It was a Dark and Stormy Night…

…but come hell or high water, the king intended to cross that bridge when he came to it. Or something like that.

Since the “dark and stormy night” was first used in Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s novel “Paul Clifford”, it has become the quintessential writerly cliché. Mother writers whisper it fearfully to their children at bedtime so that the children may never grow up to write a novel with so terrible a beginning.

And since 1983, a brave soul at the English Department at San Jose State University has been taking it upon himself to curate further examples of terrible opening sentences of novels.

The sentences which feature in the Bulwer-Lytton contest are all from novels which don’t really exist, which is sad on the one hand because wallowing in bad writing is sometimes the best schadenfreude, but a mercy on the other hand, because who would want to commit themselves to writing a whole book full of such awfulness?

At times confusing, at others hilarious, reading through winning entries is a great way to waste an evening. And ultimately the Bulwer-Lytton contest proves that it takes skill to achieve your aims, even if those aims are to write badly.

The Bulwer-Lytton Contest

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