Friday, October 12, 2012

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night; Best Worst Opening Lines

Did you ever wonder where  "It was a dark and stormy night" came from, and why people use it as code for the epitome of clichés?

That sentence was the inspiration for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for the best worst opening lines, started in 1982 at San Jose State University. The contest  runs every year, with hilarious results. Here's the full quote (as shown on an 8/13/12 blog post on Publisher Weekly's PWxyz blog) from the writing of the man who inspired the event: novelist and playwright 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.”

We writers can always use a few laughs, and when we can laugh at our own worst work, it's the best!

How about this one from Cathy Bryant of Manchester, England, the winner of the 2012 Contest:
As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.

Another of my favorites:

They still talk about that fateful afternoon in Abilene, when Dancing Dan DuPre moonwalked through the doors of Fat Suzy’s saloon, made a passable reverse-turn, pirouetted twice followed by a double box-step, somersaulted onto the bar, drew his twin silver-plated Colt-45s and put twelve bullets through the eyes of the McLuskey sextuplets, on account of them varmints burning down his ranch and lynching his prize steer. — Ted Downes, Cardiff, U.K.

Why all the Brits? It's possible that they have a special built-in snarky/hilarious gene across the Pond, but in case you're wondering, there are plenty of Americans among the award recipients, too. The awards include winners, runners-up, and dishonorable mentions in a wide swath of genres. To check them out go to the web page for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, where "WWW" means "Wretched Writers Welcome."


  1. They definitely have a special built-in snark, it is the British way. ;) These are great! And yes, we must learn to laugh at ourselves else we'll go insane.

  2. Oh My... How did I miss this? These are fabulous. But honestly, I think I take the blue ribbon on the best worse first and last lines. But I'm getting better. :)

    1. I don't THINK so, Karlene! Your worst is pretty darned good. :)