The 2010 Winners
For the past few years I have begun these writeups with some prefatory
remarks about what this contest is not: it's not about puns, it's not
about gross-out humor or whimsical wackiness, etc. But this year I think
I can dispense with the introduction, because the winner perfectly
encapsulates what the contest is about. So let's get right to
it — the winner of the 2010 Lyttle Lytton Contest is:
I shouldnt be saying this, but I think Ill love you
always, baby, always, Adam cried into the email.
I got this one back in August and am still awestruck every time I see
the phrase "cried into the email." There's just so much wrongness
packed into those four little words:
Put it all together and you end up with an image of this dude bawling the
line above, the tears streaming down his face and splashing onto the screen
of his Blackberry, where they magically resolve themselves into the letters
that make up his abject missive. Throw in the suggestion that the entire
novel will be about this guy's post-breakup groveling and we have a winner.
- The ambiguity of the word "cried." We're so used to any piece of
dialogue that's the least bit emphatic getting tagged with a "he cried"
or "she cried" that initially it looks innocuous. But this quotation has
enough of a blubbering tone to it to make us think it must mean the regular
sort of crying. Who can say?
- The "cried"/"email" pair. Again, it looks innocuous, because we're
used to seeing the word "cried" affixed to pieces of written text, but
you can't actually "cry" in an email, which can neither transmit volume
should "cry out" be what's meant, nor convey the sobs that would accompany
the other meaning.
- The verb/preposition pair "cried into." This looks like it's just an
idiom error and that the author meant "in"... but when you think about it,
you can "cry into" things as well! Like, you could cry into an
(The entrant added a note that the selection of the character's name was
"purely coincidental." I should certainly hope so.)
No single runner-up this year. There were a lot of good entries, and here
you can insert the standard language about "on a different day the list of
honorable mentions might have looked slightly different." But here are the
ones that stood out this time around, in no particular order:
Splashy the whale smiled secretively, flapping his flappers and
I think Herman Melville's corpse just screamed. That's some awesome
mastery of marine mammal anatomy on display there. (Also, couldn't you
append "and swimming" to any description of a cetacean's activities?
"Tillikum the orca pulled his trainer into the water, violently drowning
her and swimming.")
The meteor formed a crater, vampires crawling out of the crater.
Always nice to get an entry from a past master. A worthy effort! You've
got the surpassingly dull "formed a crater" to describe a cataclysmic impact,
the repetition of the word "crater," the so-very-clichéd appearance
of vampires (from space!!)... but I think my favorite element is what appears
to be an attempt to deploy the ablative absolute. Seriously, I think half
the sentences I translated back in Latin 2 ended up looking like this.
This is a story about a racist hero who dies at the end, probably
painfully since hell get shot in the face.
The phrase "shot in the face" does a lot of the heavy comedic lifting here
(much as it did during the Cheney years) and the "probably" does its part as
well. But don't overlook the switch from the present of "dies," with the
author looking down onto the entirety of the timeline, to the in-timeline
future of "he'll." Also don't overlook that the narrator is clearly
noisily chewing gum while relating this information.
You are the greatest human in the world, the dragon told
the boy who desperately wanted to be a dragon, too.
I like this because it's so close to the "you're great just the way you are"
message common to children's stories, yet goes that one extra step too far.
Not sure it works as a first line, but I had to include it.
Then there's this one, which is probably too good to qualify — I
can see several ways to make it work — but is also too irresistible
to leave out:
This is a mystery about a murder I committed.
Which brings us to:
Murder is the most terrible crime of them all, the police
commissioner thought to himself as he loitered purposefully near the
While I'm glad the police commissioner has calmed down a bit since 2007,
let's not overlook 21 U.S.C. §603 regarding the sale of
Once upon a time, there was a talking lamp whose lightbulb fell out and
hit a person and the person got shocked and destroyed everything.
This is such an uncanny recreation of the way five-year-olds tell stories
that I assume that the Axe Cop audience would buy up the entire first
Zandor stood in the doorway, raking the onlooking crowd with the
hot coals of his eyes.
I like this because I can totally see my ninth-grade English teacher
giving it a green checkmark with a note saying "Powerful imagery!" Like
a lot of the best entries, it seems like it should work: "hot coals of
his eyes" seems all right, and "coals" goes with "raking," and "raking
a crowd" is, um, well, and "raking with eyes" is, oh dear...
The general, one might have said, had a sly, sneering-smile
expression upon his face.
The scary thing is that I've had altogether too many of those "dammit,
what is the word for that?" moments lately. I can totally feel
for this author. "Rrrgh, what's it called when your face is like—
you know, and your mouth is like this, and you're all, like... I'm pretty
sure there's a word for it..."
There was only one man salubrious enough to assuage my hunger for
love — senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).
This is a gimmick that could only work once, and the "salubrious" part
almost wrecks it, but I'm a sucker for those little party-and-state tags.
A number of other entries dealt with the timeless subject of love. A
You are in pain; both physical and emotional, my heart
My amygdala is informing me that I have been there, pal. Empathy
subroutines activated. Also note the skillful deployment of the
incorrectly used semicolon.
When John left me he took with him my heart, my soul, my
everything — which included my happiness, my appetite,
my energy, and even my tears!!
Not to mention my stereo.
Great Caesars Ghost! Amy sputtered. What
Philip Stephen Ivanhoe
One does one's humble best.
Let's conclude this section with a grab bag of other honorable mentions:
OMG texted Sue-Anne to her compatriot Ellen, MY OWN
PARENTS R DED! It looked like the Mystery Girls had a new mystery!
The IM-speak gag has been done before, but I couldn't read all that
Bad Machinery and not let this one sneak in.
Approach ramming speed! commanded Commander Klamsky,
as her frigate plowed through the celestial ocean at erupting
I wonder whether it plowed east'ard.
Bookended with firecrackers, her birth was an auspicious occasion,
festooned with all the ornaments of her birth, and solemn.
The mention of "firecrackers" and concern with whether the birth was
"auspicious" makes me think this is supposed to be taking place in
China... but a female fetus actually being permitted to come to term?
I've seen the Chinese M/F ratio figures. This might stretch suspension
of disbelief a bit too far.
As someone who has menstruated, I thought, I could tell you its
If you liked Judy Blume's classic Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret,
you'll love the long-awaited sequel Margaret: First Blood Part II.
Hearken, he spake, drawing thither, and alight thine
eyes on yon comely maiden betwixt such knaves as they.
That's nice, but you're due back at the "Steak on a Stake" booth in five
The battlefield stank thick with writhing progressives.
I was surprised to find that this was an original, since I assumed that
there would be a source citation and that it would be from something
released by Regnery Publishing. A matter of time, I guess.
Tuesday. Africa. Lion oclock.
And here my watch says it's only half past zebra.
All right! On to the Found category. This year's winner is:
Some things are so small, so miniscule, so atomically insignificant,
they can be seen only from three feet away using the Hubble telescope.
anonymous, quoting Rick Reilly, ESPN the Magazine, 2009.0629
This is a tour de force! Maybe not quite as abominable as the Straczynski
sentence in '08, but it's in the same ballpark. The most obvious malfunction
here is that Reilly seems completely unaware of the distinction between
a microscope and a telescope. (Hint: which one looks at small
things? ...No? Okay, hint: the Hubble Space Telescope looks at galaxies and
nebulae and things. Are those small?) He also misspells "minuscule."
But what makes this a winner is that it'd be hard to find a better example
of a certain formulaic type of sportswriting, the type that relies on
ostensibly humorous comparisons featuring references ripped from the
headlines, by which I mean the headlines sitting at the bottom of your
recycling bin. "Their playoff chances are as dead as Michael Jackson
with a case of swine flu!" "He makes enough in endorsements that Bill
Gates hits him up for walking-around money! You couldn't fit his wallet
into Twitter!" Etc.
Now, you might well object that this may be bad, but it doesn't exactly
sound like the beginning of a story. That's because you haven't seen
the follow-up sentence, which brought the entry to just over the limit
at 33 words. So while officially only the first sentence gets the award,
let's enjoy the entry in its entirety now:
Some things are so small, so miniscule, so atomically insignificant,
they can be seen only from three feet away using the Hubble telescope.
The heart of Jean Musgjerd is one of these things.
So as you can see, it's really a character study. This actually saw
When I first established the Found category, I anticipated that it'd be
filled with these sorts of repurposings. And I did get a number of
good entries that weren't from fictional sources. Here's another one
from the sports world:
Nine-year-old Kyle Graddy looked out across a minor league baseball
diamond for the first time in his life and pondered the possibility
of his own death.
Dylan Telfer, quoting Thom Patterson, cnn.com, 2009.1021
From "the Guardian Angel guide to safe living" circa 1982:
Street punks live in a fantasy world of invincibility, and our fear
turns their dreams into reality.
Duncan Cross, quoting Curtis Sliwa and Murray Schwartz, Street
From the ever-reliable Wikipedia:
Andy Hallett was an only child who grew to stand 62.
Paul O'Brian, quoting wikipedia.org entry on Hallett
The saying I have got your back almost never has the literal
meaning of receipt or possession of anothers spine.
Chip Snaxley, quoting wikipedia.org entry on figures of speech
Here's one that juuust missed last year's deadline:
At the peak of a golden career Liu Yan lost control of the very limbs
that experts say made her dances so magical.
Daniel Koning, quoting David Barboza, New York Times, 2009.0417
The very limbs! Those selfsame ones! This is the kind of stretching
for irony we saw in last year's winner with Dan Brown's president —
he's powerful, you see, but average in height!! But hey, if
that's what you're after, why not go to the source? Here's Scott Silverstein
again with another gem from the Dan Brown oeuvre:
David Becker had never held a gun, but he was holding one now.
Scott Silverstein, quoting Dan Brown, Digital Fortress
When I looked this one up, I found it was from Chapter 101. That's not
But again, I didn't really think that this section of the contest would
wind up with too many actual fictional works. Sure, I figured people would
send in lines from books they hated, or fanfic that was poorly written but
not in an especially funny way. But some of you have found stuff that's
so eye-poppingly appalling that it makes the "vampires crawling out of
the crater" entry look pretty solid. This is mostly vanity-press stuff
by people with seemingly no concept of what constitutes basic competence
in storytelling... and sometimes no concept of what constitutes human
THIS STORY BEGINS on a Beautiful sunny day in Daytona Beach Florida
With a man by the name of David Braymer. A 45-year-old Single man that
works at the local High school as a science teacher and astrology in
the 12-grade level.
Emily Joynes, quoting Dale Courtney, Moon People
Knuckles resembles a human, but with differences. Knuckles is neither
male nor female, though referred to as a "he." Three-quarter-inch-thick
dark-violet-colored (FFA000E0) fur covers his entire body. He is only
25 1/3 inches tall, 4 inches wide, and 2.5 inches deep.
Neil Klopfenstein, quoting Nick Smith, Legend of the 10 Elemental
As you can see, these are both a little too long, and with good reason:
the effect comes from the way the authors just keep going on like
that, rather than from any particular sentence. This means they
may not be right for this contest. Here's another that comes closer,
though it's still a touch too long:
"By the whirling rings of Saturn," he growled as he gazed
disconsolately at his paper-strewn desk. "I'd like to have those
directors of ITA here on Mercury for just one Earth-month."
Dan Schmidt, quoting Arthur Leo Zagat, "The Great Dome on Mercury"
This one's sort of interesting in that, today, it could only be a spoof;
before that, it could have just been clichéd; but it's from 1932,
when this sort of thing was relatively fresh. So, philosophically
speaking... was this as bad then as it is now, or did it only become this
bad in retrospect?
(Also, because this and the "Jean Musgjerd" lines really should have been
allowed, for 2011 I am upping the word limit to 33 words. But I think
that's about as far as I can go before losing the distinction between
this contest and the Bulwer-Lytton.)
Anyway, let's wrap up with a couple more short and snappy ones. Here's
a real sentence from a real story that comes awfully close to the
Lyttle Lytton ur-sentence:
Jennifer stood there imagining how good that pear would be.
anonymous, quoting Stephen Peterson, "What's Wrong With God... Or
Is It You?"
And then finally one that I was sure would appear in my inbox at some
point, but didn't. So here's my own contribution for this year. You
know how these are supposed to be the first sentences of imaginary
novels? Well, here's someone who's unequivocal on that point:
*((Gotta put First Things First))*
Adam Cadre, quoting Sarah Palin, official transcript of resignation
And that wraps it up for this, the tenth edition of the Lyttle Lytton
Contest. I think this was one of the better years for it, joining 2001,
2004, and 2007... I guess that means I should probably wait until 2013 to
run it again, but I'll take my chances on 2011. Thanks to everyone who
has entered, posted about, or simply enjoyed the contest over the past
decade. You are the greatest humans in the world!
Return to the Lyttle Lytton page!