UPDATE: CONTEST EXTENDED UNTIL MONDAY, JANUARY 25! Great entries, everyone! Keep ’em coming. And I will reveal that the Grand Prize is… the new Kate DiCamillo ARC!!!
By the time you read this post, the ALA Youth Media Awards will have been announced. (In fact, why are you reading this at all? You should be out celebrating the winners, buying books that slipped under your radar, and ranting on Twitter about favorites that weren’t recognized. Still, we are so glad you’re here.)
At the time of the *writing* of this post, however, Monday’s winners are wrapped in a gauzy haze of dream and mystery. So allow us to present these awards instead: The fabulous Bulwer-Lytton award for the world’s worst sentence.
I have followed the Bulwer-Lyttons since college. The award was created in 1982 by the English department at San Jose State University and named in honor of a Victorian novelist, Edward Buller-Lytton, who originated the opening line that has been immortalized as a go-to cliche in comics and parodies: “It was a dark and stormy night.” (I can’t even read those words without picturing Snoopy typing on his doghouse.)
The charge isn’t actually to write the world’s worst sentence. It is, in the language of the award’s website, “a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.” It’s an irresistible call to arms.
The 2015 winners were announced in the fall, but they are worth celebrating anew on Awards Monday. I won’t plunder too much from the Bulwer-Lytton website, “where ‘WWW’ means ‘Wretched Writers Welcome,’ ” except to bring you a few choice tidbits that will surely lure you there.
First, the sentence that started it all: Bulwer-Lytton’s own opener to an 1830 novel:
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.” — Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)
The 2015 Grand Prize Winner:
“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.” — Joel Phillips, West Trenton, N.J.
The 2015 Children’s Literature Winner:
“The doctors all agreed the inside of Charlie’s intestinal tract looked like some dark, dank subway system in a decaying inner city, blackened polyps hanging from every corner like tiny ticking terrorist time bombs, waiting to burst forth in cancerous activity; however, to Timmy the Tapeworm this was home.” — E. David Moulton, Summerville, S.C.
One of the 2015 Fantasy Dishonorable Mentions:
“My name is Vangir,” the stout dwarf announced, “son of Valdir, son of Tolfdir, son of Torsion, heir to the dwarf kingdom of Darag-Vur, King of the Under-Folk, ring-giver, dragon-slayer, M.D., DDS.” — Austin Stollhaus, Louisville, KY
2015 Winner, Romance
“Claire had more daddy issues than Boy’s Life magazine published in the late 1970s, but she was a perfect match for Donald, whose personality was vaguely sticky, like the outside of a squeezable honey container or anything handled by a three-year-old.” — James Pokines, Boston, Mass.
2015 Winner, Science Fiction
“The gravitational pull up here on Mars is much less than it is back at home base, of course, so your tongue sticks to the roof of our mouth and everyone sounds like Eleanor Roosevelt.” — John Holmes, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Oh, ShelfTalker readers, I know you have some wonderfully terrible opening lines somewhere inside you. Bring them out!
Winners will be rewarded with ARCs and rare prizes to be determined frantically upon deadline. All entries must be posted in the comments section of this post by Sunday, January 17. Winners will be announced on Monday, January 18.
Categories include worst opening sentences for:
First Book in New Series
Neither Here Nor There
Mishmash of Genres
Share the contest with friends! You, too, can be a winner!
For horror category
Pleasantly plump, the Earl of Hampshire stared at his pudding and moaned aloud, to those who were in hearing range, about the severed finger he found next to the walnuts.
On the morning of my 16th birthday, I woke from a very unique dream.
PICTURE BOOK ENTRY: Everybody knows that puffins want to be like every other puffin on the ice floe–that it’s a sign of honor to be exactly the same as all the other puffins a puffin can see with his puffin eyes–but Peter the Puffin awoke one day to find he was dreadfully different, Peter the Puffin awoke to find that someone had stolen his puffin beak. The scent of fried food wafted over the frozen hills, but of course Peter could not smell it as his puffin nose had disappeared too…
Tha-lump! Tha-lump! Tha-lump! Tha-lump! On a fine clear day a hump of a stump went bump! Then Lump-Tha! Lump-Tha! Lump-Tha! It jiggered and jaggered and swaggered to and fro–OH! NO! Where did it even go? We don’t know so onward with the stump in tow, for all to know, is still.
Picture Book Entry: The mean bus driver cried and cried when she hit the neighbors dog and she seemed less scary when she cried, but the dog is dead.
ROMANCE/MISHMASH: The minute Kacy’s eyes landed on him like a pair of bottleflies to a cow pie, she pegged him for the kind of bad boy her mother had always warned her about—she saw it in his bedroom-lidded eyes, his dangerous Walmart jeans, and the disdainful haircut that simply screamed “Edward Scissorhands.”
FANTASY: Little known amongst the troubled villagers of Wunce-Upon-a-Thyme, a certain glass-half-empty nerd on the edge of town named Clod the Hopper was at that very moment watering the plants in his master’s recreational herb shop, destined to be The One.
YOUNG ADULT: Heart pounding, I stare at the mess that used to be my locker—the lipsticked magnetic mirror, the spilled Skittles, and the books tossed face-down with no regard to their spines—right as Lacey Wunderbar, head cheerleader, struts by with her trio of minions in a sweep of smug, popular-scented air.
Horror/Crime Thriller/MISHMASH: The cat knew by the slam of the car door in the driveway that her carnage would soon be discovered, so, scattering litter gravel from between her toes, she leaped to the window seat in order to lounge far from the incriminating (now empty) package of silently thawing lamb chops that had met their untimely demise just a few minutes prior.
PS, I call the last one, “Silence of the Lamb (Chops).”
Entry for middle grade:
It was 1987, December, and almost time for winter break from school when Skeet first told a girl he liked her, but Rachel hadn’t seemed happy about it as she puked on Skeet’s shoes and farted at the same time.
Also a picture book entry: Jacklyn, age twenty-six, put on her red and white polka dotted string bikini, which left nothing to chance and nothing to the imagination, and headed for the surf on Daytona beach.
Dragon boys and girls; which are just like regular boys and girls with bagel-sized eyeballs and cyan mottled wings of lovely leather chartreuse, poop too.
First Book in New Series:
The orphaned servant girl woke in the dim light of pre-dawn, back aching and fair hair crusted with ashes, but her head full of dreams; had she glimpsed a glimmer of gold in those last seconds of sleep, and why did her mind keep returning to the mysterious prophecy whose lyrical promises of a long-lost princess she had accidentally overheard the night before?
(Author’s note: WHY, INDEED.)
Daryl Doggett didn’t liked to be dared – especially when it was a double-dog dare; you know the kind when some dimwit suggests a daredevil deed that is deliciously demeaning, but even so you can’t deny the desire to do it anyway just to see the deleterious results — so Daryl dumped the decayed remains of his dearly departed daughter down the water slide for one last dunk in the dank pool water.
Entry for YA contemporary:
It was a dreary day, and Brisling’s sleep-numbed brain echoed the dreariness as she peered into her mirror, which—as it had recently developed the habit of doing–instead of showing her the mostly unremarkable face of a sixteen-year-old girl (not too smart and not too dumb and yet capable of texting at least one heart-worthy bullet of snark every couple of hours), today reflected a landscape dominated by four stoplight-red zit mountains, one of which was topped with a yellowing snowcap that Brisling ached to pop, all the while knowing that if she did it would either re-form by the time she got to school, or would continue to ooze and drain all day; dying in a half-hearted way to find out which way it would go, she reached for her weapon of choice, the safety pin lying in the pastel dust of powdered eye shadow and blush at the bottom of her cosmetic organizer.
HORROR: Midge, upon realizing the Jiffy Mart was going to close in five minutes, leaped into her Ford Pinto and screeched down Riviera Drive—only to find when she arrived that Jiffy Mart was ALL OUT OF SNICKERS BARS.
PICTURE BOOK: Peter the Pickle didn’t quite relish the idea of being in the same sandwich as that saucy little twit, Tommy Tomato, much less that crisp-talking Lucy Lettuce and her plump-but-more-harmonious friend, Melody Mayo, but what REALLY got his dill spices tangled in his garlic flavoring was that pompous ham from Oahu, Sammy Spam.
EARLY READER: Typically extremely loquacious by nature, Chauncey discovered to his absolute astonishment and consternation that his canine companion, Morgenstern, had vanished without so much as a trace, which rendered him for the moment profoundly and heartbreakingly silent.
Early reader!!! Dying 😀
The fuzzy socks kept slipping down—making funny, floppy feet—then Jerry the Giraffe pulled them up with his teeth.
Susan placed her feet into her pink piggy slippers, the same ones her mother gave her on her sixteenth birthday some fifteen years past, the same ones that smelled akin to the lovely titan arum and yet still had never seen the inside of a washing machine– yes, into these she slipped her feet, though the slippers could have walked on their own.
MISHMASH of GENRES
Hey, I actually have no idea if we can submit more than one entry; I was just going by the rules on the Bulwer-Lytton site. Pardon me if we were only supposed to submit one!
You are welcome to submit entries for the various genres!
Ah thanks! Good to know. I felt so monopolizing but it was just so fun. lol
And the winner are…?
Hello, folks! The winners will be announced on Monday, Feb. 1!