The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest was invented by Professor Scott Rice at San Jose State University.
The contest challenges writers to come up with the best worst way to begin a novel.
The name for the contest came from Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, who began his novel Paul Clifford (1830) like this:
“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.”
Here are two winning Bulwer-Lytton samples from years gone by:
Gail Cain, 1983 winner:
The camel died quite suddenly on the second day, and Selena fretted sulkily and, buffing her already impeccable nails, not for the first time since the journey began, pondered snidely if this would dissolve into a vignette of minor inconveniences like all the other holidays spent with Basil.”
Robert Chappell, 1999 winner:
“The oil made their skin glisten as their bodies moved in slow synchronous rhythm on the beach, the water gently flowing up around their legs, birds floating in the surf accompanying their moans with songs of pain and despair, otter and seal carcasses washing ashore around them, and it frightened her and exhilarated her at the same time that their love under the open sky might be discovered by a Sierra Club cleanup volunteer.”
If you think you can write equally bad prose, submit an entry.
According to the official rules, the prize for winning the contest is “a pittance”, or $250.