Thoughts & Views: To celebrate wretched writing

Charles Schulz/United Features Syndicate
Charles Schulz/United Features Syndicate

In 1982, the English Department at California’s San Jose State University launched the annual Bulwer- Lytton Fiction Contest, inviting deliberately “wretched writers” to compose “the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.”

The contest is named for 19th century British author Edward George Bulwer- Lytton, whose novel “Paul Clifford” begins, “It was a dark and stormy night . . . .” — the line famously plagiarized by Snoopy.

Still going strong, the competition now attracts entrants from around the world. The 2015 winners were recently announced, and, as I have in the past, I will share some of my favorites with you. As usual, many of my choices fell into the Runner- Up or Dishonorable Mention categories. But I include the Grand Prize winner since the author is from New Jersey:

“Seeing how the victim’s body, or what remained of it, was wedged between the grill of the Peterbilt 389 and the bumper of the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT, officer ‘Dirk’ Dirksen wondered why reporters always used the phrase ‘sandwiched’ to describe such a scene since there was nothing appetizing about it, but still, he thought, they might have a point because some of this would probably end up on the front of his shirt.” — Dr. Joel Phillips, West Trenton, N.J.

• • •

(To fully appreciate this one, brush up on your Shelley):

“Ozymandias looked upon his mighty statue and despaired, amazed that the sculptors could have gotten his nose so wrong and wishing the darned thing would just crumble into pieces and blow across the lone and level sands, but leaving his legs since they were actually rather flattering.” — Margaret Stein, Omaha, Neb.

• • •

Historical Fiction: 

“With his lamp giving off a dull yellow glow General Washington sat up late into the night contemplating his problems: Not enough food, not enough clothing, not enough men, and that idiot Private Doodle who kept putting feathers in his cap and calling it macaroni.” — Dan Leyde, Shoreline, Wash.


“After weeks at sea, Captain Fetherstonhaugh and his hardy crew had at last crossed the halfway point, and he mused that the closest dry land now lay in the Americas, assuming of course that it was not raining there.” — David Laatsch, Baton Rouge, La.

• • •

“Certainly most people in Morris’ place would have had certain misgivings about being stranded aboard a life raft, facing the unrelenting hunger and the possibility of having to eat the weaker members of the crew just to eke out the chance of survival for a few more days, but as Morris was an Asiatic black bear he had absolutely no qualms about it whatsoever.” — Charlie Hill, Auckland, N.Z.

Children’s Literature: 

“Shortly after that interfering do-gooder Snow White had introduced Sneezy to non-drowsy antihistamines, he had to change his name to Brian, where he then left the mines with Ray (formerly Sleepy) who was now a caffeine addict and Bob (formerly Grumpy) who was on 100 milligrams of Prozac a day, and Doc whom Snow pointed out had never actually graduated from medical school and was being sued for malpractice — oh how he despised that high and mighty ho.” — Hwei Oh, Sydney, Australia


“My name is Vangir,” the stout dwarf announced, “son of Valdir, son of Tolfdir, son of Torsson, heir to the dwarf kingdom of Darag-Vur, King of the Under-Folk, ring-giver, dragon-slayer, M.D., DDS.” — Austin Stollhaus, Louisville, Ky.


“Duane made a very unfortunate zombie; the coroner had removed his dentures and all of his clothes before he reanimated — thus he was destined to stagger naked through the woods, attempting to gum small animals to death.” — Stephanie Leanne Myers, Baton Rouge, La.

Purple Prose: 

“He typed like a ninja with no arms, and the text flowed like a drop of blood down a katana blade sharpened with one of those automatic kitchen things you can buy on late-night television when you’re drunk but not too drunk to read off your 16-digit credit card number and security code.” — Alex Dering, Brooklyn, N.Y.


“Their love had come upon her completely by surprise, thought Amelia – like when you’re looking into your rearview and side mirrors to decide whether it’s feasible to switch into the passing lane and you think you’re in the clear, but then you find yourself utterly sideswiped.” — Allison Sloto, Pottstown, Pa.

• • •

“Well . . .” began the mother as she attempted to answer her daughter’s question, amid fuzzy memories of a balmy night in Cuba, several empty bottles of pineapple rum lying around the bed she had shared with the Captain accompanied by the worst headache she could remember, “I wouldn’t use the word ‘accident’.” — Alex Main, Springboro, Ohio

Science Fiction: 

“The gravitational pull up here on Mars is much less than it is back at home base, of course, so your tongue sticks to the roof of our mouth and everyone sounds like Eleanor Roosevelt.” — John Holmes, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Vile Puns: 

“As James King, detective in the Queens branch of the NYPD stared at the rooks pecking at the disheveled corpse of Bishop Robert Knight in the alley behind the pawn shop, he checked for his mates.” — Mark McGivern, Albert Lea, Minn.


“Barnaby asked the counter girl for a pastrami sandwich on rye with heartbreak, onions, and ennui on it, wrapped to go in the soul of a sheep, to which she turned wearily and yelled, ‘Another number six!’” — Jeff Coleburn, West Chester, Pa.

• • •

“Stephanie did not intend to become an animal coroner when she went to veterinary school, but the workload was manageable and, for cats, she usually just had to check the ‘curiosity’ box under ‘cause of death’.” — Doug Purdy, Roseville, Calif.

• • •

To read all the winning entries, visit:

Learn more about the writer ...