The 2015 Winners

This is (eeeagh!) the fifteenth running of this contest for relatively short opening sentences to very bad imaginary novels, and with each year it gets that much harder to find territory that previous entries haven't explored.  For instance, take this year's winner:

I drew my customized Kimber 1911 .45, with the Pachmayr grips and skeletonized trigger, and leveled it coolly at the African-Americans.

Brad Hanon

That has a lot of overlap with one of 2011's runners-up, which also satirized the specs-heavy style common among gun fetishists (and, to be fair, car fetishists and computer fetishists and the like).  It has so much overlap, in fact, that despite feeling pretty sure that it ought to be this year's winner, I wondered whether I should demote it to the honorable mentions just on the basis that Chloe W. got there first.  But I decided that, no, this is the winner, because on top of the Guns & Ammo parody, Brad's entry adds two extra elements that give it even more bite.  One is the way it correctly observes that, when people who have amassed vast personal arsenals are pressed about why they need them, they tend to go straight to talking about (eagerly anticipated) "tactical scenarios" in which society has collapsed and devolved into a race war that will allow force them to shoot some black people.  (More on this here.)  The other, and what really put this entry into the winner's circle, was the hilarious appearance in this context of the phrase "African-Americans": it's not just that it's an amusing mismatch, but given the ugliness of the scenario the author is fantasizing about, the use of a polite demographic term is very obviously a clumsy fig leaf, and that is deeply funny.

Normally I go straight from the winner to the runners-up, but this time around I want to throw in an honorable mention first, just because it offers another take on some of the same themes as this year's winner:

“The experiment of multiculturalism has failed,” noted Captain Perry as he removed the laser-bayonet from the brown man’s chest.

Liam Norton

But did the laser rifle have Pachmayr grips?

Okay, back to the usual sequence.  Here's this year's first runner-up:

The bastard mayor tossed the money to his criminals. “Heh heh heh,” everyone said.

Daniel Snyder (not the football one)

Not a whole lot of exegesis required here.  The narrator's ham-handed condemnation of the characters is funny.  "Heh heh heh" as something that can be "said" is funny.  Attributing the "saying" to "everyone" is funny.  In summary, heh heh heh.

Last year I remarked upon the number of entries about moody vampires, and noted that I thought moody vampires had been supplanted in pop culture by dystopian teenagers fighting each other.  Naturally, that meant a flood of entries this year about dystopian teenagers.  The best of them was this one, this year's second runner-up, which also checks the "overly flat-footed YA novel" box:

      “Why do you love me?” asked Wildflower.
      “I love you because you are brave, strong, beautiful, tough, kind, spunky, and pure,” said Damien, “and unlike all the others, you stood up to Dictator James.”

Shannah McGill

"Wildflower" just kills me.  Even more flat-footed was this honorable mention:

The sky was gray, fitting for this grim dystopia.

Lachlan Redfern

Continuing with the honorable mentions, here's one that, like Shannah's entry, is dialogue-heavy, and this one seems to be trying to check all the boxes:

      “Mom,” I asked my mom. “What’s for breakfast?”
      “You know I haven’t made breakfast since your father died in a mysterious car crash a year ago on your birthday,” she said sadly. “You have his eyes.”

Akiel Surajdeen

Redundancy, incorrect speech verbs, characters "reminding" each other of stuff they already know, coincidences, clichés… that's a lot of badness in a pretty small space!  A tour de force.

Speaking of tours de force, I know that a lot of Lyttle Lytton readers' only concern is that an entry be funny, but I place a high priority on plausibility: i.e., can I imagine an author writing this and seriously thinking that it's good?  To be more specific — if I had written this when I was sixteen, would I have thought to myself, "Good job, nailed it!"?  Here's a beautiful example of an entry for which the answer to that question is "oh heavens yes":

Though she may have wiped away the tears, they just couldn’t stop flowing. Like a wound on a patient without enough platelets, it kept pouring out, rapidly filling in the paths she tried to remove.

Lucas Finney

"Like a wound on a patient without enough platelets" — yep, I totally would have congratulated myself on such an accurate and original simile without recognizing that it was also technical and awkward.  Same with "filling in the paths", for that matter.

Here's another entry that trades on a simile that doesn't quite work:

The cattle-rustler’s whip sang through the air like a long thin snake.

Lauren McNaughton

For as we all know, short thick snakes don't sing through the air quite as well.

As permitted by the rules, Lauren squeezed two entries into the character limit, and the other one not only made the list, but it also takes the Berman Prize for suggesting the book I would least like to read:

Do you have the time
To read a little rhyme?

I can rhyme for ages,
For 400 pages!!!

Lauren McNaughton

Not only do I not want to read 400 pages of this, but now I have a Green Day song stuck in my head.

Here are a couple of entries that make the list for being amusingly overwritten:

With the brassy tocsin of his morning alarm clock, John Michaelson’s weary eyes exploded open.

Tim Gray

Night falls in East L.A. with the crimson blood of men, as the day rises with women’s tears.

Aimee L.

Here's a similarly lachrymose entry:

David fell into Greg’s manful arms and cried against his waiting muscles.

Hannah Sim

And here is Hannah's fourth winning entry in just the past two years:

Nothing would ever stop reminding me of Lisa and her body.

Hannah Sim

And with that, it appears that we have reached the somatic portion of this year's contest.  Or if we hadn't after that last entry, we sure have after this one:

So we all had dicks, all of the boys — can I go on?

J. Robinson Wheeler

What I like about this one is the way it starts with a crass and even somewhat alarming initial clause — so, uh, what is this novel going to be about exactly? — and then immediately takes a quick detour to specify that the ones with the dicks were the boys.

And in the interest of equal time:

The dancers undressed; Liam noted their respective vulvae.

Zachary Cristina

And they all had vulvae, all of the puellae, but I won't go on.

Continuing with the theme of gender balance, here's a counterpart to Shannah McGill's 2014 entry about Timmy's experience at Orangedale High:

All the girls at the school talked about makeup and boys, but Sheila wore ripped jeans and didn’t care.

Hannah & David Meyer-Lindenberg

But lest you find Sheila's nonconformity too seductive, here are some sage words to consider:

I hope you discover, my dear teenagers, reading about my life as a “rebel”, that doing what your parents say isn’t always bad, cuz it can be bitchin’ sometimes.

Juan Hernandez

And in a similar vein:

Ten years ago in the war, the only thing in which I thought I would be was “the shit,” not this mansion where I live at now.

JJ Wright

The phrase "thing in which I thought I would be" is great, but let's not underestimate the heroic comedic work done by that humble "at".

And then there's this:

I knew that Billy had hiked into my life on a trail of broken hearts, but I never guessed that mine too would soon be becoming a part of that trail.

Charles

In college I took a class on syntax from Julian Boyd that included a handout specifically on constructions like "he would have been being killed".  The phrase "would soon be becoming" would have fit in very nicely.

There's always at least one entry that gets in just on the basis that I end up looking at it a couple dozen times over the course of the year and go "ha ha ha what" every single time, and this year it's this:

They had the mettle of men, and yet they ate the biscuits of dogs.

Neil Martin

I want to conclude this section of the 2015 Lyttle Lytton contest with one last honorable mention, one that, like the winner, uses a gimmick that we've seen before:

Jorge was helplessly gripped by the sight before him, like cojones in the hand of an expert dominatriz.

anonymous

The anonymous entrant notes that "there's a world of difference" between the Latin -x ending and the Spanish -z ending of the final word, and I agree.  Now, back in 2009, I mentioned this sentence that begins a chapter of The Confusion by Neal Stephenson:

  • "Caramba!" exclaimed Diego de Fonseca, "a cucaracha has fallen onto the tortillas of my wife!"

I'm 99% sure that the Spanglish here (including the italicization of "tortillas") was included for comedic effect.  I haven't read REAMDE, so I don't know whether the following is similarly deliberate, but either way, here's this year's winner in the Found category:

Found division:

Like any Russian, Sokolov enjoyed a game of chess. At some level he was never not playing it!

REAMDE by Neal Stephenson
quoted by Ian Charlesworth

I am normally more a fan than a detractor of Stephenson's, but gah, that is indeed awful.  I think I find it particularly so because when I was writing screenplays for a living, there were multiple occasions when I had to include an evil mastermind character, and there was always a directive from on high to make him a chess player.  It is one of the quintessential clichés.  And while I can forgive the awkwardness of "never not" — that seems like it might indeed be deliberate — the lazy stereotype of "Like any Russian" is just flat-out bad.

The original idea behind the Found division was to reimagine lines from news stories and the like as the beginnings of bad novels — and we'll get to those — but as we've just seen, a lot of people submit lines (if not necessarily the first lines) from works that are already novels, and some of these just beg to be included.  Usually these are from bestsellers with no particular literary aspirations, such as this honorable mention:

Serena fished the Tic Tac out and put it on her tongue, but she was so worried about her future, she could barely taste it.

Gossip Girl by Cecily von Zeigesar
quoted by Anant Pai

But this year some keen-eyed entrants found worthy contenders among works written long before the invention of the flavor explosion that is the Tic Tac.  Here's one from 1851:

“Heaven help me!” she groaned, mentally. “Now is my hour of need!”

The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
quoted by Ashley Rattner

And from 1816:

When Nathaniel at last ventured distantly to hint of an engagement with Olympia, her father Professor Spalanzani smiled all over his face.

The Sandman by E.T.A. Hoffmann (translator: John Bealby)
quoted by Nat Hendel

But let's look at some of the entries repurposed from non-fiction.  This is exactly the sort of thing the Found division was created for:

For Google executive Forrest Timothy Hayes, heroin was the killer app.

Patrick May and Heather Somerville, mercurynews.com, 2014.0725
quoted by Joey Schoblaska

I look forward to the article that begins, "For the 51 passengers who plunged to their deaths off a cliff in Peru, the luxury motor coach that carried them was indeed the struggle bus."

The family road trip in America is as old as covered wagons headed west — older, if you consider the ocean a road.

Dean Nelson, aaa.com, 2015 March/April
quoted by Daniel Koning

Yeah, when we ended up at the bottom of the Pacific during my driving test, I tried to explain to the DMV examiner that I considered the ocean a road.  He still flunked me.  Then we died.  (Actually, I'm also struck by how the line talks about trips in America — are there any oceans in America?  I suppose there are, if you consider Interstate 40 an ocean.)

Finally, in this batch of winners full of echoes of the past, we have an entry that calls to mind last year's Found division winner:

“Bees are good,” Obama says, as children scream.

politico.com, 2015.0406
quoted anonymously

I think we have to assume that he summoned those bees with his Chaos Emeralds.

And since I see the bottom of the page down there I take it that we have reached the end.  As usual, I feel I should specify that the cut line in this contest is always pretty arbitrary, and that if I had put this page together on a different day, the list of winners might look a little different.  Thanks to all who entered, and to you for stopping by to read the results.  If you enjoy the Lyttle Lytton Contest, please consider supporting it by tossing a few cents at the Patreon link below.  It would make me smile all over my face.

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