How I Lost the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

This article was originally published on The Well-Read Man, on November 8, 2012.

It was a dark and stormy contest…

Since 1982, San Jose State University has hosted the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for both accomplished and inept writers. The event is named for famed novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), the author who penned such memorable phrases as “the almighty dollar,” “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and the raison d’être of the contest, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Now in its twenty-seventh year [when this paragraph was first written in 2009], this international fiction contest draws thousands of submissions from dark and stormy typewriters across the globe, each with a single purpose: to craft the worst possible opening sentence to the worst possible imaginary novel.

I submitted eight opening lines to the contest. When the results of the 2009 contest were announced in early July, it was with much sadness that I found my name absent from winners’ page. But perhaps it is all for the best. The contest winners receive as their reward “a pittance” and the chance to be known forever as someone who can generate truly pathetic prose.

To experience the eye-damaging results for yourself, visit the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest web site.

For your consideration, here are the eight sentences I submitted to the contest.

  • Fred hated geometry, but here it was again, angling for his attention, bisecting his feelings, and arcing past the hopes of his youth, and he felt that his life was once again taking a big tangent as he started to sign and cosign the loan documents.
  • Charles hated geometry, with its circles and dodecahedrons, its angles and vertices, its endless lists of rules and formulae that threatened to dissuade him from his plans for world domination, and as he sat down in the classroom’s gum-encrusted chair-with-desk, he remembered that it was geography, not geometry, that he hated.
  • Smith—and it just goes to show you how you can’t always judge someone by their given name, since in Smith’s case his quest for adventure in the darkest jungles of Africa, his near-hero status on five continents, and his MacGyver-like ability to overcome whatever malice the enemy could throw at him carried him far beyond the generic qualities of his common surname—died.
  • Gwendolyn’s golden locks cascaded over the delicate lace and puffed sleeves of her powder-blue gown, the gown she knew would ignite the fires of passion in Roberto’s eyes, and as she fingered the insignia and badges of military honor that graced her womanly form and that identified her as the ranking officer on the ship, she quickly realized that her author had once again put her in the wrong book.
  • As he cruised across the California desert and into the hot Arizona landscape, Bruce thought about how he would have to pass through Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas,  Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois,  Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts,  Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada,  New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota,  Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota,  Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming before he could claim to have driven through all fifty states, although not necessarily in that order.
  • Mark boarded the eastbound train from Track 9 in Los Angeles’ Union Station, his thoughts already 2,000 miles away in the Windy City, and as he read again the tear-stained letter from Beatrice, he realized that a westbound train departing from Chicago station traveling at 40 miles per hour would meet with his train in 20 hours, assuming his train traveled at a constant 60 miles per hour and departed at the same time, which seemed unlikely given the railroad strike.
  • From a glance at the blood-red coloring on his clothes, the heavy boots wiped clean of any incriminating dirt or fingerprints, and the bag he carried that contained heaven-knows-what, I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
  • As I looked with love on the face of my wife Delores, knowing how much this once-in-a-lifetime trip to Las Vegas to see the Rat Pack meant to her, I was unprepared for the guttural screams that emitted from her mouth as hundreds of rodents filled the stage.

[Image Credits: United Feature Syndicate]

Tim Patrick

Tim Patrick is an author, software developer, and the host of Japan Everyday. He has published a dozen books and hundreds of articles covering technology, current events, and life in Japan. Find his latest books at

Add comment

Cognizeit by Email

Get the latest Cognizeit content delivered to your inbox! Enter your email address below to subscribe.