You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

It was a dark and stormy night...

The results of the 2009 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for bad writing are, as of today, in. The contest began in 1982 at the San Jose State University English department, as a salute to the the English novelist Sir Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. His 1830 detective novel Paul Clifford began with that famous dark and stormy night, repeated ad nauseum in a million typewritten manuscripts Snoopy wrote while sitting on top of his doghouse, not to mention, a little more competently, by Madeleine L'Engle.

The turgidness of these sentences speak for themselves, but again this year I have been shocked and amused to conclude that some of these supposedly-putrid openings are only a hair's-breadth away from stuff I've read in actual fiction workshops, both undergrad and graduate, by writers attempting to be profound. Here are some of my personal highlights among the many dishonorable mentions. I invite you to read them, as well as my comments below, and takes your choice whether to laugh or cry:

Winner: Purple Prose

The gutters of Manhattan teemed with the brackish slurry indicative of a significant though not incapacitating snowstorm three days prior, making it seem that God had tripped over Hoboken and spilled his smog-flavored slurpie all over the damn place.

Eric Stoveken
Allentown, PA

Indichik says: Recalls a particularly wretched first chapter of a so-called "noir" detective novel turned into my first semester MFA workshop. The very first day. Needless to say, I thought I'd made the biggest mistake of my life.

Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mentions

"They clang to me like horse flies on cow dung," said angry, shivering onion farmer Jesper Lunk, whose clothes had been eaten off him by a plague of locusts except for his boxer shorts, which were a comfortable cool blend of rayon and nylon in a floral pattern with a three-button fly and a snug elastic waistband.

James Macdonald
Vancouver, B.C.

Indichik says: So incredibly stupid. Yet hilarious.

I awoke in my sleeper on the way from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, my nightmare riven by a train of thought that abruptly stopped me in my tracks with cataclysmic, explosive, and yet equal and opposing force, like a train on its way from Rotterdam to Amsterdam; then I realized I was on the wrong train and headed for Rotterdam, instead of Amsterdam.

Joe Dykes
Denver, CO

Indichik says: Someone trying to sound cultured and sophisticated by throwing around the names of random European cities they've never been to.

On a lovely day during one of the finest Indian summers anyone could remember--a season the Germans call "old wives' summer," obviously never having had Native Americans to name things after, but plenty of old wives, and "Indian summer" in German would refer to the natives of India in any case, which would make even less sense than the current naming system--on such a day, however named, John Baxter fell in the creek and drowned.

Deanna Stewart
Heidelberg, Germany

Indichik says: The last clause kills me. Reminds me of those stories that can't even decide from the first sentence what tone they want to take toward their subject matter. You know it only gets worse from there.

Tinkerbell landed softly on the bedpost in a sparkle of Industrial Light & Magic, handed the packet of cigarettes to a rather stubbly 'Pete' Pan and, seeing his little green tights strewn carelessly on the floor and a still sleeping Wendy lying naked beside him, quickly realized they were now a very long way from Never Never Land.

Hugh Trethowan
Bath, U.K.

Indichik says: Pauly K., this one's for you.

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