Saturday, April 15, 2006

April 15: Bulwer-Lytton Day

Today is the deadline for the most delightful writing contest there is: The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, where entrants face the challenge of writing the worst possible opening sentence to a novel. The contest began in January 1983, created by Scott Rice, of the San Jose State University English Department.

The contest is named after the prolific Victorian novelist Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873). He was a contemporary of Dickens, and his novels were nearly as popular as Dickens'. Bulwer-Lytton's flair for the melodramatic has inspired more than twenty years of good bad writing, "writing so deliberately rotten that it both entertains and instructs," according to Scott Rice.

Here's the famous opening of Bulwer-Lytton's novel Paul Clifford (1830):

It was a dark and story night; the rain fell in torrents -- except at occasional intervals, when it was check by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scence lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

An overall winner is selected each year, but there are also category winners for various genres, including western, detective, romance, and science fiction. Below is the overall winner for the 202 contest.

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

For more past contest winners, visit:

Today's Challenge: A Night, Dark and Stormy
Get a headstart on next year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Read the rules below; then, write your own one-sentence masterpiece.

The rules to the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest are childishly simple:

Each entry must consist of a single sentence but you may submit as many entries as you wish. Sentences may be of any length (though you go beyond 50 or 60 words at your peril), and entries must be "original" (as it were) and previously unpublished.

Surface mail entries should be submitted on index cards, the sentence on one side and the entrant's name, address, and phone number on the other.

Email entries should be in the body of the message, NOT in an attachment. If you are submitting multiple entries, please include them in one message.

Entries will be judged by categories, from "general" to detective, western, science fiction, romance, and so on. There will be overall winners as well as category winners.

The official deadline is April 15 (a date that Americans associate with painful submissions and making up bad stories). The actual deadline may be as late as June 30.

The contest accepts submissions every day of the livelong year.

Wild Card Rule: Resist the temptation to work with puns like "It was a stark and dormy night." Finally, in keeping with the gravitas, high seriousness, and general bignitude of the contest, the grand prize winner will receive . . . a pittance.

Send your entries to:Bulwer-Lytton Fiction ContestDepartment of EnglishSan Jose State UniversitySan Jose, CA 95192-0090,

Quote of the Day: The pen is mightier than the sword. --Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton

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