“It Was a Dark and Stormy Night”

- August 16, 2012

"My year-long wait is over..."

The winners of the 2012 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest have just been announced – an announcement I look forward to, every year. Started in 1982 at San Jose State University, the annual contest awards the writers who can conceive of the very worst opening sentences imaginable. The awards are a salute to novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose first paragraph of his 1830 novel “Paul Clifford” begins with the following: 

“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.”

Part of the Schadenfreude of reading these epic duds is avoiding the lightning of perverse language use, which has struck elsewhere and the notion that I will be spared being excoriated by my editors (sorry, that’s the best attempt at “Dark and stormy” that I am able to produce at this hour).  Dictionaries define Schadenfreude, a word borrowed from German, as “the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others” and, note to my editors: It is always capitalized, so don’t punish me on this one.

Here are two of my favorites from this year’s “Dark and stormy” contest:

“She slinked through my door wearing a dress that looked like it had been painted on … not with good paint, like Behr or Sherwin-Williams, but with that watered-down stuff that bubbles up right away if you don’t prime the surface before you slap it on, and – just like that cheap paint – the dress needed two more coats to cover her.” — Sue Fondrie, Appleton, Wisconsin.

“They still talk about that fateful afternoon in Abilene, when Dancing Dan DuPre moonwalked through the doors of Fat Suzy’s saloon, made a passable reverse-turn, pirouetted twice followed by a double box-step, somersaulted onto the bar, drew his twin silver-plated Colt-45s and put twelve bullets through the eyes of the McLuskey sextuplets, on account of them varmints burning down his ranch and lynching his prize steer.” — Ted Downes, Cardiff, U.K.

You can read the entire list at http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/2012win.html.