The 2014 Winners

A few years ago I did an interview about this contest for British radio.  The host proved to be completely uninterested in the primary contest, and only wanted to talk about the Found division.  I guess that's understandable.  "Intentional unintentional comedy" is kind of a tricky concept. 

  • Unintentional comedy: someone says (or, in this case, writes) something ridiculous, and we laugh at that person. 

  • Intentional comedy: someone says or writes something ridiculous, and we realize from context, or from our knowledge of the person, or just from things like vocal cues, that the ridiculousness was on purpose, and we laugh with that person. 

  • Intentional unintentional comedy: an entry is ridiculous, yet plausible enough that we can laugh at the imaginary author who wasn't trying to be funny, while simultaneously laughing with the real author who was clever enough to invent that imaginary author. 

It's easy to see why the first concept on that list was considered more radio-friendly than the last.  And, yeah, I'm also aware that many Lyttle Lytton readers find the esoteric nature of the contest's central task more irritating than interesting — many entries don't make it onto the page of winners because no one could possibly have written those sentences unintentionally, a consideration of no concern to people who just want to read a bunch of funny stuff.  On the flip side, plausibility is not a concern in the Found division: we generally know that the author was attempting to be serious, and the sheer shock value of that knowledge makes entries like this honorable mention seem funnier:

Her spirit was as strong as the titanium sheathing her graphene-coral bones.

vN: The First Machine Dynasty by Madeline Ashby
quoted by Micah E.F. Martin

That said, the Found division was not created as an exercise in pointing and laughing at bad fiction.  It was supposed to be for taking lines from things like advertisements and news articles and showing how funny they would be if reimagined as the first line of a novel.  Consider this:

Drug lord Pablo Escobar’s hippo died the same way he did, hunted down and shot by the authorities for posing a danger to the public.

thestar.com, 2009.0711
quoted by Glen Chiacchieri

That isn't too far off from the beginning of One Hundred Years of Solitude!  Or if the cadences of Anna Karenina are more your speed, here's a line from a medical journal:

Birth defects affect us all, but particularly families with children who have birth defects.

nih.gov, 2013.0807
quoted by Rowan Jacobs

This, on the other hand, cuts a little too close to some of my own work (and life):

I’ve fallen prey to the vicissitudes of limerence periodically since I felt the first pangs of adolescence.

deleted review of Meat Is Murder on rateyourmusic.com
quoted by Jonathan Hill

Yet the fact remains that most people who submit entries for the Found division of the contest pick their lines from works of fiction.  And I must confess that some do strike me as meriting inclusion.  Here's one that caught my eye:

Suddenly Alex had had enough. “Then why don’t you go and ---- yourself.” He spat out the swear word.

Scorpia Rising by Anthony Horowitz
quoted by Alex Huntington

Apparently the typesetter spat it out too!  (And I guess in making that joke I have identified myself as old enough to remember typesetters.)

Here's one for the "…whut?" files:

It was that time again. The time where all the horses used to show off to their gods.

hylianwolflink.deviantart.com, 2013.0726
quoted by Aaron McGinniss

That concludes the honorable mentions in this category.  The winner of the Found division for 2014 is one that got passed around the Internet for a bit around this time last year and so may be old news to some; one that is taken from a piece of fan fiction, so kind of an easy target; one that doesn't actually work all that well as the beginning of a novel, and so has no real right to win this award; and yet in so many ways reads like the ultimate Lyttle Lytton entry:

Obama chuckled. “You mean the Chaos Emeralds?”

@fanfiction_txt on Twitter, 2013.0430
quoted by Sid Delano

I'm pretty sure that this must be the Obama who was sitting in Clint Eastwood's chair.

So, let's go straight from side contest winner to main contest winner!  The winner of the 2014 Lyttle Lytton Contest is:

“Together, we will beat them all,” she whispered, caressing the circlet-girt fontanelles of her #royalbaby.

Alex Thorpe

I've already written at some length about how inappropriate tagging is destroying civilization (see the Chuckle Box at the bottom of this page), so to that I'll just add that it's always a relief when, the first time I encounter a particular gimmick for this contest, it appears in an entry that's done well.  The hashtag idea was almost certainly inevitable, but I can't think of a funnier one to use than "#royalbaby".  The Thrones-y vibe of the sentence is also a fun poke at our pop-cultural moment.

Four runners-up this year; if the above entry is summa cum laude, the following are magna cum laude: 

As we gazed into each other’s eyes, Colin moved the front bits of my hair off my face and put them with my other hair.

Hannah Sim

That one has a bit of an Achewood feel to it.

As the abandoned temple crumbled, Professor Winston cried, “Utilize your rope!”

Ari Brill

All humans work at The Factory, which is run by robots and it makes more robots.

Harold S. Grimbly

It's obvious how the effectiveness of the first of these hinges on the word "utilize", but I would submit that the second works in large part because of the "it".

It was 1995 the year the soccer teams came, kicking their balls, to town.

Gage Herrmann

I know that there's a double entendre in there, and the beginning is nicely awkward and the tone is humorously inappropriate, but above all that, I'm just amused by the mental image.

Before I move on to the honorable mentions, I also want to single out one more entry — in the early years of this contest I used to have special "prizes" for particular types of sentences, one of which was the "Berman Prize" for the sentence that did the best job of suggesting a novel with a truly bad idea behind it.  This year, that prize would certainly have gone to this entry:

“Well, this is passing strange,” thought Shakespeare as he saw the dead body of the lady in Stratford-upon-Avon, “and methinks it dost bear investigating.”

Stephen Strepsi

The frightening thing is that this totally passes the plausibility test.  I would not be surprised if there were a real novel out there somewhere with an identical premise.

Many entries do fall into genre categories; here are a couple of others we can file under mystery (and I notice that all three of these are structured very similarly!):

“This sure is a bad murder,” quietly thought Detective Gaius Hanssen as he was investigating a hell of a crime at the Colosseum in Ancient Rome.

Kevin Sands

“The Crime Lads have done it again,” I realized grimly, surveying my dead wife.

Hannah Sim

Hannah with the two-fer there.  The choice of the word "surveying" is particularly good (or bad, depending on your perspective).

Romance is always popular as well:

As he stared into her fiery alabaster eyes, the wealthy Earl Roderick realized that Lady Serena was not like the other Regency-era noblewomen he had known.

Kristen Ahrens

You know, history professors always say that people in the Middle Ages didn't think of themselves as living in the "Middle Ages", but, like, did they not notice the knights running around and stuff?

In any case, most who submit entries in this genre skip the courtship and start off their imaginary novels with the hot stuff:

I gently began to fuck Tracey, and as the fucking continued we swept down and across the floor like midnight dancers.

Jake Scott

Darla lay aside her man, yowling cat noises in the glow of their grownup lovedance.

Jacq

Their passionate love took flight as an explosion of sprawling limbs and content genitalia.

Felix Zhou

Sadly, most romances eventually end in heartbreak: 

I couldn’t believe what I heard as I read the words in her note which, like daggers, sliced up all my feels.

JJ Wright

Phil’s tears fell softly, carried down his face by the gravity of her unfairness.

Piper Gragg

This next one falls into the same category, but it also serves as the winner of a mini-contest that it seems like y'all were having without me: what was up with half the entries this year being about vampires?  Aren't we supposed to have moved on to dystopian teenagers killing each other or something? 

No one could love a dark-past’d vampire like me.

Lachlan Redfern

There you go.  Vampire winner.

One last entry from the romance department, this one neither euphoric nor traumatized, but philosophical:

Nils awoke, contemplating the things of love.

Peter Berman

On a similar theme:

Dave, sitting there, thought to himself quietly about all the different things in the world.

Zachary Segel

I was going to say, "That book is going to be long," but it occurs to me that Borges once wrote something along those lines and it was actually pretty short.

What next?  How about sports?

The man with black skin took the big rubber ball and jumped and put it into the basket with a metal rim on a board.

Josh Chen

Foreword by Donald Sterling.

“No!” raged the swimmer, his opponent streaking by to touch the wall like a dolphin, “No.”

Kinley Gibson

Ah, dolphins, those lovable wall-touchers.

Our next genre is travel:

Ah, the first time I set eyes on Asia… a whole new world of rich descriptions and evocative atmospheres was unveiled before my eyes.

Chetan Desai

New York in the 80s: money was tight, but homies were tighter.

Jonas Sjöqvist

I dunno — I've lived in New York, and while money may once have been tight in the West 80s, I think folks in the East 80s have always been pretty flush.

Some entries don't fall into standard publishing genres but do constitute part of one tradition or another among Lyttle Lytton entries.  There's the ever-popular Sad Sack Sue/Stu:

The mean loudmouths at Orangedale High just didn’t understand Timmy, who only wanted to stay quiet and read and appreciate nature.

Shannah McGill

"Appreciate nature" is an especially nice touch there.  Then we have the misapplication of verbs to bodily organs:

Stepping into the trinket shop, the musty air inhaled by Glenda’s lungs went unnoticed, distracted by the air of wonder inhaled by her eyes.

Joe Smith

Dark. Cold. Vast. Shards, falling. Shapelessness. Formlessness. A wheeling, as of stars. Yes: you are inside my cerebral cortex, suckling on my thoughts.

Sam Horwood

Like this year's winner, the entry below plays off a popular web site:

Welcome to WikiPlot, the free novel that anyone can edit! LOL JOHN LIKED POO

Nick Mathewson

I like this next one a lot — it does hit that sweet spot of, "Sigh, I actually did write sentences like this when I was fourteen or so and thought they were pretty good":

The rain loudly hits the sidewalk like bacon sizzles in a skillet, thinks Jake as he holds his coat collar closed, wishing he could trade the bitter cold for that meaty heat.

Greg Jensen

And to conclude this year's list of Lyttle Lytton winners, here's one that pretty much broke the needle off my WTF meter.

Casie did not enjoy the preference dreams, like lemon – red pepper – onion; she much preferred the simple dreams, like orange – orange.

Asher Stuhlman

It's nice to have dreams.

So that's it!  As always, let me say that there were many fine entries in addition to those above, and on a different day the list of winners might have looked a little different.  Thanks to all who entered, and to those who stopped by to read the results.  I hope you enjoyed them at least as much as Casie enjoyed orange – orange.  (And I am probably going to spend most of the time until the next contest trying to figure out what on earth that could possibly mean.)

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