Home » Writing Stuff » And Now For Something Completely Different: Worst Opening Lines!

And Now For Something Completely Different: Worst Opening Lines!

As you know, dear readers, I’ve been posting a number of posts recently listing some of the best opening and best closing lines in literature. I’ve been doing this because I think it’s good to recognize and praise well-written things; it sets a good example for aspiring writers like myself, and inspires us to elevate the caliber of our own writing.

But too much of a good thing is, well, not good, and too many posts listing the best lines can become overwhelming, even a bit discouraging. I mean, if you list all these dozens of amazing sentences over and over again, none of which you yourself happen to have written, doesn’t that get a bit demoralizing? It does for me. So, because of this, I’ve decided to shake things up a bit and give you a list, dear readers, of some of the *worst* opening sentences in literature, courtesy of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

The only possible reaction one can have when reading the winning sentences of the Bulwer-Lytton contest

For those readers unfamiliar with the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, it is a tongue-and-check contest sponsored by the San Jose State University English Department that challenges contestants to write the absolute worst opening sentence to a novel that they can. Inspired by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s infamous opener, “It was a dark and stormy night,” writers have submitted their bad opening sentences since Professor Scott E. Rice first started the contest in 1982.

In addition to the “coveted” Grand Prize there are a number of subcategories contestants can qualify for, including conventional genre ones like crime, fantasy, and romance,  as well as some less conventional ones, like vile puns and purple prose. A winner and runner-up are selected for each category, and sentences that were bad but not quite bad enough to win receive Dishonorable Mentions. Winners get a “pittance” of $250 for their efforts.

Enough background babble, lets get to the good stuff! Here are some of the highlights for the 2013 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. This is only a handful, though, so be sure to check out the contest’s website here for more of this year’s winners as well as winners from years past. It’ll be sure to boost your ego and give you a good, long laugh!

Grand Prize Winner

She strutted into my office wearing a dress that clung to her like Saran Wrap to a sloppily butchered pork knuckle, bone and sinew jutting and lurching asymmetrically beneath its folds, the tightness exaggerating the granularity of the suet and causing what little palatable meat there was to sweat, its transparency the thief of imagination. ~Chris Wieloch

Winner: Horror

Even though Letitia had brushed her teeth, Draco could still smell her garlicky breath, but assuming her blood would at least be toxin free, if not particularly appetizing – because of the antibiotic properties of the garlic’s allicin, an organosulfur compound – he gleefully plunged his incisors into her throbbing jugular vein. ~Maggie Lyons

Winner: Fantasy

The fairies of Minglewood, which is near Dingly Pool, were having a grand revel with flower-cakes, and butterfly dances, looking ever so pretty, while Queen Bellaflora swept her wand o’er the waterfall’s foam, making it pop like the snot-bubbles on your baby sister’s face. ~Janine Beacham

Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mention

To Juliet’s mind, he was just a small town Romeo, and – bummer – a Capulet to boot, but the men pickings in Verona were slim, so even though her daddy would have a cat, she decided, “What’s the worst that could happen?”~John Hardi

Winner: Historical Fiction

The Pilgrims and Native Americans gathered around the feast, a veritable cornucopia of harvest and game, a gastronomic monument to the bountiful biodiversity of the land, and while Mrs. Standish’s cranberry sauce was a far cry from the homogeneous gelatinous can-imprinted sacrosanct blob which has become the holiday’s sine qua non, the rest of it was good. ~Jordan Kaderli

Runner-Up: Purple Prose

He had a way with women that was at first endearing, then gradually engendered caution and finally outright rejection, like potato salad at a summer picnic. ~Paul Sutcliffe

Winner: Romance

On their first date he’d asked how much she thought Edgar Allan Poe’s toe nails would sell for on eBay, and on their second he paid for subway fair with nickels he fished out of a fountain, but he was otherwise charming and she thought that they could have a perfectly tolerable life together. ~Jessica Sashihara

Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mention

The dame that walked into my office was statuesque and looked like she ought to be standing on a bed of roses…in other words, she looked exactly like the garden gnome my ex-wife had stuck in our flower bed, next to a bird bath that attracted a whole lot of bills, much like my in-tray, which was lousy with them.~Jackie Fuchs

Winner: Science Fiction

The Mushroom Men of Knarf were silently advancing on the unsuspecting earthlings, and their thin milky blood ran colder when they smelled spores from fungal toenail infections rising from many of the invaders’ feet, for to them it was a wondrous and shocking scent of kinship, homeland, and asexual reproduction. ~David S. Nelson

Dishonorable Mention: Vile Puns

It wasn’t sour grapes – Clementine knew that her parents just plum disapproved of her Kiwi lover; try as she might to explain that the love between the pair was all peachy, she might as well have been comparing apples to oranges, so although she was bananas for him, and the ring was certainly no lemon, she was forced to reply to his “Honey, do you?” with a mournful “You know I just can’t elope.” ~Kevin Hogg

Winner: Western

“Ahgonagedoo, oosdiggingsuine!!!” screamed Jake Calhoun; but Doc Holliday, the legendary gunfighter/dentist, replied simply, “Smile when you say that, pardner, then swirl and spit out.” ~John Cavanagh

Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mention

Bett had eyes that said come here, lips that said kiss me, arms and torso that said hold me all night long, but the rest of her body said, “Fillet me, cover me in cornmeal, and fry me in peanut oil”; romance wasn’t easy for a mermaid.~Jordan Kaderli


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