Overwrought writing wins prize

The contest that awards overwrought writing is back: the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Since 1982, the English department at San José State University has sponsored the contest, one that challenges writers to compose an opening sentence to the “worst of all possible novels.”

The entry categories for the 2012 contest were as follows: Romance, Adventure, Children’s Literature, Crime, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Purple Prose, Science Fiction, Vile Puns, and Western.

Canadians take (dis)honours

Three Canadians were singled out for their particularly turgid efforts: Guy Foisy (Ontario), who won the Purple Prose category; Emma DeZordi (Quebec), who received a Dishonourable Mention in the Romance category; and James Macdonald (Vancouver), who received a Miscellaneous Dishonourable Mention.

The sentence that launched the contest

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is the brainchild of Professor Scott Rice, who, when a graduate student, wrote a paper on Victorian novelist Lord Edward Bulwer Lytton (the Bulwer Lyttons do not hyphenate their surname but the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest does), author of the English language’s (arguably) most infamous opening sentence: “It was a dark and stormy night …”

Here’s the sentence in full bloom:

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.

Paul Clifford, Edward Bulwer Lytton, 1830

Years later, after having judged numerous writing contests, Professor Rice “struck upon the idea of holding a competition that would be honest and—best of all—invite brief entries.”

Selection of 2012 winners

2012 Purple Prose: runner-up
“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, NE

2012 Purple Prose: Dishonourable Mention
“The drugged parrots pelted the village like a hellish rain of feathered fanny packs stuffed with claws and porridge, rendering Claudia’s makeshift rabbit-skin umbrella more symbolic than anything else.”

Jeff Coleburn, West Chester, PA

2012 Western: runner-up
“He got down from his horse, which seemed strange to him as he had always believed that you got down from a duck or a goose.”

Terry L. Johnson, Tularosa, NM

Read all the 2012 winning entries.

How to enter the 2013 contest

For information about entering an opening paragraph of your own into next year’s contest, go to www.bulwer-lytton.com/contact.html. The submission deadline is April 15, 2013.


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