How to write a really bad novel

Lovers of “illiterary” fiction no doubt will have heard of the Bulwer-Lytton competition, in which entrants have to write the most awful first line of a novel that they can possibly manage. This is in tribute to the late Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose rather dark and stormy novel, Paul Clifford, (as I’m sure you remember) began like this:

small__3459918218“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.”

 –Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

I understand that the competition is still going strong, so do check out the Bulwer-Lytton website to catch up on the latest pearls of awfulness in various types of fiction.

In the meantime, here are some back numbers. Which of the following do you find the most cringe-inducing? (My favourite is number 6.)

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.

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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. André, a simple peasant, had only one thing on his mind as he crept along the east wall: André creep… André creep… André 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 eking 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 floor.

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 tendencies.

And the winner …. taaaa daaaaa …

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 lied!”

Now, here’s how to write a really good novel…

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English
“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand
And of course, this great series of articles on HowToWriteBetter.net … How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss by Lucy McCarraher!

photo credit: lrargerich via photopin cc

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