The English novelist and playwright Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton is best remembered for his 1830 novel Paul Clifford because of its famous opening line, generally held up as the prime example of bad writing. “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, rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” And so on. In fact, this is the origin of that famous mystery cliche, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is a tongue-in-cheek annual contest sponsored by the English Department of San Jose State University, California. Entrants are invited “to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.” The prize? $250! Here are some winning entries for worst opening lines:
“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.” (the 2011 winner)
“The bone-chilling scream split the warm summer night in two, the first half being before the scream when it was fairly balmy and calm and pleasant for those who hadn’t heard the scream at all, but not calm or balmy or even very nice for those who did hear the scream, discounting the little period of time during the actual scream itself when your ears might have been hearing it but your brain wasn’t reacting yet to let you know.”
“Within the smoking ruins of Keister Castle, Princess Gwendolyn stared in horror at the limp form of the loyal Centaur who died defending her very honour; “You may force me to wed,” she cried at the leering and the victorious Goblin King, “but you will never be half the man he was.”
So let’s begin the New Year with 20 questions on the best opening lines from books... and the last one from a movie (just to be different!).
It is so very essential to begin well. Happy Quizzing for 2012!