This week, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh professor Sue Fondrie received the not so prestigious Bulwer-Lytton Fiction award. The award tasks entrants with creating impossibly bad opening sentences to fake novels. It’s not a malicious award, the contestants enter willingly and ham it up purposely.
While seen as more of an amusing distraction for writers, there is notable value to the contest. If anything, the Bulwer-Lytton award gives you a good idea of what not to do when writing a novel. For example, read Fondrie’s winning sentence:
“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.”
Basil McDonnell was a runner-up for his sentence:
“The victim was a short man, with a face full of contradictions: amalgam, composite, dental porcelain, with both precious and non-precious metals all competing for space in a mouth that was open, bloody, terrifying, gaping, exposing a clean set of asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth, but clearly the object of some very comprehensive dental care, thought Dirk Graply, world-famous womanizer, tough guy, detective, and former dentist.”
Along with runner-up Aubrey Johnson:
“Her flaming red hair whipped in the wind like a campfire, stroking the embers of passion hidden within the hearth of my heart and I began to burn with a desire that seared me to my very core — oh the things that I would do if only I weren’t incarcerated for arson!”
Truthfully, I didn’t know this contest existed till today, but I plan on entering it next year for sure. Before heavy editing, revision and a couple of much needed facepalms, my prose can give some of these sentences a run for their money. Read more about the contest at the Bulwer-Lytton site.