Worst Opening Lines

My buddy novelist Joel Goldman has sent me the top 10 winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Contest (aka Dark and Stormy Night contest) conducted by San Jose State University’s English department. Contestants compete to write the first line of a really bad novel.  Here are the winners:

10. "As a scientist, Throckmorton knew that if he were ever to break wind in the echo chamber, he would never hear the  end of it."

9. "Just beyond the Narrows, the river widens."

8. "With a curvaceous figure
that Venus would have envied, a tanned, unblemished oval face framed with
lustrous thick brown hair, deep azure-blue eyes fringed with long black lashes,
perfect teeth that vied for competition, and a small straight nose, Marilee had
a beauty that defied description."

7. "Andre, a simple peasant, had only
one thing on his mind as he crept along the East wall: ‘Andre creep.  Andre
creep.  Andre creep.’"

6. "Stanislaus Smedley, a man always on the
cutting edge of narcissism, was about to give his body and soul to a back alley
sex-change surgeon to become the woman he loved."

5. "Although Sarah had
an abnormal fear of mice, it did not keep her from eeking out a living at a
local pet store."

4. "Stanley looked quite bored and somewhat detached, but then
penguins often do."

3. "Like an overripe beefsteak tomato rimmed with
cottage cheese, the corpulent remains of Santa Claus lay dead on the hotel

2. "Mike Hardware was the kind of private eye who didn’t know the
meaning of the word ‘fear’; a man who could laugh in the face of danger and spit
in the eye of death– in short, a moron with suicidal

And the winner is. .

1. "The sun oozed over the horizon, shoved aside darkness,
crept along the greensward, and, with sickly fingers, pushed through the castle
window, revealing the pillaged princess, hand at throat, crown asunder, gaping
in frenzied horror at the sated, sodden amphibian lying beside her, disbelieving
the magnitude of the frog’s deception, screaming madly, ‘You

11 thoughts on “Worst Opening Lines”

  1. Guyot, which one was yours in 2004?
    (I think my favorite one from Lee’s list is the penguin one. For some reason I just busted out laughing and couldn’t stop. Maybe because it’s somewhat accurate.)

  2. Les Roberts wrote what I believe to be the worst opening line for a detective novel ever in CLEVELAND LOCAL. (And before anyone gets offended, I’m a friend of Les and I liked that book.) I won’t repeat it here, mainly because I can’t remember it, but it was a paragraph-long run-on about how rotten April is on the shores of beautiful Lake Erie that ends with “had become as urgent and as palpable as the throbbing of an infected hangnail.”
    Mind you, Les wrote that on purpose, and I was left going “Huh?”, forced to read on to see if he was pulling my leg. He was. It was drive-by pulp, something deliberately bad and cliched. The two Conner Samson shorts I read years back, before Victor Gischler became VICTOR GISCHLER!!!!, usually had a few lines of it sprinkled liberally throughout. You’d be getting into the story, and Gisch would toss in a line like “Her nipples strained against her nightgown like the had a schedule to keep.” But you’re so into the story, you’re only reaction is to think, “Did he just say what I think he said?”

  3. Let me add that Les and Victor were doing this for humorous effect. Sadly, I’ve read too many stories or books that started with lines almost exactly like Lee posted.
    And they were put out by major houses.

  4. This is one of my favorite bad opening lines, and it’s from a self-published novel by R.J. Carrie-Reddington entitled “Six Days of the Pigs.”

    Midway between dawn and sunrise the Tuesday morning air, heavy with nature’s fog, reeked with the acrid odor of pig feces as the skinny white man stood at the edge of the front porch, listening to Addie cry.

  5. Some of those are pretty bad all right. I found the penguine one kinda funny. But then again, since they’ve stolen my sanity (the penguines, I mean), that might have something to do with it.
    I think there are a couple there that are bad by themselves but could work given the right book. After all, I once read a great book that started with “It was a dark and stormy night.”

  6. I pondered this over and over in my head, convinced that number 8, defying description was the winner, but the simplicity of number 7 makes it the most hilarious of all. I would love to read the rest of that novel. Pure genius.


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