jose State University has an annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for the worst opening sentence of a novel. Thankfully, the entrants do not need to write the entire novel. There are also separate categories for genre fiction, purple prose, vile puns, and others. If this year's winners whets your appetite, we have several collections of winners from years past.

Every year, I secretly look forward to the results of the contest. And somewhat guiltily, as well. This year's winner is Garrison Spik of Washington D.C., whose charming beginning is:
"Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped 'Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J.' "

The entries, winners, runners-up and dishonorable mentions alike, are both amusing and intimidating. After all, for those of us who like to write, would we really want our work to accidentally win this award?

No comments: