Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Botched Beginnings

A great first line for your story is vitally important, and some time back we shared our favourite book beginnings.

But actually bad beginnings can be much more fun! Sympozium sent me news of The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest which celebrates awful writing annually. (Check out the 2006 winners.) The prize honours:
... the memory (if not the reputation) of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873). The goal of the contest is the essence of simplicity: entrants are challenged to submit bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Although best known for "The Last Days of Pompeii" (1834), which has been made into a movie three times, originating the expression "the pen is mightier than the sword," and phrases like "the great unwashed" and "pursuit of the almighty dollar," Bulwer-Lytton opened his novel Paul Clifford (1830) with the immortal words that the "Peanuts" beagle Snoopy plagiarized for years, "It was a dark and stormy night." The contest began in 1982 as a quiet campus affair, attracting only three submissions. This response being a thunderous success by academic standards, the contest went public the following year and ever since has annually attracted thousands of entries from all over the world.
Here are some of the best from past years which clearly tickled Sympozium's funny-bone:
The camel died quite suddenly on the second day, and Selena fretted sulkily and, buffing her already impeccable nails--not for the first time since the journey began--pondered snidely if this would dissolve into a vignette of minor inconveniences like all the other holidays spent with Basil.
--Gail Cain, San Francisco, California (1983 Winner)

The lovely woman-child Kaa was mercilessly chained to the cruel post of the warrior-chief Beast, with his barbarous tribe now stacking wood at her nubile feet, when the strong, clear voice of the poetic and heroic Handsomas roared, "Flick your Bic, crisp that chick, and you'll feel my steel through your last meal."
--Steven Garman, Pensacola, Florida (1984 Winner)

The countdown had stalled at T minus 69 seconds when Desiree, the first female ape to go up in space, winked at me slyly and pouted her thick, rubbery lips unmistakably--the first of many such advances during what would prove to be the longest, and most memorable, space voyage of my career.
--Martha Simpson, Glastonbury, Connecticut (1985 Winner)

The bone-chilling scream split the warm summer night in two, the first half being before the scream when it was fairly balmy and calm and pleasant for those who hadn't heard the scream at all, but not calm or balmy or even very nice for those who did hear the scream, discounting the little period of time during the actual scream itself when your ears might have been hearing it but your brain wasn't reacting yet to let you know.
--Patricia E. Presutti, Lewiston, New York (1986 Winner)

The notes blatted skyward as the sun rose over the Canada geese, feathered rumps mooning the day, webbed appendages frantically peddling unseen bicycles in their search for sustenance, driven by Nature's maxim, "Ya wanna eat, ya gotta work," and at last I knew Pittsburgh.
--Sheila B. Richter, Minneapolis, Minnesota (1987 Winner)

Like an expensive sports car, fine-tuned and well-built, Portia was sleek, shapely, and gorgeous, her red jumpsuit molding her body, which was as warm as the seatcovers in July, her hair as dark as new tires, her eyes flashing like bright hubcaps, and her lips as dewy as the beads of fresh rain on the hood; she was a woman driven--fueled by a single accelerant--and she needed a man, a man who wouldn't shift from his views, a man to steer her along the right road, a man like Alf Romeo.
--Rachel E. Sheeley, Williamsburg, Indiana (1988 Winner)

Professor Frobisher couldn't believe he had missed seeing it for so long--it was, after all, right there under his nose--but in all his years of research into the intricate and mysterious ways of the universe, he had never noticed that the freckles on his upper lip, just below and to the left of the nostril, partially hidden until now by a hairy mole he had just removed a week before, exactly matched the pattern of the stars in the Pleides, down to the angry red zit that had just popped up where he and his colleagues had only today discovered an exploding nova.
--Ray C. Gainey, Indianapolis, Indiana (1989 Winner)

Dolores breezed along the surface of her life like a flat stone forever skipping across smooth water, rippling reality sporadically but oblivious to it consistently, until she finally lost momentum, sank, and due to an overdose of fluoride as a child which caused her to lie forever on the floor of her life as useless as an appendix and as lonely as a five-hundred-pound barbell in a steroid-free fitness center.
--Linda Vernon, Newark, California (1990 Winner)

Sultry it was and humid, but no whisper of air caused the plump, laden spears of golden grain to nod their burdened heads as they unheedingly awaited the cyclic rape of their gleaming treasure, while overhead the burning orb of luminescence ascended its ever-upward path toward a sweltering celestial apex, for although it is not in Kansas that our story takes place, it looks godawful like it.
--Judy Frazier, Lathrop, Missouri (1991 Winner)

As the newest Lady Turnpot descended into the kitchen wrapped only in her celery-green dressing gown, her creamy bosom rising and falling like a temperamental souffle, her tart mouth pursed in distaste, the sous-chef whispered to the scullery boy, "I don't know what to make of her."
--Laurel Fortuner, Montendre, France (1992 Winner)

She wasn't really my type, a hard-looking but untalented reporter from the local cat box liner, but the first second that the third-rate representative of the fourth estate cracked open a new fifth of old Scotch, my sixth sense said seventh heaven was as close as an eighth note from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, so, nervous as a
tenth grader drowning in eleventh-hour cramming for a physics exam, I swept her into my longing arms, and, humming "The Twelfth of Never," I got lucky on Friday the thirteenth.
--Wm. W. "Buddy" Ocheltree, Port Townsend, Washington (1993 Winner)

As the fading light of a dying day filtered through the window blinds, Roger stood over his victim with a smoking .45, surprised at the serenity that filled him after pumping six slugs into the bloodless tyrant that mocked him day after day, and then he shuffled out of the office with one last look back at the shattered computer terminal lying there like a silicon armadillo left to rot on the information superhighway.
--Larry Brill, Austin, Texas (1994 Winner)

Paul Revere had just discovered that someone in Boston was a spy for the British, and when he saw the young woman believed to be the spy's girlfriend in an Italian restaurant he said to the waiter, "Hold the spumoni--I'm going to follow the chick an' catch a Tory."
--John L. Ashman, Houston, Texas (1995 Winner)

"Ace, watch your head!" hissed Wanda urgently, yet somehow provocatively, through red, full, sensuous lips, but he couldn't you know, since nobody can actually watch more than part of his nose or a little cheek or lips if he really tries, but he appreciated her warning.
--Janice Estey, Aspen, Colorado (1996 Winner)

The moment he laid eyes on the lifeless body of the nude socialite sprawled across the bathroom floor, Detective Leary knew she had committed suicide by grasping the cap on the tamper-proof bottle, pushing down and twisting while she kept her thumb firmly pressed against the spot the arrow pointed to, until she hit the exact spot where the tab clicks into place, allowing her to remove the cap and swallow the entire contents of the bottle, thus ending her life.
-- Artie Kalemeris, Fairfax, Virginia (1997 Winner)

The corpse exuded the irresistible aroma of a piquant, ancho chili glaze enticingly enhanced with a hint of fresh cilantro as it lay before him, coyly garnished by a garland of variegated radicchio and caramelized onions, and impishly drizzled with glistening rivulets of vintage balsamic vinegar and roasted garlic oil; yes, as he surveyed the body of the slain food critic slumped on the floor of the cozy, but nearly empty, bistro, a quick inventory of his senses told corpulent Inspector Moreau that this was, in all likelihood, an inside job.
--Bob Perry, Milton, Massachusetts (1998 Winner)

Through the gathering gloom of a late-October afternoon, along the greasy, cracked paving-stones slick from the sputum of the sky, Stanley Ruddlethorp wearily trudged up the hill from the cemetery where his wife, sister, brother, and three children were all buried, and forced open the door of his decaying house, blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that was soon to devastate his life.
--Dr. David Chuter, Kingston, Surrey, ENGLAND(1999 Winner)

The heather-encrusted Headlands, veiled in fog as thick as smoke in a crowded pub, hunched precariously over the moors, their rocky elbows slipping off land's end, their bulbous, craggy noses thrust into the thick foam of the North Sea like bearded old men falling asleep in their pints.
--Gary Dahl, Los Gatos, CA (2000 Winner)

A small assortment of astonishingly loud brass instruments raced each other lustily to the respective ends of their distinct musical choices as the gates flew open to release a torrent of tawny fur comprised of angry yapping bullets that nipped at Desdemona's ankles, causing her to reflect once again (as blood filled her sneakers and she fought her way through the panicking crowd) that the annual Running of the Pomeranians in Liechtenstein was a stupid idea.
Sera Kirk, Vancouver, BC (2001 Winner)

On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained.
Rephah Berg, Oakland CA (2002 Winner)

They had but one last remaining night together, so they embraced each other as tightly as that two-flavor entwined string cheese that is orange and yellowish-white, the orange probably being a bland Cheddar and the white . . . Mozzarella, although it could possibly be Provolone or just plain American, as it really doesn't taste distinctly dissimilar from the orange, yet they would have you
believe it does by coloring it differently.
Mariann Simms, Wetumpka, AL (2003 Winner)

She resolved to end the love affair with Ramon tonight . . . summarily, like Martha Stewart ripping the sand vein out of a shrimp's tail . . . though the term "love affair" now struck her as a ridiculous euphemism . . . not unlike "sand vein," which is after all an intestine, not a vein . . . and that tarry substance inside certainly isn't sand . . . and that brought her back to Ramon.
Dave Zobel, Manhattan Beach, CA (2004 Winner)

As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual.
Dan McKay, Fargo, ND (2005 Winner)
(Notice I used purple text for purple prose!)

Sympozium adds this one of his own:
"The Director of the library said, "Our new roof costs RM5 million, but I don't know how much we spent on books. But a roof OVER our heads is more important than what's IN our heads." :-)))

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

It has been a long journey and to think it has only begun. I want to take this time to thank you for your kind words. Friends like you make it so much easier to look toward the work ahead and think it is possible.

Peace out,

starlight said...

i like sympozium's contribution best!! :)

bibliobibuli said...

peace out - i've got the warm fuzzies now .... proud of you.

starlight - don't give him ideas of he might go away and write the rest of it ...

sympozium said...

Thanks Starlight! :-)

Mrs. Sharon Burns - no fear, I won't write the rest of it haha!

Ted Mahsun said...

Haha! I like last year's winner best. When I heard of it last year, I even carried it around in my wallet for a time... it seemed so funny :D

bibliobibuli said...

it strikes me that it takes a lot of skill to write badly ...

The Visitor said...

i know ONE "writer" who could possibly win this consistently.

but she/he is Whom We Do Not Speak Of.



Vizita, De Devil's Advocate

Ron said...

My children, sitting near me and having breakfast before leaving for school, looked at me strangely a few minutes ago when I burst out laughing.

It was just after I read the last year's winner. Really very funny. Does that make me weird?

bibliobibuli said...

visitor - good one!

ron - of course it does. your kids probably thought that already though! (but seriously, yes ... that last one's a gem)

Anonymous said...

well now you know who E.G. is .. quite a few posts ago you were asking me who he was. :)

And visitor, why can't you talk about him ?

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think he's somewhat of a success.. I mean, if you coined that many terms, and one of your books was made into a movie _three times_, you'd be very slowly suffocating in dough just about now :)

Anonymous said...

i kinda like the 1993 winner best-- probably because i wrote it!!! cheers,
buddy