for writers and readers….

The worst opening sentence to a novel

Since 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest challenging entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst possible novel.

The inspiration comes from 1830 novel by Edward

Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer Lytton, 1st ...

Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer Lytton,.                      (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bulwer-Lytton which begins with the immortal words….

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.”

Here’s my favourite from the 2012 winners (all of whom receive a “pittance” as their prize.)

 The “clunk” of the guillotine blade’s release reminded Marie Antoinette, quite briefly, of the sound of the wooden leg of her favorite manservant as he not-quite-silently crossed the polished floors of Versailles to bring her another tray of petit fours. — Leslie Craven, Hataitai, New Zealand

In the real world American literary agent Chip McGregor did actually find the following sentence in the first chapter of a submission.

The [adjective] [adjective] sun rose in the [adjective] [adjective] sky, shedding its [adjective] light across the [adjective] [adjective] [adjective] land.”

4 comments on “The worst opening sentence to a novel

  1. ann perrin
    December 8, 2012

    That’s so clever did they really get a ‘pittance’ exactly how much was that, or was it a metaphorical pittance, answer on a postcard please.
    take care Annx

  2. Bridget Whelan
    December 8, 2012

    A pittance seems to be in the spirit of the competition…I bet the academics in San Jose have a hoot judging it. They accept entries by email all year around and the results are announced in the summer.
    Why don’t you enter? When you don’t win you can say…even when I tried I couldn’t write a bad sentence!

  3. Pingback: Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest 2012 Winners | Writing & Random Thoughts

  4. Michael
    February 11, 2014

    Apart from the brackets, I quite like Bulwer-Lytton’s effort…

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This entry was posted on December 8, 2012 by in Muse and tagged , , , .


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