Friday, 8 August 2008

T’was A Stark And Dormy Night…

If you look back far enough every story has a beginning – except of course they don’t.

Your story didn’t begin with your birth; it began with your parents and their parents and so forth back to the first fish that decided that fins were so passé and beyond.

Even in the world of the novel and the film there is an unspoken past, sometimes only briefly mentioned, that has made the characters into the people we meet on the printed page and the silver screen. Batman’s story begins not with him fighting the Joker, but with his protected upbringing ending in the murder of his parents – Ripley (Alien trilogy before they went stupid) is a career woman who can fight so hard because she’s always had to…and so forth and so on

So it’s always a challenge when writing a book to come up with that immortal first line that will grab the audience and make them long to read on to the final page.

In a recent blog on “Life: The Dynamic” the Clandestine Samurai wrote about beginnings, and how they can affect the way you react to a piece of text or a lyric.

And there is a school of thought that says that someone who is truly awful somehow comes out the other side into a warped form of genius – hence the success after their time of Edward D Wood Jr (named the worst director of all time) and William McGonnagall (worst poet in the English language).

But bad as they are only one writer was so bad as to have a competition named in his honour – and that was Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

Responsible for creating such classics as the following:
"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."

To be fair Bulwer-Lytton also created the oft-use phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword”, but every year since 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University sponsors a competition in his name: challenging writers to come up with the worst possible start to a novel (in one sentence only). The results for 2008 are now out and viewable on if you want a good laugh. The contest is divided into several sub-divisions, so that writers can try more than one genre. There is also a separate “bad sex in literature” link on the same site.

Sadly my entries did not come anywhere, so I will include a few of my sillier suggestions below and allow you to judge for yourselves. PS – if you can do any better please do, because I could do with a laugh. Those of you with a nervous disposition should look away now:

Tom, in his flibbertigibbet, whimsical, relaxed approach to the world, was – and indeed still is to this day, prone to – and by prone we mean prone as in the sun is prone to rise in the morning – splitting, as it were, his infinitives.

Whereas the boy named Sue had due right to complain to his pappy, Joe-Bob Jimmy-Jo-Jimbob Jones The Third always felt he owed his daddy a debt of gratitude: if only because he always had time to draw his gun and shoot before the lawman could finish asking if it were he.

Science-Fiction #1
Deep in the cavernous mountains of Articulous 5, sitting under a purple moon in a suit made from Teflon fibres and breathing air that was recycled from his persistent flatulence the evil Professor Watusi regarded his finished life-work and, for a brief second, wondered if a Limbo-dance-Inducing-ray really was the best way to conquer the Universe.

Science-Fiction #2
By the turn of the 28th Century the Eight-Headed Flesh-Eating Gargle-pukeathons of Splatticon Nine had been campaigning for a change of name by deed-poll for over seven hundred and fifty years as they felt it was having a negative impact on tourism and, besides, they hardly ever ate other life-forms these days.

Children’s #1
A long time ago in Austria a lonely girl named Maria, with a penchant for bursting unexpectedly into song about brown-paper packages and the like, got bored of kicking around the Nunnery and met a Captain with whom she could climb every mountain and ford every stream: however she was dissuaded from doing so by the National Rivers Authority, who are generally against that sort of thing.

Children’s #2
Parry Hotter realised that he was late for the Bogwinks express when he slammed head-first into the wall of Platform 49-D cup and fell into the arms of the lady from Parcelforce holding a box for him – which he opened to see a small bird rising from the flames, causing him to remember that he had forgotten to cancel his Order of the Phoenix.


StarAbbie said...

wow thats a lot to read...give up to much to read

Anonymous said...

Yeah, so then you question yourself. If your beginning is just the end result of a sum of events, each of which are the end result of a sum of events, and forever and anon, what is the point? What is constant throughout all this? I'm afraid all we are is dust in the wind, my friend. Drops of water in an endless sea.

That's funny, I also just wrote a post with a whole bunch of starts to stories, although mine are much darker. Additionally, I must admit that I don't see at all what's wrong with Edward Bulwer-Lytton's passage. Or your "general" passage (I can see some satirical book starting off that way).

But the Children's #2 passage seems so....familiar. Hmph.....can't quite put my finger on it though. (superficial readers - I'm being sarcastic).

Lydia said...

So funny and clever. My favorites were Children's #1 and #2, and the Western. Oh, and the post title is fantastic!

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

starabbie - good attempt: that really would be a terrible way to start a novel...or sentence...or were you actually saying that a page of text is too much effort? Surely not.

Samurai - dust in the wind indeed. Next year i will have to try harder!

Lydia - thanks. My favourite is Childrens #1, though i should point out that i'm actually rather fond of The Sound Of Music (despite it being a musical!)

Michael said...

Very funny in a double dry, double martini kind of way. I read, then laughed about 15 minutes later.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

michael - as long as you enjoyed!

Honour said...

You know I've read a book on best of the Edward Bulwer-Lytton contests. It was hilarious.

I loved your "general" entry - laughed out loud! (right away, that is)

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Honour - yeah, i'm thinking of buying a copy myself. The General one just came from the fact that split infinitives are so annoying!