Friday, March 25, 2011

LitSoup: It was a dark and stormy night ...

The deadline for the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is coming up (April 15). The contest is so named for the author of what might be the most memorable first sentence of a book. You probably don't know the author or the book, but you definitely know the beginning of first 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."
--Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

In celebration of the awfulness (awesomeness?) of that first sentence, the English Department at San Jose State University in 1982 started the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest: "a whimsical literacy competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels."

The rules (taken from
  • Each entry must consist of a single sentence but you may submit as many entries as you wish. (One fellow once submitted over 3,000 entries.)
  • Sentences may be of any length BUT WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT ENTRIES NOT GO BEYOND 50 OR 60 WORDS, and entries must be "original" (as it were) and previously unpublished.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.
  • E-mail entries should be in the body of the message, NOT IN AN ATTACHMENT (and it would be really swell if you submitted your entries in Arial 12 font). One e-mail may contain multiple entries.
  • 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 early June.
  • 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."

This month's challenge to the newsroom: Create your own Bulwer-Lytton-worthy entry. Below are the submissions.

Brandon Baker:
Serene and stoic, she stood in the line, ashes flicking from her Camel, as she pondered her next chapter -- one that would begin in a cheerless fashion -- and all that such a lifestyle entails: unpredictability, unfamiliarity, hardship, heartbreak and whatever else etches the unemployment line in 2011.

Danielle Capriato:
It was an odd morning, where the sun was sometimes shining between scattered fluffy grey clouds, and a warmish sort of wind blew in occasional gusts that smelled of dewberries and the changing seasons.

Angela Gartner:
The sun began to rise from the earth as the tips of the high-rise buildings shuddered from the cold blustery winds that lifted the snow in a musical dance.

Rachel Jackson:
The yellowed story clips lay crumpled on the floor around her, remnants of a career she'd gambled on a longshot, pieces she’d used as packing material for boxfuls of items no longer relevant to her life.

Cheryl Sadler:
He walked down the street under the summer sun -- although, maybe it wasn't so much as a walk but a jog, or more like a slow jog, or maybe one would consider it a walk with a little hop to his step, though he was not hopping but walking in a normal matter but just at a faster pace than one might usually take on the way to the proctologist.

This post is part of a LitSoup, a new regular monthly feature on The Book Club compiled of contributions from the newsroom. Send an e-mail or tweet with your suggestions for future LitSoup topics.

-- Cheryl Sadler | | @nhcheryl



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