Award-Winning Sentences

Stormy nightOne day, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton sat down and wrote what have become one of the most infamous opening lines of his novel Paul Clifford (1830): “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Bulwer-Lytton wrote other memorable lines. He penned “the pen is mightier than the sword” too, but chances are that if you know his name, it’s because of “It was a dark and stormy night.” Part of that sentence’s familiarity is thanks to Snoopy, who works so hard on that first sentence of his novels. If you’ve never quite understood the problem with that sentence, it’s likely that you’ve never read the full thing:

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 up 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.

Quite the sentence, isn’t it? Since 1983, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest has honored that epic sentence with a competition to write an equally spectacular sentence. This year’s winner, Sue Fondrie, teaches at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. The Guardian has more details, including the award-winning sentence which compares memories to wind turbines and sparrows and a groaner of a winner from the Fantasy category.

This post is the introduction from the Bits Flashback for July 31. Read the rest of the post on Facebook.


[Photo: Stormy night by Andrew J. Sutherland, on Flickr]