“It Was A Dark And Stormy Night”

by Jimmy Akin

in Curios & Humor

"It was a dark and stormy night" is the famous opening of the not-at-all-famous novel Paul Clifford, which was published in 1830 by the not-yet-famous novellist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, whose opening later inspired the sort-of-famous annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, starting in 1982.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s opening to Paul Clifford is famous for how bad it is–not the "It was a dark and stormy night" part, for that part isn’t bad, but the opening sentence as a whole, which was both much longer and much more bad and which reads as follows:

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.

This sentence, referred to by the shorthand "It was a dark and stormy night," has become the emblem of bad novel opening sentences.

These days there is the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which contestants send in the deliberately bad opening lines of imaginary novels that they (usually) have no intention of carrying through to completion.

And the 2005 results are in!

Now, the entry that won this year (like several of the other entries the judges gave notable mention to) is quite bad, but it is also risque, so Rules 7 and 8 all over that.

Nevertheless, many of the submissions are really hilariously bad.

Some of my favorites:

India, which hangs like a wet washcloth from the towel rack of Asia, presented itself to Tex as he landed in Delhi (or was it Bombay?), as if it mattered because Tex finally had an idea to make his mark and fortune and that idea was a chain of steak houses to serve the millions and he wondered, as he deplaned down the steep, shiny, steel steps, why no one had thought of it before.

Ken Aclin
Shreveport, LA

Captain Burton stood at the bow of his massive sailing ship, his weathered face resembling improperly cured leather that wouldn’t even be used to make a coat or something.

Bryan Semrow
Oshkosh, WI

Because of her mysterious ways I was fascinated with Dorothy and I wondered if she would ever consider having a relationship with a lion, but I have to admit that most of my attention was directed at her little dog Toto because, after all, he was a source of meat protein and I had had enough of those damn flying monkeys.

Randy Blanton
Murfreesboro, TN

Patricia wrote out the phrase ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ exactly seventy-two times, which was the same number of times she stabbed her now quickly-rotting husband, and the same number of pages she ripped out of ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’ by Greg Behrendt to scatter around the room — not because she was obsessive compulsive, or had any sentimental attachment to the number seventy-two, but because she’d always wanted to give those quacks at CSI a hard time.

Kari A. Stiller
College Station, TX

"Why does every task in the Realm of Zithanor have to be a quest?" Baldak of Erthorn, handyman to the Great Wizard Zarthon, asked rhetorically as he began his journey began to find the Holy Hammer of Taloria and the Sacred Nail of Ikthillia so Baldak could hang one of Zarthon’s mediocre watercolors, which was an art critique Baldak kept to himself unlike his predecessor, whom Zarthon turned into the Picture Frame of Torathank.

SSG Kevin Craver
Fort Polk, LA

"Wet leaves stuck to the spinning wagon wheels like feathers to a freshly tarred heretic, reminding those who watched them of the endless movement of the leafy earth–or so they would have, if only those fifteenth-century onlookers had believed that the earth actually rotated, which they didn’t, which is why it was heretical to say that it did–and which is the reason why the wagon held a freshly tarred heretic in the first place."

Alf Seegert
Salt Lake City, UT

"The night resembled nothing so much as the nose of a giant Labrador in excellent health: cold, black, and wet."

Devery Doleman
Brooklyn, NY

Our fearless heroine (well, mostly fearless: she is deathly afraid of caterpillars, not the fuzzy little brown ones but the colossal green ones that terrorized her while she was playing in her grandmother’s garden when she was just five or six years old, which, coincidentally, was also when she discovered that shaving cream really does not taste like whipped cream) awakened with a start.

Alison Heft
Lititz, PA

Billy Bob gushed like a broken water main about his new love: "She’s got long, beautiful, drain-clogging hair, more curves than an under-the-sink water trap, and she moves with the ease of a motorized toilet snake through a four-inch sewer line, but what she sees in me, a simple plumber, I’ll never know."

Glenn Lawrie
Chung-buk, South Korea

Sandra had waited and wished for Gary to come sweep her off her feet, feeling just like Lois Lane waiting for her handsome, masculine Superman to come fly her away from the humdrum of everyday life, but Gary had never come, and so she’d ended up with Herman, a man as bald as Lex Luthor with worse eyesight than Clark Kent and the maturity level of Jimmy Olsen.

Mary P. Potts
Bradenton, FL

The double agent looked up from his lunch of Mahi-Mahi and couscous and realized that he must escape from Walla Walla to Bora Bora to come face-to-face with his arch enemy by taking out his 30-30 and shooting off his nemesis’ ear-to-ear grin so he could wave bye-bye to this duplicitous life, but the chances of him pulling this off were only so-so, much less than 50-50.

Charles Jaworski
North Pole, AK

As soon as Sherriff Russell heard Bradshaw say, "This town ain’t big enough for the both of us," he inadvertantly visualized a tiny chalk-line circle with a town sign that said ‘population 1,’ and the two of them both trying to stand inside of it rather ineffectively, leaning this way and that, trying to keep their balance without stepping outside of the line, and that was why he was smiling when Bradshaw shot him.

Keriann Noble
Murray, UT

Derwin Thoryndike vowed to place a 14-carat engagement ring on the finger of Glenda-Sue Ellington, so now all he had to do was save up enough money to buy the ring, get it inscribed, and then locate a person named Glenda-Sue Ellington and convince her to marry him.

Harvey McCluskey
Vancouver WA

A warning to the reader: Tom dies in the end of the story so don’t get too attached to him.

Sam Gerring
Lexington, KY

Anyone with a less refined air of unabashed insouciance would not have been able to so easily slip through the security cordon, charm their way past the armed guards, breeze through the marbled reception area and blithely enter the inner sanctum of the UN Security Council and there successfully negotiate an end to all conflict in the Middle East, but that was the sort of man Nigel Simpkins was.

David Lindley

The wheel of love had left its treadmarks in his chest once too often, like a knobby mud tire on a monster truck, or like a really big ponce wheel, the kind that tailors use to punch little holes in patterns and that would leave lots of nasty little welts if you were to run it up and down your arm.

Peter Loughlin
Santa Rosa CA


. . . and use the combox to add your own bad opening sentences to imarginary novels! (Only keep it clean.)

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Kevin Miller August 1, 2005 at 12:37 am

not the “It was a dark and stormy night” part, for that part isn’t bad
I don’t know. Granting the moon and all, I think I’ve yet to see a night that wasn’t, in a basic sense, “dark.”

David August 1, 2005 at 7:44 am

That cinammon scent eminating from the kitchen of his murder victim (or was it coming from the victim herself? “So hard to gage these things accurately!”, the ruthless, bloodthirsty, and utterly depraved, yet still vaguely sensitive and caring, killer said to himself) reminded him of his mother, who also smelt of cinnamon.

Veronica August 1, 2005 at 10:52 am

T’was the night before Christmas, otherwise known simply as Christmas Eve, when from up the chimney the nerve-wracking, maniatical laugh of an intruder perched on top of the small house, gave the inhabitants of the nearby homes a cold chill familiar to those living in South Dakota in 1930, as the deep voice continued to disturb the silence of the dark night. “HOHOHOHOHOOOO!” It roared.

quasimodo August 1, 2005 at 12:24 pm

The stranger walked into the theater with an expression on his face reminiscent of Jimmy Akin thinking of a pun that he just had to share with the audience but was unable to get the microphone out of Karl Keating’s hand (who was finally explaining the circimcession -or something like that- of the Trinity ).

StubbleSpark August 1, 2005 at 1:04 pm

I dunno about opening lines, but in university they made me read Herman Melville’s Pierre and the Ambiguities — which was deliberately written to be bad. Melville was fabulously successful in this regard.
“Mystery mystery! Mystery of Isabelle! Isabelle and mystery!”

Gene Branaman August 1, 2005 at 5:20 pm

“I heard his footsteps even before he began walking up the stairs. I knew who it was going to be, as if I’d had premonition or read some tea leaves or visited a fortune teller or just made the whole thing up. But nothing could prepare me for the case I was about to take. As he opened the door to my temporarily lightening-illuminated office, a gust of wind blew across his head in a Bryl Cream rush, beating his ample comb-over into submission like an invisible cudgel. Oddly enough, his waxed handlebar moustache failed to even twitter. I should have taken that as an omen. “Waxed handlebar moustaches are supposed twitter in the wind,” I thought to myself as the door slammed, breaking the window emblazoned with “Mr. Ree – Pri ate D ive.” (Note to self: No more peel-n-stick letters.)
Satan was out & prowling that night. And his pumps were too tight.”

Mary August 1, 2005 at 6:02 pm

Actually the whole line is touched with purple prose, and doesn’t really start the story, but it could be much, much worse.
At the very least, it intimidates that anyone who has to be abroad this night will have real problems.

Barry August 2, 2005 at 5:48 pm

I thought Snoopy wrote ” It was a dark and stormy night….”
Another childhood memory tossed aside…

Mary August 2, 2005 at 6:22 pm

He wrote it. He just borrowed it.
Madeleine L’Engle also borrowed it for A Wrinkle In Time.

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