Wed, Jul 27, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Wisconsin professor takes top prize for bad writing

WRITING WITH PIZAZZ:The annual Bulwer-Lytton Contest was named after the author who penned the evocative line: ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ in 1830


A sentence in which tiny birds and the English language are both slaughtered took top honors on Monday in an annual bad writing contest.

Sue Fondrie of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, won this year’s Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for her sentence comparing forgotten memories to dead sparrows, said San Jose State University professor Scott Rice.

The contest asks writers to submit the worst possible opening sentences to imaginary novels.

Fondrie wrote: “Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.”

The University of Wisconsin professor’s 26-word sentence is the shortest grand prize winner in the contest’s 29-year history, Rice said.


The judges liked that Fondrie’s entry reminded them of the 1960s hit song The Windmills of Your Mind, which Rice described as an image that “made no more sense then than it does now.”

The contest is named after British author Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel Paul Clifford begins with the oft-quoted opening line: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

The contest solicits entries in a variety of categories.


John Doble of New York won in the historical fiction category: “Napoleon’s ship tossed and turned as the emperor, listening while his generals squabbled as they always did, splashed the tepid waters in his bathtub.”

To take the prize for best purple prose, Mike Pedersen of North Berwick, Maine, relied on a thesaurus-worth of synonyms: “As his small boat scudded before a brisk breeze under a sapphire sky dappled with cerulean clouds with indigo bases, through cobalt seas that deepened to navy nearer the boat and faded to azure at the horizon, Ian was at a loss as to why he felt blue.”

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