Tuesday, October 16, 2007

When writing is so horrible, it’s good . . .

“The Barents sea heaved and churned like a tortured animal in pain, the howling wind tearing packets of icy green water from the shuddering crests of the waves, atomizing it into mist that was again laid flat by the growing fury of the storm as Kevin Tucker switched off the bedside light in his Tuba City, Arizona, single-wide trailer and by the time the phone woke him at 7:38, had pretty much blown itself out with no damage.”

Scott Palmer said he didn’t dream of becoming a great writer but he was named the runner-up in the 2007 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. For the past 25 years, the contest out of San Jose State University has challenged writers to concoct the worst opening line of a novel. The above was Palmer’s almost-worst entry.

You sort of have to be a good writer to know what makes a bad one. Palmer said he wasn’t sure what inspired his disconnected saga of Kevin Tucker’s non-storm-at-sea adventure, but we like the idea: Open with something that has nothing whatsoever do with what comes next. It works, maybe because speech writers have been doing it for years for candidates ...

The contest honors digression and mixed metaphors and even horrible puns. It is named for 19th century author Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, infamous for the opening line “It was a dark and stormy night” in his melodramatic novel, “Paul Clifford.” Not so bad, you say? The entire opening reads “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 house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

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