Opening Gambits
June 18, 2003 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Last night I dreamt it was the best and worst of times again. The cannibal was back in Manderley. The cannibal was me. Submissions for the best beginning to an imaginary novel.
posted by mookieproof (28 comments total)
Nice! I think my favorite is:

I had hated my parents for as long as I could remember, but they had one redeeming feature. They were rich. Last month they developed a second. They were dead. And whichever smartarsed philosopher it was said "money can't buy happiness" was wrong. Dead wrong.
posted by xmutex at 1:30 PM on June 18, 2003

I think I could have won the big prize by ripping off MST3K:

It was a dark and stormy night. I was taking a creative writing class.
posted by robbie01 at 1:38 PM on June 18, 2003

Here's the Bulwer-Lytton page, and here are the previous winners. Great fun.
posted by mikrophon at 1:43 PM on June 18, 2003

You don't have to like my story. You don't have to agree with me or tell me I did the right thing. You don't even have to believe it. You just have to listen.

Actually, I don't have to do that either.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:55 PM on June 18, 2003

The alarm clock meeped, awakening Edgar, who blinked, yawned, stretched, glanced witheringly at the snoring figure of John beside him on the bed, and began licking his anus.

The rest of the quote ruins it.
posted by widdershins at 2:07 PM on June 18, 2003

It started with a kick-about. Seven of us. Two weeks later, it was 20 or 30. Two months later, the youngest had lost his family and we'd lost our opportunities. It's madness. When you put the beginning and the end next to each other and forget everything in-between. It's insanity.

This is gay bar.
posted by the fire you left me at 2:10 PM on June 18, 2003

Last night I dreamt it was the best and worst of times again. The cannibal was back in Manderley. The cannibal was me.

How can you be a runner-up in a "best opening for a novel" contest by sampling an opening from a classic?

My favorite is:

I am the carpet man. I own the carpet shop.
posted by tomorama at 2:39 PM on June 18, 2003

The fun part is grabbing one of those startings and writing a story. We used to do that sort of thing in creative writing and it was pretty wacky to see where people went with their stories, especially those with the same beginning.

Ah, high school...
posted by mckayc at 3:00 PM on June 18, 2003

How can you be a runner-up in a "best opening for a novel" contest by sampling an opening from a classic?

I take it you mean The Smiths' great "Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me", isn't it? Because Dickens ("best, worst" etc) is just slightly above soap operas as far as I'm concerned.

BTW, all entries I read are really bad, second rate literature, overusing the past simple/ past perfect gimmick of implying "hey, I'm gonna tell you a story involving sex and/or violence that happened some time ago: it was a dark, stormy night and Vanessa was feeling..."). Writing a novel has nothing to do with pitching a screenplay, which seemed to be the underlying assumption for most of the submissions.
posted by 111 at 3:01 PM on June 18, 2003

Also note that the Bulwer-Lytton contest has extended its deadline for this year (usually it's April 15th, appropriately) to June 30th. Maybe I'll just submit a few of my MetaFilter posts...
posted by wendell at 3:06 PM on June 18, 2003


"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." is the opening line of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. Classic maybe, but I wouldn't call it high literature. I thought this one was funny.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:16 PM on June 18, 2003

Sometimes, however hard you try, everything seems to go wrong.

My favorite was written by a nine-year-old.
posted by dydecker at 4:21 PM on June 18, 2003

Hey mr.roboto thanks, I didn't know that. So it's Du Maurier and Dickens ("A Tale of Two Cities"). "Rebecca", btw, is considered by some to have been plagiarized from a brazilian novel called "A Sucessora" ("The Successor") by Carolina Nabuco.
posted by 111 at 4:28 PM on June 18, 2003

The Lyttle Lytton. Just like the Lytton contest, but all entries have to be 25 words or less.
posted by donth at 6:30 PM on June 18, 2003

Checked out that Bulwer-Lytton page. I hate just about anyone who takes seriously the notion that there is such a thing as bad art, but trying to make a joke out of it is just pathetic. This article about so-called bad art sickens me.

The hardest part, for me, about standup comedy, is trying to figure out why the audience is laughing. I have come to the conclusion that nine times out of ten, they really don't get the joke -- from any comedian. They're usually laughing at silliness, or uncomfortableness, or just because everybody else is laughing (or maybe because somebody, like the press, already told them the punchline). Comedian walks out on the stage, at a comedy club, people are planning to laugh in the first place.

What I prefer is when the audience doesn't even know it's a comedian, and has no idea that jokes are being told. When someone laughs at that, they understand comedy. They understand this "post-irony" the wet blankets talk about, which I somehow doubt they understand.

There's nothing ironic about elitism.

That, and it really pisses me off to no end when I read some "big time" article about something I did years ago and probably better than the person the article is about. That's not egotism, that's just disillusionment.
posted by son_of_minya at 8:11 PM on June 18, 2003

How about the best ending to an imaginary novel?
And then he died. In the rain. Alone.
posted by islander at 9:23 PM on June 18, 2003

Interesting how many of these went with first person narrations. Creepy how they all sound like Fight Club to me.
posted by skallas at 9:59 PM on June 18, 2003

How about the best ending to an imaginary novel?
And then he died. In the rain. Alone.

...and then he woke up and realized it had all been a dream.
posted by juv3nal at 10:11 PM on June 18, 2003

Actually, that was one of the punchlines to a cycle of "why did the chicken cross the road?" responses - Hemmingway in this instance.
posted by islander at 10:36 PM on June 18, 2003

"Death was driving a dark green Lexus that day."

An opening line that's always stuck with me, from one of the many Dean Koontz novels I've read.
posted by debralee at 4:55 AM on June 19, 2003

This would have been my entry:

Elvis was still alive, on the run from the CIA. It was 1981 and the Cold War was rocking and rolling.
posted by son_of_minya at 5:10 AM on June 19, 2003

One line that got me is from the last book i've read, Vida by Marge Pierce:

"No, thanks". Vida placed her hand over the top of the tulip-shaped wineglass. "No more for me. Thank you"
posted by Sijeka at 6:18 AM on June 19, 2003

I hate just about anyone who takes seriously the notion that there is such a thing as bad art

So, tell us, what's it like hating six billion people?

The "great opening line" thing is, I think, vastly overrated. Some great stories have great opening lines; some don't. Go on, look at the first line of some of the stories you've really enjoyed. I bet most of them are perfectly ordinary declarative sentences.

I first noticed this in fourth grade or thereabouts. I'd just finished reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and thought I'd write a story of my own. Stuck for a good opening line, I looked back to see what O'Brien had used to open his novel, and here it is: "Mrs. Frisby, the head of a family of field mice, lived in an underground house in the vegetable garden of a farmer named Mr. Fitzgibbon." No fireworks there. There's not even any action in that sentence. In fact, taken as a standalone sentence, it's kind of flabby. But it doesn't stop the book from being utterly absorbing (yes, even to an adult).

Every good geek knows the first line of William Gibson's first novel. "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." But -- from memory, now -- what was the opening of his second? His third? If you check, you'll find that neither is nearly as self-consciously poetic. Both are intended to set the story moving in some way, which is what really hooks a reader. And this from a guy who's considered by the SF community to be all about style.

So while there's nothing wrong with a well-turned first line, the rest of the story had better be well-turned too, and if it is, then the first line isn't that important anyway.
posted by kindall at 8:57 AM on June 19, 2003

I hate just about anyone ... sickens me ... it really pisses me off to no end ...

son_of_minya, what happened? You used to be So Happy!
posted by soyjoy at 9:11 AM on June 19, 2003

debralee: That reminds me of the opening of Isaac Asimov's (best known for his science fiction, but he also wrote some mysteries) A Whiff of Death: "Death sits in the chemistry lab and every day a million people sit with him and never notice." Quote from memory, may not be exact.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:28 AM on June 19, 2003

I would agree with son_of_minya in the overall sense that post-ironic attempts are not ironic at all; they're just really boring. Andy Kaufman was not so unfunny he was funny; he was so unfunny he was merely unfunny and dull, that's all. We live nowadays in a world where the famous T. S. Eliot Line ("you must know the rules in order to break them") are abandoned in favor of a heavy-handed cultivation of incompetence for incompetence's sake.
posted by 111 at 12:49 PM on June 19, 2003

kindall, soyjoy:

So, tell us, what's it like hating six billion people?

Not all of them, just the ones that make a really big deal about it; and only while they are actually making a big deal about it. When I was living in the graduate student dorms, I couldn't stand any art major in the place except one -- and that guy happened to be an evangelical Christian. Making self-righteous judgements about art is then worse than making judgements about people, from my POV.

... What happened?

Oddly enough, I made my second comment in this thread right after watching Happy Store.

Would agree with kindall about the in/significance of first lines. First five to ten pages is what's important.


Reminds me of a quote from one of Bill Hicks' friends. Something like, "Every young comedian wants to talk about issues like Bill Hicks, except they forget that you have to be funny first."
posted by son_of_minya at 4:19 PM on June 19, 2003

So, tell us, what's it like hating six billion people?

I'm strangely comfortable with it.
posted by webmutant at 11:42 AM on June 20, 2003

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