He was drawn to her like a yellow cat to navy blue pants
August 29, 2015 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Dr. Joel Phillips, of West Trenton, NJ, is the 33rd grand-prize winner of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which challenges writers to concoct the worst opening sentence of a hypothetical novel. (Or, to look at it another way, the best sentence in the genre of "bad opening sentences.") The full list of winners, runners-up, and dishonorable mentions.

The winning entry:
Seeing how the victim's body, or what remained of it, was wedged between the grill of the Peterbilt 389 and the bumper of the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT, officer "Dirk" Dirksen wondered why reporters always used the phrase "sandwiched" to describe such a scene since there was nothing appetizing about it, but still, he thought, they might have a point because some of this would probably end up on the front of his shirt.
The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest previously on Metafilter: 2014, 2011, 2010, 2008, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001.

Also previously, the shorter competition, the Lyttle Lyttons: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2009, 2004.
posted by Shmuel510 (30 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
The winner for Adventure is fantastic.

After weeks at sea, Captain Fetherstonhaugh and his hardy crew had at last crossed the halfway point, and he mused that the closest dry land now lay in the Americas, assuming of course that it was not raining there. — David Laatsch, Baton Rouge, LA
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:42 AM on August 29, 2015 [8 favorites]

This is my favorite bunch of winners in several years. Most years seem to rely too much on ridiculous similes drawn out beyond comprehension, but these are fairly convincing and I can imagine coming across most of them in an actual terrible book.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:48 AM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

+1 for Morris.
posted by ethansr at 11:53 AM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I kinda like the incongruity of a gloved hand making a fuzzy fist. That imagery deserves a better sentence to live in.
posted by traveler_ at 11:59 AM on August 29, 2015

If it takes this much skill to write liek a idiot and be awarded for it, then why not be an idiot in the first place?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:08 PM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Waaaaay ahead of you!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:13 PM on August 29, 2015 [10 favorites]

Problem for me is that they tend to wink at the audience. I prefer those where, absent the jokey venue, the reader can't be 100% sure....
posted by BWA at 12:15 PM on August 29, 2015 [6 favorites]

It is far harder to write a good bad sentence than many think.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:25 PM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I love these so much. There are so many great ones.
posted by neuromodulator at 12:37 PM on August 29, 2015

Nothing will ever top: "No matter how hard life got, Zade thought, ska would always be there." from the lyttle lytons for me.

Honestly I think the lyttles are a more entertain format.
posted by Ferreous at 12:43 PM on August 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

Surely it must be fair game to point out how poorly written the contest page is.

Winner blurb contains the parallel structures "lives with his wife and child" and "gardens with gusto" adjacently in the same sentence. It also uses "purposefully" to mean "purposely". Elsewhere it is claimed that Bulwer-Lytton write The Last Day's of Pompeii [sic] and the sentence which precedes that is a confusing hash which looks like the result of successive thoughtless Wikipedia edits.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:59 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

No, nothing will ever top this:

"Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery."

"Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own."

"Geologist Charles Brophy had endured the savage splendor of this terrain for years, and yet nothing could prepare him for a fate as barbarous and unnatural as the one about to befall him."

Renowned warehouse employee Dumsnill found the savage splendor of these examples yonder.
posted by Dumsnill at 1:00 PM on August 29, 2015 [14 favorites]

Oh, and the last sentence about contributor countries presumes on reader assumptions not in evidence, and is not clear about what category it means by "such countries as". Countries with, um, populations? Names? Governments?
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:01 PM on August 29, 2015

Much high-quality whimsy here, mostly in small serendipitous discoveries uncovered from within the large bundles of wordage that was sometimes-purple-sometimes-blood-red-but-most-usually-bluish-not-in-an-erotic-way-more-like-post-asphyxiation*.

But humorously seriously, many gems worth extracting, from "leaving his legs since they were actually rather flattering"
to "Timmy the Tapeworm"
to "famous elves Oberon, Titania, Galadriel, Elrond, Tinkerbell, the Munchkin lollipop dude, and that thing on the airplane wing in “Twilight Zone.”**"
to "ring-giver, dragon-slayer, M.D., DDS."
to "that idiot Private Doodle who kept putting feathers in his cap and calling it macaroni"
to "typed like a ninja with no arms"
to "more daddy issues than Boy’s Life magazine published in the late 1970s"
to “nothing dentured, nothing veined”
to "a pastrami sandwich on rye with heartbreak, onions, and ennui on it, wrapped to go in the soul of a sheep... Another number six!"
to "toy with the coy goy boy hoi polloi."

*I think I'll save that for an entry next year
**none of whom I think would appreciate being categorized as elves
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:08 PM on August 29, 2015

Dumsnill, I was just wondering if people ever submit Dan Brown sentences to this contest.
posted by adamrice at 1:44 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the Ozymandius one, in particular,bis a steller opening line to something I'd want to read.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:51 PM on August 29, 2015

bis,t es doch?
posted by Dumsnill at 1:53 PM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

This could be the opening of an actual Matthew Scudder mystery: "John thought of Kate and smiled--with any luck the tide would carry her body out to deeper water by nightfall."
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:53 PM on August 29, 2015

I am very pleased that I snagged my second Dishonorable Mention this year. One of these years I aim to capture a category at the least.

I attempted to write my old high school English teacher to thank him for all his lessons that I ignored, but his inbox was full.
posted by delfin at 2:51 PM on August 29, 2015 [13 favorites]

I saw this sentence from a (genuine) bad novel 25 years ago in National Lampoon's Lines From The Slushpile* and it's stayed with me ever since:

"Well," she said suavely, "Voila for now."

* "Excerpts from unsolicited manuscripts sent to a prominent editor of serious fiction who wishes, understandably, to remain anonymous."
posted by Paul Slade at 2:57 PM on August 29, 2015 [11 favorites]

There was nothing that made the years seem to go by so fast, thought "sylvanshine", as the announcement of the annual Bulwer-Lytton winners, except that he had forgotten there was a similar contest announced on a different schedule, so he breathed a sigh of relief knowing that he was not so old after all as the nurse turned him over in bed.
posted by sylvanshine at 5:25 PM on August 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

If it takes this much skill to write liek a idiot and be awarded for it, then why not be an idiot in the first place?

Huh, I hadn't thought of that!
posted by carsonb at 5:26 PM on August 29, 2015

She looked like a great pizza, you know the kind that relies more on the quality of the sauce than the amount of cheese, standing there powdering her nose, which was a bit large for her face, reminding him of a slice of pizza whose point curled up after a night in the refrigerator. — Howard Vogl, San Luis Obispo, CA
It's official, I am not the funniest guy in San Luis Obispo... and there are Dishonoables in three L.A. suburbs I used to live in so I lose any claim to those places...

If they wanted to, these honorees could fill next year's Puppies slate at the Hugos and be more readable than what was on this year's slate.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:37 PM on August 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm with BWA. Far awfuller than these attempts at awfulness are sentences actually intended to be taken as serious prose.

If they changed the rules so that submissions had to be from genuinely awful fiction that didn't intend to be awful: what glory! (And yes, if we weren't quite sure, that would be the ne plus ultra ... )
posted by oheso at 8:08 PM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

The Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award is focused more narrowly, but does scratch that particular itch. (Previously on MetaFilter)
posted by Shmuel510 at 8:38 PM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

(Also, the Lyttle Lyttons [links at the top] have such a category.)
posted by Shmuel510 at 8:40 PM on August 29, 2015

She looked like a great pizza

I think it's still prize-worthy when it's trimmed down to the first clause.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:17 PM on August 29, 2015

Yeah, and horrible prose written with sincerity is much funnier than imitations, much as "It Came from Outer Space" > "Sharknado".
posted by krinklyfig at 9:20 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

"He was a dark and stormy knight."
posted by Pyrogenesis at 11:11 PM on August 29, 2015

no, HERE is the Dark and Stormy Knight.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:36 PM on August 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

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