Bulwer-Lytton Writing Contest


The funniest writing contest “challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.” It was inspired by the Victorian novelist Bulwer-Lytton, author of the infamous first sentence which began “It was a dark and stormy night…”

The website includes past winners, contest rules, bad writing trivia and hilarious examples from published authors, as well as more information on Bulwer-Lytton. The annual contest began in 1982, sponsored by the English Department at San Jose State University in California.

Following is Bulwer-Lytton’s first sentence from his 1830 novel Paul Clifford: “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 house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

Here are some Bulwer-Lytton contest winners:

The lovely woman-child Kaa was mercilessly chained to the cruel post of the warrior-chief Beast, with his barbarous tribe now stacking wood at her nubile feet, when the strong, clear voice of the poetic and heroic Handsomas roared, “Flick your Bic, crisp that chick, and you’ll feel my steel through your last meal.”
Steven Garman, Pensacola, Florida (1984 Winner)

The countdown had stalled at T minus 69 seconds when Desiree, the first female ape to go up in space, winked at me slyly and pouted her thick, rubbery lips unmistakably–the first of many such advances during what would prove to be the longest, and most memorable, space voyage of my career.
Martha Simpson, Glastonbury, Connecticut (1985 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.
Patricia E. Presutti, Lewiston, New York (1986 Winner)

The notes blatted skyward as the sun rose over the Canada geese, feathered rumps mooning the day, webbed appendages frantically peddling unseen bicycles in their search for sustenance, driven by Nature’s maxim, “Ya wanna eat, ya gotta work,” and at last I knew Pittsburgh.
Sheila B. Richter, Minneapolis, Minnesota (1987 Winner)

For other winners and information on how to enter, go to www.bulwer-lytton.com.

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