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Bad Writing Is #1 -- It was a dark and stormy night

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A note from the author

Hubpages has sent me a note to let me know portions of this hub appear in other sites. Well, it is difficult to share the results of a world-renowned writing contest with you folks here, without quoting that content.

This hub is not claimed as original material, but rather as sharing of something I find humorous. Therefore, I accept the resultant low score as part of the price of sharing a good laugh.


The best of bad writing


My sister, who teaches English at a university in Istanbul and is a talented wielder of words herself, sent me a copy of this year's winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, (aka "It was a dark and stormy night" contest. What better way to introduce my new series “Bad Writing is …” than with the best examples of terrible writing from the best minds of society.

“Okay, but what is the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest,” you ask, plaintively with a snort of derision.

The competition is named after Victorian writer Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, and celebrates the opening line to his novel, Paul Clifford, a line now synonymous with over-written, poorly structured and overly dramatic dire beginnings. Snoopy, of Peanuts fame, began all his novels with the truncated first seven words. Here is the entire opening:

"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)

History of the BLFC

Since 1982, the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the worst possible opening sentence to a really bad novel. The contest originated in the mind of Professor Scott Rice, whose graduate school research excavations unearthed the source of the line "It was a dark and stormy night."

Entries are restricted to one line only. Why? Because Professor Rice, the founder of the competition wanted to ensure all entries would be blissfully short.

Since its humble and local birth 28 years ago, the contest has gained fame and renown, now drawing entries bearing postmarks from every corner of the world.

This year’s top ten entries in reverse order

10. " As a scientist, Throckmorton knew that if he were ever to break wind in the echo chamber, he would never hear the end of it"

9. "Just beyond the Narrows, the river widens."

8. " With a curvaceous figure that Venus would have envied, a tanned unblemished oval face framed with lustrous thick brown hair, deep azure-blue eyes fringed with long black lashes, perfect teeth that vied for competition, and a small straight nose, Marilee had a beauty that defied description."

7. " Andre, a simple peasant, had only one thing on his mind as he crept along the East wall: "Andre creep... Andre creep...Andre creep."

6. " Stanislaus Smedley, a man always on the cutting edge of narcissism, was about to give his body and soul to a back alley sex-change surgeon to become the woman he loved."

5. " Although Sarah had an abnormal fear of mice, it did not keep her from eking out a living at a local pet store."

4. "Stanley looked quite bored and somewhat detached, but then penguins often do."

3. "Like an over-ripe beefsteak tomato rimmed with cottage cheese, the corpulent remains of Santa Claus lay dead on the hotel floor."

2. " Mike Hardware was the kind of private eye who didn't know the meaning of the word "fear"'; a man who could laugh in the face of danger and spit in the eye of death -- in short, a moron with suicidal tendencies."


1. " The sun oozed over the horizon, shoved aside darkness, crept along the greensward, and, with sickly fingers, pushed through the castle window, revealing the pillaged princess, hand at throat, crown asunder, gaping in frenzied horror at the sated, sodden amphibian lying beside her, disbelieving the magnitude of the frog's deception, screaming madly, "You lied!"

Certainly this entry well deserves the honor. It is so bad, it's brilliant.  Aside from the punchline, this entry incorporates every possible vice of bad writing -- abused verbs (the sun oozed), dreadful metaphors (with sickly fingers,) a plethora of adjectives and so on and so forth. Honor given where honor due.

“More,” you cry. “Please madam, may I have more.”

I enjoyed these so much I jumped into research mode and went searching for notable entries of previous years. Here for the purposes of a good giggle, or a slight smile from those whose natures are opposed to direct display of emotion, or perhaps only for a small respite from the ennui associated with most of our dull, boring and pointless existences, and as we are in need for such reprieves from the daily grind, and following the maxim which dictates, ‘laughter is the best medicine” … Sorry, I am writing under the influence of these profound examples.

In short: here are some more:

"After the erstwhile sturdy-looking embankment collapsed asunder beneath our soles, precipitously propelling the dapper police inspector LeFarge and my equally impeccably dressed self into the turbulent maelstrom that the until recently placid stream had been miraculously transformed into by Tuesday's incredible vespertine deluge, I swore as I was dragged beneath the waters that if providence would only see fit to deliver me from this deadly effluvient, I would never again write a sesquipedalian, badly written detective novel."

"The years had not been kind to Harry; we must all grow older, but the ceaseless tread of time's golf shoes had treated him like an unreplaced and unwanted divot in the game of life," I reflected upon seeing my old school chum, Harry Bender, now a shrunken head in an otherwise unremarkable display of roadside oddities and tourist attractions much like any of the dozens of other such stands that, along with poorly constructed shanties that advertized "fresh watermelon, 4 cents per pound" and adult bookstores, usually sporting names like "Ma and Pa's Whip and Chain Heaven," dotted the otherwise unremarkable landscape along Highway One."

"Genevieve shouldered the small bundle which contained all that she owned and walked nervously but purposefully away from a life that had, at first, seemed too good to be true: it had been more than she could ever have hoped for that the ruggedly handsome Count Baden-Falkenhausenmann would have asked for her--his maid and nanny to his four children born to him by his beloved wife Griselda who had died years ago under mysterious circumstances involving a runaway horse and a ladle--hand in marriage, but she knew that, though she had long loved him from afar, allowed her maidenly eyes to linger on his dark, brooding countenance and the chiseled scar that seemed only to lend excitement and mystery to an already compelling visage, she could never marry him for her honor would never allow her to accede to his exotic sexual demands--no, no matter how she much she longed for him, she simply wouldn't go down for the Count."

"Why I had accepted my frat brothers' dare to sign up with an inter-species computer dating service I'd never understand--oh, I know as well as anybody that the descendants of the plethora of ambitious genetic experiments of the past century were as intelligent as anybody else and sometimes surprisingly compatible with humans, but I had never imagined actually dating one of them--or how I came to be matched to something (I hesitate to call her a girl) whose grandfather had been an insect in a particularly zealous experimenter's garden, but after downing all but the cork of a rather large bottle of distilled spirits I hardly noticed the huge segmented eyes and extra legs and, somehow, we ended up in bed together that night; and, as she wrapped her powerful anterior arms around me and drew me to her chitinous green torso, one thought only kept racing through what little consciousness was left to me--what was it that my freshman biology teacher had said about the mating habits of praying mantises?"

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" " gasped the mime as I emptied the clip of .38 shells into his black-clad chest.

"I hate it when that happens!" Famed genetic researcher Doctor Ivan Von Bloom said as he sneezed into the pipette that he filling with a sample of his latest batch of genetically altered botulism bacteria, spattering bacilli on his trousers and starting the plague that was to kill off three-fourths of the population of London. "I hate it when that happens!" Famed genetic researcher Doctor Ivan Von Bloom said as he sneezed into the pipette that he filling with a sample of his latest batch of genetically altered botulism bacteria, spattering bacilli on his trousers and starting the plague that was to kill off three-fourths of the population of London."

"It was the winter of my heart's desire, the spring of my autumnal fancy, the summer of my discontent; all in all, I think it was Monday."

"Somewhere in this cemetery, the vampyre lies hidden," the grave-looking man with the stake said cryptically.

"Like a blue-painted Dalmatian being dragged through a grommet by a length of rough packing twine, the sickly grey moon rose above the horizon, thought better of it, and sunk below again as the direction of the earth's rotation mysteriously reversed."

"I knew I should have brought the stool along!" said Anna Von Helsing, the last (and shortest) of that famous line of vampire-killers, "I'll never be able to kill the vampire before sundown--the stakes are just too high!"

"These are the tines that pry men's soles," Jerome the shoemaker remarked philosophically, using the tarnished shrimp fork to separate the top from the bottom of the well-used brown brogan.

"Jeffery Tate's apartment reeked of seduction, from the calculatedly uncomfortable chairs which would practically force a female guest to share his overstuffed and undersized couch to the prominent and well-stocked bar to the full-ceiling mirror over the bed with the little white letters that said, "OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE LARGER THAN THEY APPEAR."

What can one say to these shining examples of the worst crimes in writing? Bravo! The true skills of these writers shines through, even in these abominations, requiring, I suspect, even greater wielding of talent than their opposites -- good writing.

I'm off to try my own hand at this. Looks like fun, don't you think?

“I dare you,” I said, wiping the tears of laughter from my cheeks

Okay hubbers – I dare you to write your own worst possible example of writing and post it in the comment section. ANY COMMENT THAT IS NOT TERRIBLY WRITTEN WILL BE DENIED.

Comments must be good examples of bad writing -- or else they will be destined for the oblivion of refuse.

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on August 08, 2013:

Good effort, but it was supposed to be only one sentence. Try again? Lynda

lara on July 27, 2013:

The songs of undaunted crimson rippled into the cheeks of dusk, as the rose distilled tongue of eventide hijacked the lavish afternoon. Flecked clouds lazily drooled towards the terracotta lands, lying akimbo to the sun whilst the torso of day submerged sleepily. Amidst the spring vegetation, the crisp note of a fairy wren trilled in the quiet air.

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on August 27, 2012:

Good (err, I mean BAD) effort, Girl88. Perhaps it's getting to be time to have another HubPages Dark and Stormy Night contest.

girl on August 27, 2012:

She , who was as wild as a wet paper towel, ticklish as tombstone, crazy as a cotton ball, loud as a lamp shade, wiggly as a wasp, laid still in the laundry room.

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on November 01, 2011:

Yes -- It's a wonderful contest. Did you check out our Hubpages very own Dark and Stormy Night Contest, right here on my pages? Was quite a success! Worth looking at. Thanks for commenting. Lynda

Lori Colbo from United States on November 01, 2011:

What a great hub. I will surely follow this award every year.

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on August 24, 2010:

Thanks for your contribution Nolan. Too bad you missed the hubpages dark and stormy night contest. Next year. Lynda

Nolan on August 24, 2010:

I rather liked:

"It was the winter of my heart's desire, the spring of my autumnal fancy, the summer of my discontent; all in all, I think it was Monday."


It's needs to be a flatter joke, one where the reader just says. 'seriously..' and puts down the book.

Their space vessel was packed with many common earthly foods, and 6 special eggs -- which would each be introduced to different galaxies they were scheduled to visit -- so the bizarro platos and aristotles might know the answer to the chicken-egg debate.

Wordworker on June 01, 2010:

With bated breath, I, if one, was taken, almost by the throat, to the point of breathless wordlessness as the reading of these benign but burdensome offerings ensued.  How one longs to be counted amongst the many more capable of such inspiring consumptive. "Oh," I gasped, "to be ... a writer, to dream ... that's the thing, before one is rubbed out of the ever-turning pages of his story!"

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on June 01, 2010:

Hey KJ Page and kimh039 -- are you sure your efforts don't belong on the contest hub, not this one?

Great comments -- but they look suspiciously like entries to me. If so -- wrong hub.

Kim Harris on May 31, 2010:

I gets done with some a my worst writin' when night time comes 'bout, reckonin' that's 'cause my tiny brain is as wore out as my agin' back side up 'gainst the cruel, cruel, wretched hands a time.

K J Page from Pacific Northwest on May 21, 2010:

The insidious words so lavishly displayed upon the surface of the writing medium leapt from the page with profound ingenuity in their simplicity, displaying august depth in robust rigidity for a time long past its due, imparting both wisdom and humor in layered tiers that could only be described as all inclusive in creativity and genius for reaching out to all those who would lower and endeavor to drink in that which has so little taste in illustrative literature at every level.