The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest was started in 1982 by Professor Scott E. Rice of the English Department at San Jose State University. The contest is named for English novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who penned the immortal first line of the 1830 novel Paul Clifford
which was probably the inspiration for Elmore Leonard's rule not to begin a novel with the weather.
In case you haven't had your first cup of coffee yet and don't remember it, that opening line reads:
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.
Edward George Bulwer-Lytton
The first year of the contest, it received three entries. One year later, after much publicity, there were more than 10,000 entries. Now there are numerous categories, the admissions are astronomical, and in addition to winners there are Dishonorable
Here are a few of the 2013 winners:
Grand Prize Winner
|Okay, this picture isn't exactly what|
the sentence describes, but Lady
GaGa's meat dress was my first thought.
She strutted into my office wearing a dress that clung to her like Saran Wrap to a sloppily butchered pork knuckle, bone and sinew jutting and lurching asymmetrically beneath its folds, the tightness exaggerating the granularity of the suet and causing what little palatable meat there was to sweat, its transparency the thief of imagination.
Chris Wieloch, Brookfield, WI
Crime Category Winner
It was such a beautiful night; the bright moonlight
illuminated the sky, the thick clouds floated leisurely by
just above the silhouette of tall, majestic trees, and I was
viewing it all from the front row seat of the bullet hole
in my car trunk.
Tonya Lavel, Barbados, West Indies
Crime Runner Up
|I do believe this is the first time SS|
has had a plumbing fixture
Seeing Mrs. Kohler sink, Detective Moen flushed as he plugged the burglary as the unmistakable work of Cap Fawcet, the Mad Plumber, for not only had her pool of
assets been drained, but her clogs were now missing, and the toilet had been removed, leaving them with absolutely
nothing to go on.
Eric J. Hildeman, Greenfield, WI
Crime Dishonorable Mention
Observing how the corpse's blood streaked the melting
vanilla ice cream, Frank wanted to snap his pen in
half and add drops of blue ink to the mix, completing
the color trio of the American flag--or the French flag,
given that the body had just fallen from the top of the
Las Vegas Eiffel Tower onto a creme glacee cart.
Alanna Smith, Wappingers Falls, NY
Vile Puns Runner-Up
Niles deeply regretted bringing his own equipment to
the company's annual croquet tournament because those
were his fingerprints found on the "blunt instrument"
that had caused the fatal depression in his boss's skull
and now here he stood in court accused of murder, yes,
murder in the first degree with mallets aforethought.
Linda Boatright, Omaha, NE
For more of these, a lot more including Detective Fiction, Romance Novels, Western Novels, and Purple Prose, go to
The opening line of my most recent Callie adventure, Mother Hubbard Has A CORPSE IN THE CUPBOARD, is:
James Brown burst from my bra just as I took a sip of Coors from my red Solo cup– the kind Toby Keith likes to sing about.
I'll save the first sentence for my October, 2013, release, CORPSE UNDER THE CHRISTMAS TREE until it's out.
What about you? Care to share some first lines? Your own or your favorites for Honorable Mention or Dishonorable Mention?
WARNING: The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest intrigues me. I'll share the 2014 winners with you next year. Meanwhile, I may try writing some intentionally horrendous first lines. Let's just hope I have enough sense to recognize them, enter them in the contest, and don't use one for the horror novel I'm finishing now.
Until we meet again, take care of… you!