It Was a Dark and Stormy Meeting

“As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noticed the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.” –Cathy Bryant, Manchester England

That’s the recently announced winning entry from the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, an event I await eagerly every year. It’s a celebration of bad writing like no other, a contest which thousands of participants gleefully submit the worst constructs they can concoct. Run by the English Department at San Jose State since 1982, it’s named after Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the very minor Victorian novelist whose opening sentence was plagiarized so frequently by Snoopy in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strips.

The Bulwer-Lytton would make a refreshing theme for an upcoming book group meeting, or at the least a hilarious icebreaker. After all, you’ll appreciate good sentences more after you’ve experienced the contrast of the very worst.

Visit the website above for more examples, or track down any of the It Was a Dark and Stormy compilations that contain past entries. For bonus points, and a lively discussion topic for groups that can handle some controversy, send your participants hunting for lousy sentences in the works of the authors they consider the very worst. They’re unlikely to be as lousy as the Bulwer-Lytton winners, but you never know.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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