Friday, August 15, 2008

Worst Firsts

Edward George Bulwer-Lytton wrote it worst (and first), in his 1830 novel, Paul Clifford:

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.
But since 1982, hundreds of writers have intentionally crafted opening sentences terrible enough to be awarded Winner, Runner-up, or Dishonorable Mention in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. This year’s winner, by Garrison Spik of Washington DC:

Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped "Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J."
I gathered five favorites from the 2008 awards -- favorites because, ironically, there's something great in each:

Joanne watched her fellow passengers -- a wizened man reading about alchemy; an oversized bearded man-child; a haunted, bespectacled young man with a scar; and a gaggle of private school children who chatted ceaselessly about Latin and flying around the hockey pitch and the two-faced teacher who they thought was a witch -- there was a story here, she decided. (Tim Ellis, Haslemere, UK) [Ack, it's the writerly truth!]

"Let's see what this baby can do, Virgil," said Wyatt, as he floored the Charger, brushing a Dart out of the way, sideswiping an oncoming Lancer, rear-ending a Diplomat, and demolishing a row of Rams before catapulting head-on into the sheriff's Viper -- realizing that we'd indeed missed the turn-off to Abilene and ended up instead, in Dodge City. (Paul Curtis, Randburg, South Africa) [Clever!]

Like a mechanic who forgets to wipe his hands on a shop rag and then goes home, hugs his wife, and gets a grease stain on her favorite sweater -- love touches you, and marks you forever. (Beth Fand Incollingo, Haddon Heights, NJ) [Hey, it’s effective!]

Carmen's romance with Broderick had thus far been like a train ride, not the kind that slowly leaves the station, builds momentum, and then races across the countryside at breathtaking speed, but rather the one that spends all day moving freight cars around at the local steel mill. (Bruce Portzer, Seattle, WA) [Again, great imagery and symbolism!]

Bill swore the affair had ended, but Louise knew he was lying, after discovering Tupperware containers under the seat of his car, which were not the off-brand containers that she bought to save money, but authentic, burpable, lidded Tupperware; and she knew he would see that woman again, because unlike the flimsy, fake containers that should always be recycled responsibly, real Tupperware must be returned to its rightful owner. (Jeanne Villa, Novato, CA) [What a small, true, detail!]
But your mileage may vary. So please, enjoy the whole 2008 list. Then look at the 25 previous Grand Prize winners, read the rules for entering, and bookmark the submission page your own 2009 entry.

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