Do Your Worst — The Bulwer-Lytton Awards

Hello, all.  Susannah here.  Are you ready to be . . . BAD?

It was a dark and stormy night . . .

You might recognize this as the phrase with which Snoopy always begins his novels.  What you might not know is that these are the opening words of a real 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton.

Every year the English Department of San Jose State University sponsors the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a “whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.”  The winners of this year’s competion have been announced, and let me tell you, there are some clunkers.  Wonderful, clever, awful clunkers.  Here’s the winner of the romance category:

As the dark and mysterious stranger approached, Angela bit her lip anxiously, hoping with every nerve, cell, and fiber of her being that this would be the one man who would understand—who would take her away from all this—and who would not just squeeze her boob and make a loud honking noise, as all the others had.  -Ali Kawashima, Greensboro, NC 

Are you snorting coffee out your nose yet?  You can read more of this brilliant dreck, and enjoy all the winning entries, here.

We spend so much time trying to make our writing better — paring down adverbs, making sure we show-don’t-tell, reining in dialogue to keep it tight and to the point.  But I think it’s important to send the Inner Editor out for a Cosmo once in a while and allow ourselves to write something Bad.  Outrageously Bad, even.

You probably know about the Writer’s Prime Directive:  “Kill your darlings.”  What author William Faulkner meant by that is that when we edit we must put our egos aside and attack our writing dispassionately, rooting out all the excess verbiage, no matter how much we love what we have written.  Well, today, I am giving you permission to create some Darlings.  They probably won’t survive to the end of your story, like the expendable red-shirted guys in the original Star Trek show.   But you’ll have some fun, just the same.

Go ahead.  Do your worst!  Brownie points will be awarded if you’re brave enough to post a Darling here!

Here’s mine:  Upon the one hundredth rejection of her manuscript, Rochelle’s unuttered dreams sputtered, then exploded into an infinite number of prismatic shards, rainbow-brilliant in the light of day, not unlike the time a lit M-80 somehow penetrated the disco ball at Millard Fillmore High School’s junior prom during the playing of “Stairway to Heaven,” or the accidental demise of a certain type of vampire in an outdoor science class when a Mentos, Diet Coke, and wooden stake experiment went horribly, fatally wrong.  

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10 thoughts on “Do Your Worst — The Bulwer-Lytton Awards”

  1. Wow. You really set the bar high! That is hard to beat! But, keeping in mind the fact that I am not properly caffeinated for the day, here’s my attempt.

    Their lithe, golden bodies meshed, two and yet one, like the peppers you buy and put in the vegetable drawer and then forget about until, weeks later, the weird smell can no longer be ignored and you check and see that they’ve kind of caved in on top of each other and are now cemented in a puddle of goo.

    1. This one is so wretchedly good, I’m almost afraid to wonder what you’d come up with once you are appropriately caffeinated! Will we be seeing this sentence in your next novel, Kristan?

    2. i am doubled over laughing, can you hear my hysterics. This is the best bad writing. Your characters are real and I can see the puddle of goo they have become. Congratulations Kristan, brilliant.

  2. Susannah, thank you. I almost forgot to congratulate you for this amazing work. Genius idea! We actually had to do this in Margie’s online workshop. it was not easy.

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