The Best Worst Opening Lines Contest

By Jim Menick

It’s how a book starts that sets its tone. Like: “Call me Ishmael.” or “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter.” Suitably perfect. Unforgettable, even. Then there’s this one:

“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.”

You might say that Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s opening of Paul Cifford is no match for the openings of Moby-Dick or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. However, Bulwer-Lytton’s prose has inspired the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, an exercise in writing not the best opening line but the worst. This year’s winners have just been announced, and the overall champion is Cathy Bryant of Manchester, England:

“As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted 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.”

I’m rather fond of this next one, an entry from Jeff Coleburn of West Chester, PA:

“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.”

Need more? Well, of course not. But you’ll find them here.