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Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

August 14, 2008

by Emily

For everyone currently slogging their way through scholarship applications and college placement tests, as well as all of you gearing up for Composition, Creative Writing, or other English-related classes, here's a bit of fun.  Take a break from writing your own bids for essay scholarships and enjoy some really bad writing.  San Jose State University just announced the 2008 winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, an annual challenge to craft the worst opening line for a novel.  Named after the man who penned the famous opening line "It was a dark and stormy night," the competition seeks to give proper recognition to terrible prose.

This year's winner was penned 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."
 Submissions are open year-round and people of any age or circumstance in life can enter, but be advised: most of the award in winning this contest is the joy of having your truly awful words in print. The contest is sponsored by an English department, so the official monetary prize is "a pittance" (for those not familiar with what a pittance is, just ask your composition instructor--they can most likely produce a pay stub).  As fun as this contest would be to enter, it's not going to take you very far towards funding your education.

Even if you decide not to try your hand at fiction, perusing the Bulwer-Lytton contest winners could enrich your life in other ways beyond simple entertainment.  See all of those flowery, adjective-rich lines that seem to go on forever with their archaic and polysyllabic prose that looks like what would happen if someone cut the thesaurus apart and taped it back together to form a sentence?  That would be writing to avoid submitting to scholarship essay contests ( poetry contests, too).  While flexing your writing to its full extent is always tempting, there are limits.  When a sentence becomes difficult to read and a metaphor, image, anecdote, or quote is stretched further than it can reasonably go, or plopped down with no clear context provided, an otherwise brilliant attempt at winning scholarships can fall flat.  Even though School House Rock tells you to unpack your adjectives, the Bulwer-Lytton contest reminds us that in some instances it may be wise to leave a few of them put away.


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