Friday, December 06, 2013
It was a dark and stormy night...
By OFW editor:
Carlos J Cortes
Published: August 29, 2012
This week's Fiction Collision is a little different than our usual. Instead of comparing popular or classic works of fiction, characters and such, we've decided to showcase some of the worst. The difference is that most of these excerpts are intentionally bad.
Sir Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton, was an English politician and writer. He would become remarkably popular from authoring bestselling dime-novels, which earned him a considerable fortune. His prose was florid and verbose, as befitted the Victorian melodramatic style taken to the extremes.
“It was a dark and stormy night” is an infamous phrase from the beginning of Bulwer-Lytton’s 1830 novel,
which has become an adjective in the publishing industry to describe purple prose.
The full opening paragraph in
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.
In 1982, the English Department of San José State University, California, sponsored the first Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest to rejoice the worst examples of dark-and-stormy-night writing. It was so successful that the contest has become an annual event ever since. Nowadays, writers from all over the world compete to compose kitsch openings to imaginary works of fiction and celebrate the worst extremes of purple prose. Bulwer-Lytton's name lives on.
A few days ago, the folks from San José State University announced the 2012 Bulwer-Lytton Contest Awards, giving first prize to this infamous gem:
As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.—Cathy Bryant, Manchester, England
Congratulations, Cathy. I must concede—with the added difficulty of typing through tears—that your prose has the wretched lyricism of true genius.
Other talented entries scooped the glory of the remaining awards:
Winner: Grand Panjandrum’s Special Award
As an ornithologist, George was fascinated by the fact that urine and feces mix in birds’ rectums to form a unified, homogeneous slurry that is expelled through defecation, although eying Greta's face, and sensing the reaction of the congregation, he immediately realized he should have used a different analogy to describe their relationship in his wedding vows. — David Pepper, Hermosa Beach, CA
The stifling atmosphere inside the Pink Dolphin Bar in the upper Amazon Basin carried barely enough oxygen for a man to survive – humid and thick the air was and full of little flying bugs, making the simple act of breathing like trying to suck hot Campbell’s Bean with Bacon soup through a paper straw. — Greg Homer, Placerville, CA
Winner: Children’s Literature
He swaggered into the room (in which he was now the “smartest guy”) with a certain Wikipedic insouciance, and without skipping a beat made a beeline towards Dorothy, busting right through her knot of admirers, and she threw her arms around him and gave him a passionate though slightly tickly kiss, moaning softly, “Oooohh, Scarecrow!” — David S Nelson, Falls Church, VA
She slinked through my door wearing a dress that looked like it had been painted on … not with good paint, like Behr or Sherwin-Williams, but with that watered-down stuff that bubbles up right away if you don’t prime the surface before you slap it on, and – just like that cheap paint – the dress needed two more coats to cover her. — Sue Fondrie, Appleton, WI
The brazen walls of the ancient city of Khoresand, situated where the mighty desert of Sind meets the endless Hyrkanean steppe, are guarded by day by the four valiant knights Sir Malin the Mighty, Sir Welkin the Wake, Sir Darien the Doughty, and Sir Yrien the Yare, all clad in armor of beaten gold, and at night the walls are guarded by Sir Arden the Ardent, Sir Fier the Fearless, Sir Cyril the Courageous, and Sir Damien the Dauntless, all clad in armor of burnished argent, but nothing much ever happens. — David Lippmann, Austin, TX
Winner: Historical Fiction
The “clunk” of the guillotine blade’s release reminded Marie Antoinette, quite briefly, of the sound of the wooden leg of her favorite manservant as he not-quite-silently crossed the polished floors of Versailles to bring her another tray of petit fours. — Leslie Craven, Hataitai, New Zealand
Winner: Purple Prose
William, his senses roused by a warm fetid breeze, hoped it was an early spring’s equinoxal thaw causing rivers to swell like the blood-engorged gumlines of gingivitis, loosening winter’s plaque, exposing decay, and allowing the seasonal pot-pouris of Mother Nature’s morning breath to permeate the surrounding ether, but then he awoke to the unrelenting waves of his wife’s halitosis. — Guy Foisy, Orleans, Ontario
“I’ll never get over him,” she said to herself and the truth of that statement settled into her brain the way glitter settles on to a plastic landscape in a Christmas snow globe when she accepted the fact that she was trapped in bed between her half-ton boyfriend and the wall when he rolled over on to her nightgown and passed out, leaving her no way to climb out. — Karen Hamilton, Seabrook, TX
Winner: Science Fiction
As I gardened, gazing towards the autumnal sky, I longed to run my finger through the trail of mucus left by a single speckled slug – innocuously thrusting past my rhododendrons – and in feeling that warm slime, be swept back to planet Alderon, back into the tentacles of the alien who loved me. — Mary E. Patrick, Lake City, SC
Winner: Vile Puns
Though they were merely strangers on a train, as she looked North by Northwest though the rear window, Marnie knew beyond a shadow of a doubt the trouble with Harry was that he was a psycho – his left and right hand middle fingers (formerly extended in the birds position) were menacingly twisting a rope in the form of a noose; certain of her impending death as surely as she could dial M for Murder, she was overcome by intense vertigo. — Amy Torchinsky, Greensboro, NC
The full list of awards, including runners up and priceless dishonourable mentions is at the Bulwer-Litton Contest website. I recommend careful reading of the entries to learn the intricacies of this difficult genre. Have fun.
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