Tuesday, June 30, 2009

'It Was a Dark and Stormy ...'

Snoopy is not the only imitator of Paul Clifford, the novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton with the much-mocked opening sentence that begins, "It was a dark and stormy night..."

For 27 years, San Jose State University in California has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which aims to inspire bad writing (in the form of opening sentences) from contestants who enter from around the globe.

This year's winner is David McKenzie of Washington state. UPI notes his winning sentence:

"Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the Ellie May, a sturdy whaler captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests."
The San Jose Mercury News explains:
"The judges liked his sentence because of the way it pulls the rug from under the reader. You compose yourself to hear about another wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, then find that it's just about some drunks having a screaming contest," said Scott Rice, who began the contest 26 years ago.
For the record, the sentence that began it all reads like this:
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.
Those who like this sort of thing (and I am one of them) can entertain themselves with several volumes of bad writing compiled by Scott Rice, including the original It Was a Dark and Stormy Night and its sequels, including Bride of Dark and Stormy: Yet More of the Best (?) From the Bulwer-Lytton Contest and Dark and Stormy Rides Again.

UPDATE: NPR interviews winner David McKenzie about his 87-word sentence on "All Things Considered."

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From someone who had the dubious honor of being published in the second Bulwer-Lytton anthology, "Bride Of a Dark and Stormy," I'm glad you enjoy the contest as much as I do.

Thank you, sir!

~ Intentionally Anonymous
(as Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton should have been)