Sunday, February 26, 2012

THE BULWER-LYTTON FICTION CONTEST

Back in the 19th Century, there was an Englishman whose name was Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton.  But since his name was so incredibly long, he mostly just went by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton.  He was born in 1803 and died in 1873, and during his life he was a politician, poet, playwright, and novelist.

Lord Bulwer-Lytton wrote a whole bunch of dime-novels that were very popular with Victorian readers, and he made a lot of money by writing them.  Which he probably didn't need, since he came from a rich family and lived in a great big castle.  But even though his writing was popular at the time, nobody much reads it nowadays, at least not the way they read Charles Dickens or George Eliot or Thomas Hardy.  In fact, there is a whole, big contest every year that makes fun of Lord Bulwer-Lytton's style of writing, and this contest is called the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (BLFC).





Knebworth House, where Lord Bulwer-Lytton lived
The way this contest got started was that a professor at San Jose State University, whose name is Scott Rice, once had to write a graduate-school paper on a minor Victorian novelist, and he chose Bulwer-Lytton.  Mr. Rice discovered that the phrase "It was a dark and stormy night" was part of the first sentence of the novel Paul Clifford, which was published in 1830.  As you may know, Snoopy the Beagle was famous for starting all his stories with this line.  Here's how the entire sentence goes:



"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."

Lord Bulwer-Lytton also came up with some other phrases that people still use a lot today, such as "the pen is mightier than the sword," "the great unwashed," and "the almighty dollar."
Anyway, Professor Rice, who was always having to judge writing contests, got the idea of having a contest where people just wrote the first sentence of a really bad novel.  He liked this idea because it meant the entries would be short and also entertaining to read.  In 1982, the first contest was held, and it has been going on ever since then.  You can go to the website and read lots of the winning sentences, but I am going to tell you a few of the winners from 2011.  I hope you will like them because if you ask me, they are pretty funny.

First of all, here is the Grand Prize Winner, and it was written by Professor Sue Fondrie, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh.  Her entry is only 26 words long, which makes it the shortest-ever Grand Prize Winner in the whole history of the BLFC.
Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.




And here is the Runner-Up, by Rodney Reed of Ooltewah, Tennessee:
As I stood among the ransacked ruin that had been my home, surveying the aftermath of the senseless horrors and atrocities that had been perpetrated on my family and everything I hold dear, I swore to myself that no matter where I had to go, no matter what I had to do or endure, I would find the man who did this . . . and when I did, when I did, oh, there would be words.




The winner of the Adventure category, by Jack Barry of Shelby, NC:
From the limbs of ancient live oaks moccasins hung like fat black sausages -- which are sometimes called boudin noir, black pudding or blood pudding, though why anyone would refer to a sausage as pudding is hard to understand and it is even more difficult to divine why a person would knowingly eat something made from dried blood in the first place -- but be that as it may, our tale is of voodoo and foul murder, not disgusting food.  

The Fantasy category winner, by Terri Daniel of Seattle, WA:
Within the smoking ruins of Keister Castle, Princess Gwendolyn stared in horror at the limp form of the loyal Centaur who died defending her very honor; “You may force me to wed,” she cried at the leering and victorious Goblin King, “but you’ll never be half the man he was.”  


The Purple Prose winner was Mike Pedersen of North Berwick, ME:
As his small boat scudded before a brisk breeze under a sapphire sky dappled with cerulean clouds with indigo bases, through cobalt seas that deepened to navy nearer the boat and faded to azure at the horizon, Ian was at a loss as to why he felt blue.


The runner-up in the Purple Prose category was Jack Barry of Shelby NC:
The Los Angeles morning was heavy with smog, the word being a portmanteau of smoke and fog, though in LA the pollutants are typically vehicular emissions as opposed to actual smoke and fog, unlike 19th-century London where the smoke from countless small coal fires often combined with fog off the Thames to produce true smog, though back then they were not clever enough to call it that.



And finally, here is the winning entry in the Vile Puns category, which was written by Joe Wyatt of Amarillo, TX:      
Detective Kodiak plucked a single hair from the bearskin rug and at once understood the grisly nature of the crime: it had been a ferocious act, a real honey, the sort of thing that could polarize a community, so he padded quietly out the back to avoid a cub reporter waiting in the den. 



3 comments:

  1. WOW...loved this blog...although I might be a few days late reading it!! I'm ashamed to say I do not recall learning about Lord Bulwer-Lytton and I had no idea he was the creative mind behind some of the sayings mentioned. I think the one sentence contest is a great idea and thank you for writing about it. Piper - you are soooo smart - you know sooo much about literature and you didn't even have to go to college like your mom to learn all of it! :)
    Love, AP

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    1. Dear Aunt Patty,
      You do not remember learning about Lord Bulwer-Lytton because nobody reads his books anymore. The contest entries are pretty funny, though. Mom thinks maybe she will enter it, but sadly, they do not award huge cash prizes to the winners.
      Love, Piper

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