Worst Sentence Ever? There’s a Prize for That.

In 1982, San Jose State University sponsored the first Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. To enter, you have to compose the opening sentence of the worst of all possible novels. The contest was created by Professor Scott Rice after he found the source of the line “It was a dark and stormy night…,” which is the opening sentence of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford.

For 2011, Sue Fondrie penned the shortest ever winning sentence:

Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.

According to The Guardian, Fondrie tweeted that one of her students wrote her: “I knew you were awful, so it’s great that you’re finally getting recognized.”

Two of my favorites are from the Romance category.

Ali Kawashima took home the first prize with:

As the dark and mysterious stranger approached, Angela bit her lip anxiously, hoping with every nerve, cell, and fiber of her being that this would be the one man who would understand—who would take her away from all this—and who would not just squeeze her boob and make a loud honking noise, as all the others had.

And here’s runner-up Meredith K. Gray’s entry:

Deanna waited for him in a deliberate pose on the sailor-striped chaise lounge of the newly-remodeled Ramada, her bustier revealing the tops of her white breasts like eggs–eggs of the slightly undercooked, hard-boiled variety, showing a nascent jiggle with her apprehensive breath, eggs that were then peeled ever-so-carefully so as not to pierce the jellied, opaque albumen and unleash the longing, viscous yolk within–yes, she lay there, oblong and waiting to be deviled.

I also giggled at the Sci Fi winners. Greg Homer won with:

Morgan ‘Bamboo’ Barnes, Star Pilot of the Galaxia (flagship of the Solar Brigade), accepted an hors d’oeuvre from the triangular-shaped platter offered to him from the Princess Qwillia—lavender-skinned she was and busty, with two of her four eyes what Barnes called ‘bedroom eyes’—and marveled at how on her planet, Chlamydia-5, these snacks were called ‘Hi-Dee-Hoes’ but on Earth they were simply called Ritz Crackers with Velveeta.

Runner up Elizabeth Muenster wrote:

Sterben counted calcium bars in the storage chamber, wondering why women back on Earth paid him little attention, but up here they seem to adore him, in fact, six fraichemaidens had already shown him their blinka.

Here’s the Fantasy winning entry from Terri Daniel:

Within the smoking ruins of Keister Castle, Princess Gwendolyn stared in horror at the limp form of the loyal Centaur who died defending her very honor; ‘You may force me to wed,’ she cried at the leering and victorious Goblin King, ‘but you’ll never be half the man he was.’

The sentence that started the contest is actually really long.  In 1830,  Bulwer-Lytton wrote:

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.

I’m a big fan of bad sentences anywhere in a manuscript, mostly because my first drafts are filled with them and they give my critique partners something to laugh about. The only way I can finish a project is if I allow myself to write bad prose and then know that I’ll do much better when I revise it. If I expect good things to happen in the initial step, all I ever have is a blank page.

What would be your contribution to the Bulwer-Lytton contest?


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