The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (BLFC) was established in 1982 by Professor Scott Rice of the English Department at San Jose State University to recognize the worst opening sentence (also known as an “incipit”) for a novel. The name of the quasi-literary contest honors Edward George Bulwer Lytton, author of a very obscure 1830 Victorian novel, Paul Clifford, with a very famous opening sentence: “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.” The protagonist of this neo-Gothic romantic novel, that takes place during the French Revolution, lives a dual life — as a criminal and a gentleman who falls in love. Incidentally, Lytton also coined phrases that are still used today: “the almighty dollar,” “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and “the great unwashed.”
Each year, around late July or early August, the BLFC announces the winners of its annual contest. In its first year, the contest attracted three entries. More than three decades later, the contest receives more than 10,000 entries from all over the world — proving that there is no shortage of wretched writers vying for acclaim. The contest now has several subcategories, including adventure, crime, romance, and detective fiction. The winner gets bragging rights for writing the worst sentence of the year and a modest financial award of $250 — presumably for writing lessons. The contest has also launched a series of books “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night” that collects entries from several years.
The winner of the 2012 BLFC was Cathy Bryant of Manchester, England who submitted this terrible opening sentence:
“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.”
In the category of Vile Puns, Amy Torchinsky of Greensboro, North Carolina inflicted this punny sentence upon the reading world:
“Though they were merely strangers on a train, as she looked North by Northwest though the rear window, Marnie knew beyond a shadow of a doubt the trouble with Harry was that he was a psycho – his left and right hand middle fingers (formerly extended in the birds position) were menacingly twisting a rope in the form of a noose; certain of her impending death as surely as she could dial M for Murder, she was overcome by intense vertigo.”
For futher reading:www.bulwer-lytton.com
Dark and Stormy Rides Again by Scott Rice, Penguin Books (1996)