One of the biggest hurdles to clear as a writer is the first sentence. You want to grab the attention of your reader and pull them into your story. One of the first authors I remember as a kid — Snoopy — began his work with, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
That is the way perhaps my favorite book of all time — A Wrinkle in Time — actually begins. And that story still has a hold on me. Back in the late eighties, I came across a book who used that opening line as its title, claiming it contained “the funniest opening lines from the worst novels never written.” I bought the book and learned about The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. (I’m sad to report the book and it’s sequels are all out of print.) I also loaned the book to someone years ago and forgot about it and the contest until The Goddess reminded me of it on her blog. Bulwer-Lytton used the sentence ito begin a novel he finished, and thus gave the inspiration for the contest over a century later:
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 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.
Oh, yeah, baby!
The winning entry for this year comes from Jim Guigli of Carmichael, California:
Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you’ve had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean.
You can find the rest of the 2006 results here and a “lyttony” of winners over the years here. For my post today I offer a few of my favorites:
It had been a dark and stormy night, but as dawn began to light up the eastern sky, to the west the heavens suddenly cleared, unveiling a pale harvest moon that reposed gently atop the distant mesa like a pumpkin on a toilet with the lid down.
— Gerald R. Johnson, Vancouver, WA
Despite the vast differences it their ages, ethnicity, and religious upbringing, the sexual chemistry between Roberto and Heather was the most amazing he had ever experienced; and for the entirety of the Labor Day weekend they had sex like monkeys on espresso, not those monkeys in the zoo that fling their feces at you, but more like the monkeys in the wild that have those giant red butts, and access to an espresso machine.
— Dennis Barry, Dothan, AL
The bone-chilling scream split the warm summer night in two, the first half being before the scream when it was fairly balmy and calm and pleasant for those who hadn’t heard the scream at all, but not calm or balmy or even very nice for those who did hear the scream, discounting the little period of time during the actual scream itself when your ears might have been hearing it but your brain wasn’t reacting yet to let you know.
–Patricia E. Presutti, Lewiston, New York (1986 Winner)
Like an expensive sports car, fine-tuned and well-built, Portia was sleek, shapely, and gorgeous, her red jumpsuit molding her body, which was as warm as the seatcovers in July, her hair as dark as new tires, her eyes flashing like bright hubcaps, and her lips as dewy as the beads of fresh rain on the hood; she was a woman driven–fueled by a single accelerant–and she needed a man, a man who wouldn’t shift from his views, a man to steer her along the right road, a man like Alf Romeo.
–Rachel E. Sheeley, Williamsburg, Indiana (1988 Winner)
The corpse exuded the irresistible aroma of a piquant, ancho chili glaze enticingly enhanced with a hint of fresh cilantro as it lay before him, coyly garnished by a garland of variegated radicchio and caramelized onions, and impishly drizzled with glistening rivulets of vintage balsamic vinegar and roasted garlic oil; yes, as he surveyed the body of the slain food critic slumped on the floor of the cozy, but nearly empty, bistro, a quick inventory of his senses told corpulent Inspector Moreau that this was, in all likelihood, an inside job.
–Bob Perry, Milton, Massachusetts (1998 Winner)
A small assortment of astonishingly loud brass instruments raced each other lustily to the respective ends of their distinct musical choices as the gates flew open to release a torrent of tawny fur comprised of angry yapping bullets that nipped at Desdemona’s ankles, causing her to reflect once again (as blood filled her sneakers and she fought her way through the panicking crowd) that the annual Running of the Pomeranians in Liechtenstein was a stupid idea.
— Sera Kirk, Vancouver, BC (2001 Winner)
On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained.
— Rephah Berg, Oakland CA (2002 Winner)
They had but one last remaining night together, so they embraced each other as tightly as that two-flavor entwined string cheese that is orange and yellowish-white, the orange probably being a bland Cheddar and the white . . . Mozzarella, although it could possibly be Provolone or just plain American, as it really doesn’t taste distinctly dissimilar from the orange, yet they would have you believe it does by coloring it differently.
— Mariann Simms, Wetumpka, AL (2003 Winner)
Dolores breezed along the surface of her life like a flat stone forever skipping across smooth water, rippling reality sporadically but oblivious to it consistently, until she finally lost momentum, sank, and due to an overdose of fluoride as a child which caused her to lie forever on the floor of her life as useless as an appendix and as lonely as a five-hundred-pound barbell in a steroid-free fitness center.
–Linda Vernon, Newark, California (1990 Winner)
There are more where those came from; check them out and remember:
Grasshopper, the three secrets of life are as follows: first, keep your eyes and ears open; second: don’t tell everything you know.
— Andy Otes, Frenchs Forest NSW, Australia
Those are nifty. There is also a Son of A Dark and Stormy Night – three books altogether. Fun stuff.