Bulwer-Lytton

The results of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest have been published. This is a competition to decide who can write the worst opening line of a novel. Here’s the 2010 winner, written by Molly Ringle of Seattle, WA:

‘For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss–a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil.’

Many people seem to think the organisers of the competition (the English department of the San Jose State University, USA) trawl thousands of novels to find the worst examples. But no, every year up to 10,000 writers deliberately set out to write their worst sentences, and then submit them. I didn’t enter in 2010 but the last time I did, in 2008, I won the Adventure category with this:

‘As the hippo’s jaws clamped on Henry’s body he noted the four huge teeth badly in need of a clean, preferably with one of those electric sonic toothbrushes, and he reflected that his name would be immortalized by his unusual death, since hippo killings are not a daily occurrence, at least not in the high street of Chipping Sodbury’.

They published that one in a collection a couple of years ago. I also received a “Dishonorable Mention” in 2004 for this one:

‘As Amy reached for the envelope her heart fluttered in anticipation like the wings of a fruit bat that has eaten a fermented peach, and even though she knew the statistic that you are more likely to be hit by a meteorite than to win the lottery, she was still quite surprised when opening the envelope to be hit by a meteorite.’

When you submit an entry, Professor Scott Rice sends an email which says something like “Thank you for your submission. It will get the treatment it deserves.” Brilliant. The rules of the competition state that the winner shall receive a pittance.

The competition is a tribute to novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton who in 1830 started his novel  Paul Clifford with this rambling 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.’

To see the other winners of 2010, and perhaps to submit an entry of your own for next year’s competition, visit http://www.bulwer-lytton.com

You’ll see that right at the top of the site it says “Where “WWW” stands for “Wretched Writers Welcome””.


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