Purple prose prizewinner: the Bulwer-Lytton contest

The Bulwer-Lytton bad fiction contest is sponsored by San Jose State University, with the goal of finding someone who can write as bad a first paragraph as Edward George Bulwer-Lytton did in 1830 with the opener to “Paul Clifford.”

“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.”

They get thousands and thousands of entries each year, many of which are positively brilliant pieces of writing, in the over-the-top style demanded by the assignment. I’m serious.

Take this, the winning paragraph from a couple years back from computer analyst Dan McKay:

As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in Chapter 7 of the shop manual.

Take about colorful writing! E.B. White would have applauded the extended metaphor, the specificity of the details, the action verbs, the images that pop off the page.

The 2008 contest winner will be announced in the next couple of weeks and I’ll keep you posted.

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