How does the worst of all possible novels begin?
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)
Can you beat that?
Since 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.
Now it's your turn. Use the form below to send us your worst opening line ...
Send us your opening line ...
Guy Mawle, Usk
'It was a dark and stormy night. Heavy clouds scudded across the sky...'. So begins Chapter 28, 'The Trial' in Part 2 of 'The Three Musketeers', originally published 1844, translated by Lord Sudley and published by Penguin Books in 1952. Was Dumas a fan of Bulmer-Lytton? What was it in the French original?
Ken - Huddersfield
No it went like this;It was a dark and stormy night and the Captain said to Antonio, "Antonio tell us a tale", so Antonio told us a tale and the went like this.It was a dark and stormy night and the Captain said to Antonio.. ... ..etc
Just to mention a pleasingly rhythmic version of the above that we were told as children by my Father. It was another story 'from your mouth' as they became known. "It was a dark and stormy night and the Captain said to the mate, Tell us a story mate, and this is the story. It was a dark and stormy night......etc" Recalling this has made me wonder about the difference between the oral tradition of ‘stories from your mouth’, as opposed to the written word? Might the professor agree that the chance of a story teller’s success if he or she had started a tale with such dreadful lines as he lists would mean that they would get relegated to the back of the cave or sent out for firewood in the rain and would never have been heard of again? Where as if you can pay for printing the world is your pulping machine? Many thanks for a brilliantly enlightening and engaging program. Now that I have slightly more time to listen in the mornings I am beginning to appreciate the non-political slots very much. The Intelligence is out there!Sorry I did not catch this item on the program but came across it on the website from which I regularly send links to others so they can enjoy the gems that you report. I did not see when the item was broadcast. (Is this information listed anywhere?) Also loved the discussion of control of your God, sorry Dog this morning. Tell them in Gaza!Kind regards, Galia
Sharon absent-mindedly picked her nose and sucked her finger.
"Laura's eye fell on the bed and her mood changed." I came across that line in one of my mother's 1930s schoolgirl annuals when I was nine and it still makes me chuckle. What a wonderfully rich and complicated thing the English language is - so easy to get just a little bit wrong.
I agree with J Elliott that Amanda McKitterick Ros was the finest worst first line writer that ever lived. My offering from Irene Iddlesleigh (not a bad worst title either): "Sympathise with me indeed! Ah, no! Cast your sympathy on the chill waves of troubled waters, fling it on the oases of futurity: dash it against the rock of gossip: or better still, allow it to remain within the false and faithless bosom of buried scorn. Such were the few remarks of Irene as she paced the beach of limited freedom, alone and unprotected." I think her use of exclamation marks adds a particular touch of class.
It was a dark and stormy night.Name of and beginning of a Percy the Park keeper story. Nick Butterworth .One good reason for having kids is an excuse to go to pantos. The other is to read Percy.The animals get scared and in various ways come into Percy the Park Keepers hut. Sheer magic.
My father was a scout leader and his version was: 'It was a dark and stormy night and the brigands were gathered round the fire. The Captain said "Antonious, Antonius, tell us a tale". And this was the tale he told'. "It was a dark and stormy night..."
It was a dark and stormy night; Brilliant start to brilliant story , not boring at all. Percy the Park Keeper! All the animals seek shelter in Percy's Hut.
My father's bedtime story is similar but has a certain rhythm to it :It was a dark and stormy nightand the wind was blowing a gale, and the captain said to his shipmate'"Shipmate, tell me a tale".And this was the tale he told him.T'was a dark.
Nobody seems to have mentioned County Down's finest: Amanda McKittrick Ros This is her opening for her novel, Delina Delaney (1898) Have you ever visited that portion of Erin's plot that offers its sympathetic soil for the minute survey and scrutinous examination of those in political power, whose decision has wisely been the means before now of converting the stern and prejudiced, and reaching the hand of slight aid to share its strength in augmenting its agricultural richness? A poet as well as a novelist, Ros wrote 'Poems of Puncture' and 'Fumes of Formation'. The latter contains "Visiting Westminster Abbey," which opens:Holy Moses! Have a look! Flesh decayed in every nook! Some rare bits of brain lie here, Mortal loads of beef and beer, Some of whom are turned to dust, Every one bids lost to lust; Royal flesh so tinged with 'blue' Undergoes the same as you. When she read about a new prize for literature (the Nobel) she asked 'Think ye I should make a dart for it?'.Ahh they don't write like that any more.
I consider this to be both the best and worst opening line I've come across. Worst because of how it in no way relates to the story, and best because it has stuck with me all these years, even though I made no effort to memorise it.From Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" (1932):"A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories.".
I believe that the original of “It was on a dark and stormy night“ is the Circular story: - “It was on a dark and stormy night as this that the captain said to his mate tell us a story Joe and he began as follows”: “It was on a dark and stormy night as this that the captain said to his mate tell us a story Joe and he began as follows”: and so on ad infonitam!This certainly predates Snoopy’s version.
Ann from Cardiff
Why do we keep thinking everything comes from America? Long before we ever heard of Snoopy, my brother came home from school (this is early 1950s)with this gem - endlessly repeated - "It was a dark and stormy night; the captain stood on the bridge and he said:"Cook, tell us a story" and the cook said "It was a dark and stormy night; the captain stood on the bridge and he ...etc
Not an opening line, but one I memorised from Women's Illustrated when I read it, thinking I would never find a worse paragraph."Oh God, Sir Jasper, she cried, turning from the window and recognising him now for what he was, her true enemy."Now my secret lies naked and bleeding on the mat"
My father told me this years ago. It goes like this: 'It was a dark and stormy night. The Captain said to the mate, "Tell us a story". And so the mate began, "It was a dark and stormy night and the captain ....."' It used to drive us mad.
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