The annual Bulwer‐Lytton Fiction Contest challenges entrants to pen the world’s most atrocious first line to a novel. Winners (and runners‐up and honorable mentions) are generally very long. An example from the 2000 contest, singled out by the contest organizer as an especially strong contender:
Bleah. Brevity is the soul of wit, and this goes on and on and on. This is more my speed:
The non-action of “stood”, the vagueness of “there”, the involuntary process of ovulation treated as an activity, the inappropriateness of measuring the volume of that non-activity, the uncomfortably gynecological detail of mentioning it at all—all combine to make a cringeworthy sentence. And since it’s only five words long, its impact is instant; you don’t have readers slogging through clause after clause after clause. So in 2001 I started a contest much like the Bulwer-Lytton, only with entrants limited to 25 words. (This has since been changed to 200 characters.)hide ▲
Your task is to write the beginning of an imaginary novel. Your goal is to make it hilariously bad. Note that wacky situations and intentional jokes are more suited to the beginnings of good comedic novels, not bad serious ones, and are therefore not really what this contest is about. On the flip side, significant butchering of the language (as opposed to subtle butchering) isn’t all that funny either. See the history pages linked above to get the feel for what sort of thing tends to win.
You need not limit an entry to one sentence, and you can even submit multiple entries if all your entries combined fit into the 200-character limit. However, you cannot submit multiple entries separately. No matter how many entries it contains, only one submission will be accepted per entrant in a given year. Also, please note that brevity is one of the chief aims of this contest, so entries that fall well short of the limit are likely to do better than those that push up against it. Before you submit your entry, look it over: is there anything you could cut out? A lot of submissions over the years have consisted of a great ten-word sentence buried within a thirty-word entry.
Your entry (or entries) may be original or may quote another source; if an entry quotes another source, you must state the source. Separate winners will be selected from among the original entries and from those that quote other sources. There are generally a lot fewer winners in the found division than the original division; this contest is not intended as a roundup of bad fanfic. It is also not a generic bad writing contest: an entry that sounds like the beginning of a bad news article (for instance), but not the beginning of a bad novel, should probably not be submitted. But sometimes people happen across published sentences that just scream to be Lyttle Lytton entries, and it would be a crime not to showcase them.
A few tips:
Entries should be submitted using the form below. You must submit your name and a working email address. If you don’t want your name published along with your entry, click the “don’t publish” box. No pseudonyms, please. I will accept entries up to but not after 2022 June 15 at noon, Pacific Time. The winning entries (or winning portions of longer entries) and any honorable mentions will be linked to this page shortly thereafter, likely within a month.
Good luck!hide ▲
Note: Like the heading immediately above says, this is an entry form. General correspondence—i.e., stuff you want me to respond to and not just stash away until next June—should be sent here.