The elven city of Losstii faced towering sea cliffs and abutted rolling hills that in the summer were covered with blankets of flowers and in the winter were covered with blankets, because the elves wanted to keep the flowers warm and didn’t know much at all about gardening.
The sentence above was the winner of the thirty-fifth Lyttoniad, a contest that challenges entrants to compose bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. The contest was conceived to honor the memory of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton and to encourage unpublished authors who do not have the time to actually write entire books. Bulwer-Lytton was selected as patron of the competition because he opened his novel “Paul Clifford” (1830) with the immortal words, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Lytton’s sentence actually parodied the line and went on to make a real sentence of it, but he did originate the line “The pen is mightier than the sword.”
The contest receives thousands of entries, and I thought I would share a few of my favorite opening sentences with you.
- The familiar cleaning ritual now complete, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Christopher P. “Hondo” Holdsworth carefully reassembled his Brűgger & Thomet APR308 7.62x51mm sniper rifle, mounting the matte-black Leupold 8 3.5-25x56mm optic with the splined 5mm Allen wrench that ensured it would stay put and retracting the Harris S-BRM 6-9 Notched Bipod, the way a character in a Tom Clancy novel would.
- In the predawn mist nothing was quite so satisfying as dawdling across someone else’s morning paper, so thought Sally B. Slug on her early morning glide
- The warehouse was completely empty except for the mutilated corpse wearing a tuxedo covered with bloodstains, and a Mortimer Snerd dummy lying nearby on the floor, and Detective McIntosh knew Snerd wouldn’t talk.
- The church was deathly quiet: suddenly a shot rang out, a woman screamed, and somewhere in the back, a baby cried because that baby hadn’t been taken to the nursery, even though the sign on the door clearly states that babies should be taken to the nursery.
- Detective Robertson knew he had Joyce Winters dead to rights for the murder—at the crime scene he had found Winters’ fingerprints, shell casings matching the gun registered to her, and, most damning of all, a Starbucks cup with the name “Josie” scrawled on it.
- Captain Duke Ellsworth of the Poughkeepsie Police Department wondered, as he stood in the brightly lit room and stared at the gun lying on the floor, if its barrel were still warm, and what his wife was making for dinner that evening, which he would no doubt have to eat cold when he finally finished up here, especially if he paid his mistress in Fishkill a visit on the way home.
- It was said among the Khalid of the western deserts that a woman should be a hyena in the kitchen, a giraffe in the garden, and a pelican in the bathroom, although nobody now knew what this was supposed to mean.
- Like the smoke from a cheap corn cob pipe, the tragic events of the past week descended into Lloyd Mounser’s brain and stubbornly clung to his memory the way those little white styrofoam peanuts get stuck to your hands you when you’re opening a box of soft-white light bulbs that you got online with free shipping.
- Dean had everything she’d dreamed the perfect boy would have: hair as soft as a baby bunny’s, dimples like the marks you could make pressing your thumb into unbaked cookie dough, eyes as beautiful as a thousand Thomas Kinkade paintings, and the smile of the male lead in an early Olsen-twins comedy, plus he smelled pretty good, too.
Reading through all of the award winning entries got me in the mood to try one of my own:
A hush fell over the crowd as QM, international man of mystery and currently in last place, walked to the end of the 10-meter platform wearing his trademark zebra-patterned Speedo and visualizing the surprise cannonball he was about to perform that would soak the Russian judge, knowing it would spark an international incident with far-reaching repercussions.
I’m thinking about entering it in next year’s contest; after all, I’ve got a lot of time to make it even worse…