The winner of this year’s Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest is Sue Fondrie, of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The contest, sponsored by the San Jose State University English Department, honors bad writing by asking entrants to submit the opening sentence of an imaginary novel. It memorializes Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the 19th-century English author, whose novel Paul Clifford opens with this much-mocked 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 house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
The winning 2011 entry:
“Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.”
Britain’s Guardian likes to find egregiously bad sentences from actual novels. A few it has come up with are:
Danielle Steel in Star: "She wore a dress the same color as her eyes her father brought her from San Francisco.”
Lindsey Davis, Shadows in Bronze: “By the end of the alley the fine hairs in my nostrils were starting to twitch.”
Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Synthetic Men of Mars: “From Phundahl at their western extremity, east to Toonol, the Great Toonolian Marshes stretch across the dying planet for eighteen hundred earth miles like some unclean, venomous, Gargantuan reptile - an oozy marshland through which wind narrow watercourses connecting occasional bodies of open water, little lakes, the largest of which covers but a few acres.”
If you’d like to submit an entry for next year’s Bulwer-Lytton contest (the prize, according to the website, is a pittance), the email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Entries are accepted 365 days a year.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou does not enter contests, inasmuch as he believes his writing is bad enough without anyone awarding him a prize for it. Judge for yourself:
I’ll bet my writing’s more egregious,
Mawkish, crude, and sacrilegious
Than anything that has been written
Since the days of Bulwer-Lytton;
Worse than any Harlequin romance
By Barbara Cartland, Judith Krantz,
Jackie Collins, Danielle Steel--
Compared to them, I’ve no appeal.
I’m worse than Mary Higgins Clark
Or any literary matriarch
Like Stephenie Meyer and Anne Rice.
With all their vicious vampire vice.
Mickey Spillane and Louis L’Amour?
I’m worse by far, and that’s for sure!
Why, I am even lower down
Than Sidney Sheldon and Dan Brown.
Nora Roberts? I’d almost forgotten her—
Not to worry, I’m much, much rottener.
So if all my prose and all my verse
Are really bad and couldn’t be worse,
And like those I’ve named, I’m booed and hissed,
Why ain’t I on the best-seller list?