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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.
July 25, 2011 11:30 PM   Subscribe

The winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest have been announced for 2011. The contest challenges entrants to compose bad opening sentences to imaginary novels.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn (46 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Veronica, two months pregnant and attempting to get her boyfriend to notice, and Ricky, who wanted to end things with his expansive girlfriend, sat at a table-for-two around lunchtime at the Olive Garden in Columbus, Ohio, eying the bottle of house rosé which, unbeknownst to them, doubled as the portal key to Khrysandelt: The land where everything glitters slightly more than normal.

Wow. This is actually kinda one of the twists in a fantasy novel I read once.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:32 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


the only functional value of an opening sentence is the degree to which it compels folks to read the next sentence. This makes ... "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." ... a damned good opening sentence.
posted by philip-random at 11:47 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sensing somehow a scudding lay in the offing, Skipper Bob tallied his tasks:  reef the mains'l, mizzen, and jib, strike and brail the fores'l, mizzen stays'l and baggywrinkles, bowse the halyards, mainsheets, jacklines and vangs, turtle and belay fast the small cock, flemish the taffrail warps, batten the booby hatch, lay by his sou'wester, and find the bailing bucket. 

I like this one a lot because it bucks the normal style of the Bulwer-Lytton genre. No extended pataphor or unexpected and inappropriate turn of phrase here. It's bad and funny for an entirely different reason. All the others come across as more of the same.
posted by painquale at 11:54 PM on July 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


No one walked down Bleak Street at night—not where hobgoblins hobnobbed, skeletons skulked, vampires vamped, and the dumpster behind the Chinese buffet smelled like zombies.

I would read that book.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:20 AM on July 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


No one walked down Bleak Street at night—not where hobgoblins hobnobbed, skeletons skulked, vampires vamped, and the dumpster behind the Chinese buffet smelled like zombies.

I would read that book.

You are not alone in that.
Of all the book openings I've read, I think Snow Crash had the best, too bad it couldn't maintain it. Can't remember the opening line though.
posted by Canageek at 12:33 AM on July 26, 2011


Too many lines to quote here, (though I am fond of the squeezing the boob and making a loud honking sound, for reasons that will go unmentioned). However:

They called her The Cat, because she made love the way she fought, rolling rapidly across the floor in a big, blurry ball of shrieking hair, fury, and dander, which usually solicited a “Shut up!” and flung shoe from one of the neighbors, and left her exhilarated lover with serious patchy bald spots and the occasional nicked ear.

This killed me.
posted by Gilbert at 12:40 AM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


[Snow Crash]:
The Deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed sub-category.
posted by DreamerFi at 12:48 AM on July 26, 2011


All of these are better than any opening line in a Dan Brown novel.
posted by bwg at 1:22 AM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


A lot of these are better than any line in a Dan Brown novel.
posted by cmonkey at 1:50 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


All of them together are better than any Dan Brown novel.
posted by the fish at 3:50 AM on July 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Gilbert, that one totally makes me think of Tammy and Ron Swanson.
posted by lapolla at 3:56 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Lyttle Lytton entries are always better:

Princess Amabel brushed her silky golden hair and tried not to think about my breasts.

“Caw! Caw!” went the birds as the massacres happened (the birds represent sadness).

“AAHHH” she screamed in horror as her infant rocketed from inside her towards the free world.

“Me, I like a girl with a couple extra pounds on her,” said Tom, subtly negging his target.

posted by martinrebas at 4:22 AM on July 26, 2011 [13 favorites]


My problem with these (and with the vast majority of Bulwer-Lytton entries) is that they are self-consciously trying to be funny, which strikes me as a violation of the spirit of the contest. Bulwer-Lytton, after all, wasn't a comedian -- he was a hack-ish popular author, writing in the style of his time (which reads as almost unbearably wordy to modern sensibilities). I think this:

LaTrina—knowing he must live—let her hot, wet tongue slide slowly over Gladiator’s injured ear, the taste reminding her of the late June flavor of a snow chain that had been removed from a tire and left to rust on the garage floor without being rinsed off.

Which isn't great, does a far better job of combining excessive words, unnecessarily complex structure, and inapt metaphor than most of the winners, which are just set ups for jokes that would not stand on their own (and barely stand in the entry).
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:06 AM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


These contests lead to an inevitable paradox, don't they? The effort to create something strikingly bad leads to the creation of something striking. When I'm struck by something, I'm engaged and want more. And that's good, right? I'd think a truly bad opening sentence would be more like this:
Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed. This was the page at which the favourite volume always opened:
"ELLIOT OF KELLYNCH HALL.
I mean really, don't care. Could not possibly care less. This, on the other hand, is genius.
posted by jwhite1979 at 5:16 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


The victim was a short man, with a face full of contradictions: amalgam, composite, dental porcelain, with both precious and non-precious metals all competing for space in a mouth that was open, bloody, terrifying, gaping, exposing a clean set of asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth, but clearly the object of some very comprehensive dental care, thought Dirk Graply, world-famous womanizer, tough guy, detective, and former dentist.

After five years as freelance writer, Greg finally managed to double his income, letting him add a processed cheese product slice to the baloney sandwiches he had for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


Are my favorites. And I would read this:

Awakened by a howling wind snapping branches against her new but poorly installed storm windows, Stella heard another sound she found puzzling so, grabbing her trusty Colt Python, she snuck stealthily downstairs to find an oddly-dressed gnome-like man methodically dropping breath mints onto her freshly-waxed kitchen floor.
posted by Nixy at 5:18 AM on July 26, 2011


“Caw! Caw!” went the birds as the massacres happened (the birds represent sadness).

Holy fuck that one sucks so badly I fucking love it.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:30 AM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sensing somehow a scudding lay in the offing, Skipper Bob...

Wait, this isn't from one of the "Master and Commander" books?
posted by biscotti at 5:33 AM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow. This is actually kinda one of the twists in a fantasy novel I read once.

WAS IT TWILIGHT?!? IT WAS TWILIGHT, WASN'T IT??!??
posted by Naberius at 5:52 AM on July 26, 2011


Of all the book openings I've read, I think Snow Crash had the best, too bad it couldn't maintain it. Can't remember the opening line though.

If there was a Bulwer-Lytton contest for critics , you'd win.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 6:00 AM on July 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


I sent in this one. I guess it was too good.

The glimmering shadow of that summer - of that lush yet maddening season of summer - echoed on... on... on... trippingly onwards - reminding me to buy peanut butter sometime this week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thrusday, Friday - oh, wait a minute, I've got an extra jar in my pants, gentle reader.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:09 AM on July 26, 2011


I'm not sure if it was a genuine Bulwer-Lytton, or just a gag opener, but I've always loved (from memory):


"Dawn crept slowly across the car park, hunting for her contact lens..."

A lovely coincidence - I just picked up Hell at the Breach by the acclaimed southern gothic novelist Tom Franklin. (His recent thriller, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is brilliant.)

Hell at the Breach begins, with the perfectly serious aubade: "Dawn crept up out of the trees...".

All I could think was, oh no, not her again!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:16 AM on July 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Punctuation is everything:
Call me, Ishmael.
posted by Herodios at 6:27 AM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


She held my hand as if she were having a swollen barrel of fun which was off considering that my teeth were sitting on my bathroom cabinet (eight miles away, no less) and my elbow was peeling like a soggy coconut, the fine hairs of which were standing on edge in fear, as if the coconut had been reading “Dracula.”

Spit out my coffee at that one. A pretty great combination of intentionally silly and terrible, I think. I'd read it.
posted by troika at 6:31 AM on July 26, 2011


One of my personal favorite authentic opening lines:

"In five years, the penis will be obsolete," said the salesman. (Steel Beach - John Varley)

Searching for that led me to this excellent thread full of awesome openers.

I love stuff like this. Thanks for posting.
posted by misha at 6:35 AM on July 26, 2011


Punctuation is everything:

Call me, Ishmael.


Christ: What an asshole.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:36 AM on July 26, 2011


Of all the book openings I've read, I think Snow Crash had the best, too bad it couldn't maintain it. Can't remember the opening line though.

The thing is that Snow Crash's opening was a deliberate parody of cyberpunk. The fact that it didn't maintain it was a conscious choice. Stephenson did the same thing in Diamond Age as well.
posted by griphus at 6:38 AM on July 26, 2011


Christ: What an asshole.

Yeah, but the B-L contest is about novels. Christopher Hitchens writes only non-fiction.
 
posted by Herodios at 6:46 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


“Me, I like a girl with a couple extra pounds on her,” said Tom, subtly negging his target.

I don't get it. I know Tom Swifties, and I looked up negging. Is there a pun I'm missing?
posted by CaseyB at 6:55 AM on July 26, 2011


This one took me a second:

Business was kinda slow at the 'If You Build It' sperm bank.
posted by jcreigh at 7:05 AM on July 26, 2011


I don't get it. I know Tom Swifties, and I looked up negging. Is there a pun I'm missing?

I don't know for sure, but I feel like that one is all about not actually being subtle; it's irony.

Note: not being snarky or sarcastic in this response, I'm seriously not sure if that's it or not...
posted by dubitable at 7:36 AM on July 26, 2011


I found a couple hits on the phrase "subtly begging the question". Not enough that I would call it a "common phrase" on that basis.
posted by CaseyB at 7:39 AM on July 26, 2011


'Negging' is a negative comment - a thing that self-proclaimed 'pickup artists' (PUA) use to demean a woman and theoretically, by breaking down her self esteem, making her more amenable to dating said PUA. It's a great way to tell assholes from real people.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 8:33 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I know Tom Swifties, and I looked up negging. Is there a pun I'm missing?

I don't think so. I think it's just the crassness and the odd combination of "subtly negging". Here, have a few Tom Swifties instead:

"It keeps my hair in place," said Alice with abandon.
“I manufacture table tops,” said Tom counterproductively.
"I have no soul," Tom said gingerly.
posted by martinrebas at 8:35 AM on July 26, 2011


I would be remiss in my duties if I did not take a moment to remember our late master of Tom Swifties, the incomparable Brad Graham.
posted by norm at 8:41 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, there would be words!
posted by mrgrimm at 8:56 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I have no soul," Tom said gingerly.

I don't get this one.
posted by sweetkid at 8:58 AM on July 26, 2011


For straight up laffs, I liked this one:

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.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:01 AM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't get this one.

It's a reference to a South Park-based meme. Knowyourmeme explains further.
posted by martinrebas at 9:12 AM on July 26, 2011


None of these tyros has the master himself beat:

" Pish, you fool!" cried the woman, interrupting him, peevishly: "Vy, it is no use desaving of me. You knows you has only stepped from my boosing ken to another, and you has not been arter the book at all. So, there's the poor cretur a-raving and a-dying, and you -- "

" Let I speak!" interrupted Dummie in his turn. " I tells you, I vent first to Mother Bussblone's, who, I knows, chops the whiners morning and evening to the young ladies, and I axes there for a bible, and she says, says she, 'I 'as only a "Companion to the Haltar!" but you'll get a bible, I thinks, at Master Talkins, -- the cobbler -- as preaches.' So I goes to Master Talkins, and he says, says he, 'I 'as no call for the bible, 'cause vy, I 'as a call vithout; but mayhap you 'll be a-getting it at the butcher's hover the vay -- 'cause vy? -- the butcher 'll be damned!' So I goes hover the vay, and the butcher says, says he, 'I 'as not a bible; but I 'as a book of plays bound for all the vorld just like 'un, and mayhap the poor cretur may n't see the difference,' So I takes the plays, Mrs. Margery, and here they be surel
y! -- And how 's poor Judy ?"
posted by blucevalo at 9:17 AM on July 26, 2011


"I don't even have a TV", Tom said immediately.

"The death drive is only a mask of the Symbolic order", Tom said laconically.

"This enchanted water has given us all amazing powers!", Tom observed superfluously.
posted by kenko at 9:28 AM on July 26, 2011


Huh. I'd read some of these books assuming they were comedies.

This one has promise:

"Detective Kodiak plucked a single hair from the bearskin rug and at once understood the grisly nature of the crime: it had been a ferocious act, a real honey, the sort of thing that could polarize a community, so he padded quietly out the back to avoid a cub reporter waiting in the den. "
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 9:32 AM on July 26, 2011


"Mightn't you have left it in that sheaf of papers?" Tom inquired.

"I wonder why no one's ever written an ode on the salmon", Tom said oafishly.

"Your rooster stew was delicious", Tom said coquettishly.

"Not even an extra-large bouquet was able to win back her affections", Tom said morosely.
posted by kenko at 9:35 AM on July 26, 2011


Slightly off-topic, but this put me in mind of great first lines from songs -- and Dead Cat Bounce nailing it.
posted by sleepcrime at 10:34 AM on July 26, 2011


Ian Banks' "The Crow Road" had me at "It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach's Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach."

Great Book.
posted by Sk4n at 12:16 PM on July 26, 2011


"I have no soul," Tom said gingerly.

Soul → sole.
posted by khedron at 12:43 PM on July 26, 2011


Wow. This is actually kinda one of the twists in a fantasy novel I read once.

WAS IT TWILIGHT?!? IT WAS TWILIGHT, WASN'T IT??!??


Nope. Fantasy novel by an author mostly known for hard sci-fi. Don't want to give it a way, but it was pretty satisfying.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:12 PM on July 26, 2011


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