January 15, 2009

The 2009 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, and some baaaad writin’!

You must remember 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."

--Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

Apart from its lasting and affectionate link with Snoopy’s literary efforts, (and the bit after "torrents" where it sounds like a weather forecast), that infamous opening sentence has come to be associated with an annual literary fun-fest known as The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which entrants are expected to submit the worst self-penned examples of an opening sentence that they can come up with.

I entered last year and failed miserably. This should feel like a good thing, but the competition to produce wretched grammar, mangled syntax, crap metaphors and just plain shithouse writing is possibly even fiercer than that found in “quality” arenas. It is claimed that over 10,000 entries were received last year.

The 2009 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is underway – if you enjoy the occasional lapse into truly bad writing, especially when it comes to an opening sentence, here’s your chance to shine. Or just have some fun. Details are at the bottom of the page and “The official deadline is April 15 (a date that Americans associate with painful submissions and making up bad stories). The actual deadline may be as late as May 30 (the 2009 results will be released by mid-June).

Somewhere on the lengthy page is a link to an even larger collection of truly awful writing submitted by followers of the Bulwer-Lyttons, as the contest has become known. It’s here, and contains some extraordinary passages (all of them published and presumably paid for), including this mind-boggling description of sexual congress:

"And then he was fully socketed to her, like a pipe wrench in a crock of warm chili."

Read and enjoy, and start working on your worst opening sentences, because the first prize is US$250.00.


  1. Wow, over 10,000 entries? That's a LOT of shit...

    Hmm, its tougher competition than 'proper' literary comps. Raises the question: is it harder to be bad than it is to be good?

  2. Raises the question: is it harder to be bad than it is to be good?
    Can't say I've ever had any difficulty (including my writing!)