The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

by limebirdster

“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 where our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

The first line of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Paul Clifford is constantly repeated as being one of the worst opening lines ever written, and in honour of this, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (BLFC) challenges entrants to come up with something worse. It’s actually more fun than it sounds, trying to write badly.

At uni we were once given an assignment of writing a terrible opening paragraph and the whole class took great delight in cramming as many clichés, grammatical and syntax errors, and awkward phrasings into just a few lines as we could. The person next to me managed to squeeze “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” into a paragraph full of plagiarised lines.

But, after the ten minutes of hilarity when we read them all out, the exercise actually taught us far more than I thought it would. The point was to learn how not to open a story by making every mistake that we could think of in one go, but what it also showed me, was that we could all write.

dark and stormy night

It may seem like an obvious statement about a room full of students taking a creative writing degree, but everyone has those moments of doubt. There are those books so good that they make you want to put down your pen and never pick it up again because you could never write something so amazing, and calling the awkward lines that you’ve typed into a word document “writing” when prose like this exists is like calling sparkling water champagne.

But when you purposefully go out to create something bad, you not only show yourself that you know what to avoid, but you can see how much better your real writing is. It’s one of those confidence boosting moments that make you want to write down every idea that comes into your head at the same time, and write them down well. Because you can, because you’re a writer.

So have a go, write something truly awful, partly because it’s funny, but also because afterwards, you can write something truly amazing. And then check out the BLFC grand prize winners (my favourite is the one about the cheese,) and then, just to balance things out, take a look at American book review’s list of 100 best first lines too.


24 Comments to “The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest”

  1. i think my opening line is on a par…. totally pants!! can i be bothered to change it? No.

  2. Those lines from the link are really funny… is it sad I’m interested to see where some of them are going? LOL

  3. Haha, some of those lines are hilarious! Great post Ster and has really got me thinking.

    Interestingly, the Bulwer-Lytton line is number 22 on the 100 best first lines link. Go figure? Here’s my truly awful offering:

    ” You are about to read a tale about a woman. This woman had eyes that shone like the moon and whose hair resembled a raven’s feathers. This woman with the moon eyes and raven feather’s hair is about to embark on a journey like no other that the world has ever seen before. She sighed heavily, the weight of the world on her shoulders. The calm before the storm.”

    Definitely can see me getting a book deal outta this one.

    • Great line Beth, loving the two cliches shoved on the end there! I think a book deal is just around the corner for this one! 😉

  4. My gosh those were hilarious, and some were truly awful. Great post, I needed a laugh this morning!

    • It always makes me smile when I read them 🙂 I like the fact that they’re deliberately bad as well, I always feel mean thinking someones writing is bad!

  5. Sounds like a brilliant exercise!

  6. Ok here is my go – A long, long time ago in a faraway off in the distance land that was really a ways away from your current position in the universe, there lived a really evil magician-king hybrid type man with a heart of coal and a soul of ice.

  7. Nice share. First lines are always the hardest, I know they’re my Achilles’ heel, so it’s great to be reminded not to take them so seriously once in awhile. Thanks for that!

  8. Am I the only one who doesn’t think Bulwer-Lytton’s opening is really all that bad?

    • Exiled Star – I think that the lines seem very clichéd now; but considering that the author died in 1873 I don’t think that they would have been perceived so at the time.

  9. Come with me, down the dark alleyways of the human mind. Minds that, on their good days, could raise one up onto a par with the Gods; but, when aimed in the nether direction, can drag one down to the depths of despair. Today is one of those latter days, and our hero, for it is sure that he feels himself to be such, is setting off down a path that will lead to his downfall and to our disgust. Come with me, if you dare…


  10. She wished, like a dog on a chain wishes, that she could catch the object of her desire- the proverbial cat teasing him at the end of the chain and just like the dog she believed she would catch him – they were both wrong.

  11. I mean, I kinda like scanty flames struggling against the darkness.

    • I do too! I think if you take out everything between “torrents” and “rattling” & ignore how cliched the first few words are it becomes quite a lot better!

  12. So happy that I was able to find your site because you visited mine! This is great and I’m following you, now (not in a creepy, stalking kind-of-way but more in a friendly-blogger-pal kind-of-way). Love what I’ve read thus far, and will definitely be back for more!

    • Welcome Sylvia, glad you found us! Looking forward to seeing you again (also not in a creepy, stalking kind-of-way but more in a friendly-blogger-pal kind-of-way)!

  13. Thanks for the BL winners…they deserve their prizes. 🙂

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