Friday, 12 October 2007

It was a Dark and Stormy Night

I've got a real backlog of things I want to discuss, but it's been a mad week. And I've decided to shelve those other worthy topics I had lined up - I think that, as we slide into autumn, relentlessly to be followed by my least favourite season, we should have some fun. You may have heard of the Victorian novelist Lord Bulwer-Lytton, who has gone down in history for writing what has been called the worst opeing line ever (you may argue he's up against some pretty stiff competition) in a novel called Paul Clifford. It starts 'It was a dark and stormy night ..' and it goes on. And on. And on. With non sequiturs, pomposity, padding and irrelevancy and too much exposition: the flaws we in the creative writing trade advise our students to avoid at all costs. So famous is this opening line that an annual competition for the Bulwer-Lytton Prize has been going on for more than a couple of decades, run by the University of San Jose. As you would expect, entrants have to compose awful opening sentences and the contest is so popular there are various genre categories such as Westerns, Romance and Science Fiction (is that a line of sitting ducks I see before me?) I keep a choice selection at hand for illustrative light relief when I'm teaching students the techniques of writing an effective opening.

So I'm delighted to see that Scott Pack of The Friday Project (see link to his blog Me and My Big Mouth opposite) is going to publish a gift book of the best winners over the past twenty years, entitled, unsurprisingly, It was a Dark and Stormy Night - he gives some examples on his blog post of October 8 and hopes the book will do well in the Christmas book market (why wouldn't it?) - amazingly, though, it seems that of the big chains, Borders is interested, Waterstones and W.H. Smith not. Probably because it doesn't have the word 'Shit' on the cover.

So put the book on your Christmas list or buy it for your (writing?) friends. You can also check out the contest website, (, especially if you want to enter!

In the meantime, for your delectation on a dismal autumnal day, here's a small selection (it would be a very big selection if I let it). If you're a would-be writer, be afraid - be very afraid. Even if you don't open your stories like this at present, you may become addicted to the delights of bathetic, parodic no-holds-barred verbifaction ...

Through the gathering gloom of a late-October afternoon, along the greasy, cracked paving-stones slick from the sputum of the sky, Stanley Ruddlethorp wearily trudged up the hill from the cemetery where his wife, sister, brother, and three children were all buried, and forced open the door of his decaying house, blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that was soon to devastate his life.

Sex with Rachel after she turned fifty was like driving the last-place team on the last day of the Iditarod Dog Sled Race, the point no longer the ride but the finish, the difficulty not the speed but keeping all the parts moving in the right direction, not to mention all that irritating barking.

Butch glared balefully across the saloon at Tex, who had been stone dead since the scorpion he had unwittingly sat on had bitten him on the butt some half an hour or so ago, little suspecting that this was going to be his toughest staring contest since the one against old Glass-eyed Juan, during the great sand-storm of '42, at the height of the Arizona conjunctivitis epidemic.

And (resisting the urge to post loads more of the things), here's my favourite, highly relevant to a literary blog:

"I know what you're thinking, punk," hissed Wordy Harry to his new editor, "you're thinking, 'Did he use six superfluous adjectives or only five?' - and to tell the truth, I forgot myself in all this excitement; but being as this is English, the most powerful language in the world, whose subtle nuances will blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel loquacious?' - well do you, punk?"


Muvva said...

Lol, the last three had me in stitches. Thanks for the boost!

Lorna F said...

Thanks for this, Muvva - you don't know how hard it was to select only a few examples!