Another Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest has closed and the winners selected for 2009. What is the Bulwer-Lytton contest, you ask? Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, early 19th century novelist, is traditionally credited with the worst first sentence of a novel ever. (Sometimes he is called the worst novelist, but I doubt many people have perservered enough to finish one of his books.) That worst 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."The first clause is the famous one, but it is really the long rambling parade of explanatory clauses that are meant to clarify the author's intent, but which serve only to make the whole thing more impenetrable.
Since 1982, in a competition which began at San Jose State University, aspiring bad writers vied to create the worst first sentence for what is usually an imagined novel. (I don't know if anyone has ever deliberately set out to write an entire bad novel just to make a point.) Here is the winner for 2009 by David McKenzie, a 55 year-old Quality Systems consultant and writer from Federal Way, Washington:
Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the “Ellie May," a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests.Personally, I believe the use of dialect is cheating. You can read more of this year's winners here. And before you scoff at what you may think to be a feckless endeavor, ask yourself, "Could I do as well-- or badly-- whichever applies?