Sunday, August 26, 2012
The Best of the Worst
It has been several years since we have visited the Bulwer-Lytton
contest, an event that annually salutes bad writing.
The time certainly seems right. It’s the dog days of summer when the
only news comes from presidential candidates who spend their days
accusing each of other of outrageous lapses in character that no one
will remember in November.
The contest is named after one of the most visible bad writers of all
time, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who in 1830 penned the immortal
opening line, "It was a dark and stormy night."
Actually, he wrote: "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
It is the kind of prose that usually stopped readers from turning the
This exercise is conducted by the members of the English department
at San Jose State University, who obviously never worked for a
newspaper where bad writing usually results in a sudden career change.
Here, however, entrants are encouraged to "compose the opening
sentence to the worst of all possible novels." In other words, write
something truly, deliberately bad.
What follows, then, is a selection of winning entrants from the 2012
“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,
“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,
“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, Wisc.
“The blood seeped out of the body like bad peach juice from a peach
that had been left on one side so long the bottom became rotten while
it still looked fine on the top but had started to attract fruit
flies, and this had the same effect, but with regular flies, that is
not say there weren’t some fruit flies around because, after all,
this was Miami. “— Howard Eugene Whitright, Seal Beach, Calif.
“Primum non nocere, from the Latin for “first, do no harm,” one of
the principal tenets of the Hippocratic oath taken by physicians, was
far from David’s mind (as he strode, sling in hand, to face Goliath)
in part because Hippocrates was born about 100 years after David, in
part because David wasn’t even a physician, but mainly because David
wanted to kill the sucker.” — David Larson, San Francisco.
“Corinne considered the colors (palest green, gray and lavender) and
texture (downy as the finest velvet) and wondered, “How long have
these cold cuts been in my refrigerator?” — Linda Boatright, Omaha,
“Your eyes are like deep blue pools that I would like to drown in,”
he had told Kimberly when she had asked him what he was thinking; but
what he was actually thinking was that sometimes when he recharges
his phone he forgets to put the little plug back in but he wasn’t
going to tell her that.” — Dan Leyde, Edmonds, Wash.
“The two power-hungry, 20-something biographers met with me incognito
and settled on penning my memoirs, one on a percentage of future
sales and one on upfront remuneration; so there is one yuppie I pay,
one yuppie I owe, ghostwriters in disguise.” — Peter Bjorkman,
“Ronald left this world as he entered it: on a frigid winter night,
amid frantic screams and blood-soaked linens, while relatives stood
nearby and muttered furious promises to find and punish the man
responsible.”— Rebecca Oas, Atlanta, Ga.
“Her fixed gaze at dinner reminded him so much of an owl that he
found himself wondering when she would regurgitate her meal into a
pellet and told the waitress they didn’t need a dessert menu.” — Leah
Sitkoff, New York, New York
“Her skin was like flocked wallpaper and her eyes had seen better
days, but when her bloodless lips murmured “Hi, Sailor,” my heart
melted from the inside out like one of those chocolate-covered ice
cream bars on a summer day that runs down your arm and gets all over
your new shirt.” — James Macdonald, Vancouver, B.C.