Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest
August 14, 2008 6:30 AM   Subscribe

A grotesque comparison of a steamy love affair to a New York City street has won a Washington man this year's grand prize in an annual contest of bad writing.
posted by rtboo (34 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Using a simile in a Bulwer-Lytton entry is getting to be the unfunny bad writing of funny bad writing.
posted by DU at 6:39 AM on August 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


Full list of winners, runners up, and honorable mentions here. My favorite, Runner Up, Adventure category:

"Die, commie pigs!" grunted Sergeant "Rocky" Steele through his cigar stub as he machine-gunned the North Korean farm animals.

Dave Ranson
Calgary, Alberta

posted by Daddy-O at 6:45 AM on August 14, 2008 [10 favorites]


Silly CNN apparently can't be bothered to even say who runs the contest (the English department of San Jose State University) or link to the contest's website, which contains the contest results. Poster may wish to do more research next time, and provide better tags.
posted by ardgedee at 6:51 AM on August 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


I prefer the Lyttle Lytton contest.

I submitted one for the 2008 contest that didn't make the cut, but my entry at least made it into the non-winners section. Although it is somewhat disheartening to see myself on a list of people who have failed at producing bad writing.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:55 AM on August 14, 2008 [5 favorites]


"Like a mechanic who forgets to wipe his hands on a shop rag and then goes home, hugs his wife, and gets a grease stain on her favorite sweater -- love touches you, and marks you forever."
This is just brilliantly bad.
posted by flippant at 7:02 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


She had the kind of body that made a man want to have sex with her.

Awesome.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:04 AM on August 14, 2008 [9 favorites]


My favorite, from Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mentions:

The penguin stood on the iceberg, cutting a striking black-on-white profile, much like the silhouette produced by a person standing behind a screen in front of a bright light while holding up a Twinkie to represent the penguin and placing it atop a Yorkshire terrier to represent the iceberg.

Sarah Totton
Owen Sound, Ontario

posted by tomcooke at 7:12 AM on August 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


It-was-a-dark-and-stormy-night-filter
posted by edgeways at 7:22 AM on August 14, 2008


My favorite (Winner: Romance*):

Bill swore the affair had ended, but Louise knew he was lying, after discovering Tupperware containers under the seat of his car, which were not the off-brand containers that she bought to save money, but authentic, burpable, lidded Tupperware; and she knew he would see that woman again, because unlike the flimsy, fake containers that should always be recycled responsibly, real Tupperware must be returned to its rightful owner.

*This entry would also win the Most Likely to be Read Aloud by Garrison Keillor on an Episode of Prairie Home Companion category, if there were such a category.
posted by notyou at 7:22 AM on August 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


Oh, contributed by:

Jeanne Villa
Novato, CA


Sorry about that, Jeanne.
posted by notyou at 7:23 AM on August 14, 2008


She had the kind of body that made a man want to have sex with her.

This is my pick. Awkward similes are too easy to produce. True bad writing is in the inability to construct even a simple sentence.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:27 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


It used to be that Bulwer-Lytton winners were culled from actual texts, but now people write them specifically for the contest, in order to win. They aren't naive pieces of writing; they're self-aware of their "badness", and it's difficult to get that sort "bad" writing just right. That makes winning entries, ironically enough, good writing! I actually like most of them a lot.

What's interesting is that most of them consistently use a particular trope: pataphor. The winner, as well as the commie pigs, penguin, and tupperware ones mentioned in this thread, all arguably employ pataphor. Pataphor is a completely awesome trope that unfortuantely is almost impossible to find a use for. It's funny that I've only really seen it used in "bad writing" competitions.
posted by painquale at 7:29 AM on August 14, 2008 [5 favorites]


I remember when Dave Barry ran a bad poetry contest in the Miami Herald– the winning entry was:

Lather.
Rinse.
Repeat.
posted by Mister_A at 7:35 AM on August 14, 2008


Thanks burnmp3s -- that Lyttle Lytton contest page is pure gold.

The top three from 2008:
  1. "Because they had not repented, the angel stabbed the unrepentant couple thirteen times, with its sword."
  2. Sophi broke down in tears, like a diesel car that had run out of petrol.
  3. Her face, though scalded, was as lily-white as I could ever want as we jovially kissed.
posted by Sar HaPanim at 7:36 AM on August 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


I get not so much Garrison Keillor from the Tupperware one, but lots and lots and lots of Ayn Rand.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:38 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've never heard of pataphor before painquale shared it with us here, and so didn't pick up on that trope's not infrequent use among the contest entries, but I did notice there was no lack of litotes.
posted by notyou at 8:04 AM on August 14, 2008


The contest would be much more interesting if the entries were limited to real novels (and maybe novellas and short stories, but probably each in their own class).

Making up intentionally bad prose just seems weak and uninspired. It's the wrong kind of tries-too-hard; not the unintentional, funny kind.
posted by Eideteker at 8:12 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


She had the kind of body that made a man want to have sex with her.

Coincidentally, I saw this very girl at the grocery store yesterday.
posted by Daddy-O at 8:17 AM on August 14, 2008


Twenty years later, I still treasure my inclusion in the "Bride of Dark and Stormy" collection. Hell, I even noted it on some resumes. I expect the "dishonorable mention" phrase went right under the radar.

Then again, I wasn't hired ....
posted by bigskyguy at 8:18 AM on August 14, 2008


I love reading these, but I suspect that the authors are the sorts of people who go to IHOP and ask the waitress how the pancakes are selling.
posted by device55 at 8:41 AM on August 14, 2008


To which the correct response is, "They're selling like custom-made wooden pens on the internet."
posted by Wolfdog at 9:13 AM on August 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


I get not so much Garrison Keillor from the Tupperware one, but lots and lots and lots of Ayn Rand.

Oh look, it's the gratuitous Ayn Rand shot.

(kidding!)
posted by inigo2 at 9:23 AM on August 14, 2008


Silly CNN apparently can't be bothered to even say who runs the contest (the English department of San Jose State University) or link to the contest's website, which contains the contest results. Poster may wish to do more research next time, and provide better tags.

They also get the basic info wrong -- "The contest is named after Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel "Paul Clifford" famously begins "It was a dark and stormy night.""

Close, but no. The point of all this is that the first sentence is actually: "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."
posted by inigo2 at 9:25 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


The complete text of Snoopy's novel: "It was a dark and stormy night..."
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:02 AM on August 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


"Like a mechanic who forgets to wipe his hands on a shop rag and then goes home, hugs his wife, and gets a grease stain on her favorite sweater -- love touches you, and marks you forever."

This is just brilliantly bad.


Agreed. But did you notice the author's name and location?

-- Beth Fand Incollingo, Haddon Heights, New Jersey


Proving, perhaps, that even in satirizing inept prose, it helps to "write what you know."
posted by eric1halfb at 10:18 AM on August 14, 2008


Eideteker: Agreed. Deliberately bad prose is not nearly as interesting as something like this.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:09 AM on August 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


I was a bit disapointed that these don't seem to be from actual stories - or are they? I think the contest would be more fun if they looked for submissions of truly awful, yet actually published, prose.
posted by jb at 11:29 AM on August 14, 2008


My wife just called me all excited about this; she went to grad school in Columbia, SC, with the winner. Even back then he talked about someday winning the contest. She said the sentence he submitted was very much his style.
posted by TedW at 12:17 PM on August 14, 2008


painquayle:Pataphor is a completely awesome trope that unfortuantely is almost impossible to find a use for. It's funny that I've only really seen it used in "bad writing" competitions.

Don't forget later Blackadder episodes.
posted by JHarris at 2:04 PM on August 14, 2008


... the sorts of people who go to IHOP and ask the waitress how the pancakes are selling.
===
To which the correct response is, "They're selling like custom-made wooden pens on the internet."


"Excuse me, waitress; will the pancakes be long?"
"No, sir - round, as usual."
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:33 PM on August 14, 2008


I prefer the Lyttle Lytton contest.

Same here. I got one in 2006 but it's really, really lame, like so bad it's just plain bad, but still!
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:52 PM on August 14, 2008


...submissions of truly awful, yet actually published, prose.

Martin Amis seems to average a book a year. Can we say "monopoly", kids?
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:53 PM on August 14, 2008


Oh man, Brocktoon, that is some priceless fanfiction.
posted by painquale at 3:56 PM on August 14, 2008


"She had the kind of body that made a man want to have sex with her"

This is my pick. Awkward similes are too easy to produce. True bad writing is in the inability to construct even a simple sentence.


I'm not sure that's quite what's going on there. The sentence itself is grammatically fine. Where it falls over is that instead of some kind of meaningful imagery or metaphor that lets you construct for yourself how & why men would want to have sex with her, it short-circuits the whole thing by cutting straight to the conclusion, leaving a frustrating vacuum of tangible information.

I can't help contrasting it with Nick Cave's

Well midnight came and the clock did strike
And in she came, did John Finn's wife,
With legs like scissors & butchers' knives,
Tattooed breasts & flamin' eyes,
And a crimson carnation in her teeth.
Carvin' her way through the dancefloor...

posted by UbuRoivas at 4:56 PM on August 14, 2008


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