Thursday, January 2, 2014

Wretched Writers Welcome!

Edward George Bulwer-Lytton
With only four days left before I must return to the chaos of my classroom, I am feeling an urgent pang to write a serious entry about literary silliness. 

Since 1982, San Jose State University’s English Department has sponsored a literary competition to compose an obnoxiously bad first sentence of what would become (if, God forbid, followed through), an equally bad novel.  The inspiration for this whimsical contest came from the infamous first sentence of an 1830 novel entitled Paul Clifford by Victorian novelist, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton:

“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.”

Notice this clunky mess of a sentence contains a whopping 58 words, 1 sinister semicolon, 1 devious dash, 3 commas, and a useless pair of parenthesis.  To an MFA graduate in Writing, this is unadulterated literary sin!  And now with over 10,000 wretched writers (me being one of them), having tried their hands at outdoing Bulwer-Lytton’s immortal opener, the website is chock-full of an impressive chunk of unimpressive first-liners.

I have selected a couple of my all-time favorite winners to whet the appetite, and if I feel brave enough at the end of this entry, I may even share a couple of my own dirty little attempts.

2002 Winner
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. — Rephah Berg, Oakland, CA

2011 Dishonorable Mention
Dawn crept up like the panther on the gazelle, except it was light, not dark like a panther, and a panther, though quiet, could never be as silent as the light of dawn, so really the analogy doesn’t hold up well, as cool as it sounds, but it still is a great way to begin a story; just not necessarily this particular one. — Warren Blair, Ashburn, VA

For more silliness, I dare you to peruse their website: 


And finally, in honor of Mr. Bulwer-Lytton, here are two of my best/worst novel openers…

After a long, treacherous day teaching preschoolers, Miss Lucy dragged herself into the shower and let the hot water pour down onto her head, her shoulders, her knees, and her toes…knees and toes…knees and toes…eyes and ears and mouth and nose…head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!

Hungry as a ravenous wolf, Lucy hadn’t eaten herself yet and wasn’t planning to either. 

Now it’s your turn!  I look forward to seeing what you all come up with…




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