Been writing long? Then you know writing experts have been drilling into us for years that we must hook our readers in the first paragraph, or we are doomed to die alone and penniless and fifty pounds overweight. Although, to be fair, that can happen even to very good writers if they happen to be free-spending jerks with a Krispy Kreme addiction.
There is a flip side to excellent writing, however: intentionally bad writing. So-bad-it’s-good writing. Enter the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. (Literally, you can enter the contest, if you wish.) The submitted work must be unpublished, no longer than 50-60 words, and one terrible sentence long. That’s right: a 60-word sentence. It smacks of awesomeness. Today marks the traditional deadline, although the administrator may accept entries until June.
The winning entry from 2010 was written by Molly Ringle of Seattle, Washington:
For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss — a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil.
Just try to forget that imagery. I dare you.
In the spirit of bad writing (and I have plenty of ongoing experience with same), I have concocted an opening paragraph, which I hope you will enjoy, perhaps to the point of nausea. My creation is longer than one sentence; it’s 14 compound sentences with commas galore. Ahem:
As I made my way toward the hill, struggling against the fury of wind and rain, a blinding flash stopped me in my tracks. Night became day for an instant, and I instinctively dropped to my knees, eyes squeezed shut, hands covering my ears. With my heart thudding inside my chest, I braced for the inevitable aftershock. A crack of thunder seemed to split the sky in two, then ricocheted from cloud to cloud, its raw energy shaking the ground beneath me. I trembled, drenched and angry at myself for being in this predicament. It didn’t have to be like this, I knew, but there was no going back now. When the roar of thunder ceased, I took a running start at the hill in front of me. Before my hands could find purchase in the saturated earth, my shoes slipped against the grass, and I slid down. Grabbing at tufts of weeds and digging my shoes into the mud, I finally gained a foothold and pulled myself up inch by inch until I reached the crest. I peered down into the valley, black and foreboding, save for small, ineffectual pools of light created by scattered street lamps. Below and to my left sat Hart Hall, a squatty industrial building, as plain and uninspired as the rest on campus. As I scooted down the hill on my bottom, my pants becoming caked with mud and soaked through to my underwear, I wondered why the school had not thought to place the parking lot closer to the entrance. I also wondered why my quilting group hadn’t cancelled the meetup for tonight. Because right now, it really didn’t seem worth the trouble.
How’s that? Are you sick with envy? Listen: you can write bad fiction, too. We all – every one of us – have it within ourselves to write ghastly opening paragraphs. It’s challenging, and it’s fun, which is why the Bulwer-Lytton contest remains popular from year to year. Give yourself a break, click on the link above and indulge in some brain-candy. If nothing else, you’ll feel much, much better about anything you’ve ever written, including some unintelligible scribbles you made when you were two.
When you’re finished over there, check out these serious blogs on writing. Consider it a palate cleanser.
- Novel Journey – Inspiration and encouragement, writing and publishing tips; interviews with authors. Focuses on Christian fiction.
- Storyfix – A Top Ten Blog for Writers by published author Larry Brooks. Instruction on writing and publishing.
- Writer Beware – Warning: Writer Beware is a highly addictive blog. If you are a new visitor to the site, you will lose hours of your life reviewing their posts. This blog is a goldmine and a must-read for writers – especially those who are considering self-publishing, entering writing contests or attending bookfairs. Learn how to keep an eye out for the bad guys so you don’t get sucked into their schemes.
Happy reading! – Jennifer
Can you come up with an opening sentence so awful that it’s positively mind-bending? Great! Save that one for the B-L contest and share your next-worse opener with us in the comments section.