Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest
The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (BLFC) is a tongue-in-cheek contest, held annually and sponsored by the English Department of San Jose State University in San Jose, California. Entrants are invited "to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels" – that is, one which is deliberately bad.
According to the official rules, the prize for winning the contest is "a pittance". The 2008 winner received $250, while the 2014 winners' page said the grand prize winner received "about $150".
The contest was started in 1982 by Professor Scott E. Rice of the English Department at San Jose State University and is named for English novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, author of the much-quoted first line "It was a dark and stormy night". This opening, from the 1830 novel Paul Clifford, continues:
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.
The first year of the competition attracted just three entries, but it went public the next year, received media attention, and attracted 10,000 entries. There are now several subcategories, such as detective fiction, romance novels, Western novels, and purple prose. Sentences that are notable but not quite bad enough to merit the Grand Prize or a category prize are awarded Dishonorable Mentions.
The winning entries are available at the contest website.
Six books collecting the best BLFC entries have been published:
- It Was a Dark and Stormy Night (1984), ISBN 0-14-007556-9
- Son of "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night" (1986), ISBN 0-14-008839-3
- Bride of Dark and Stormy (1988), ISBN 0-14-010304-X
- It Was a Dark & Stormy Night: The Final Conflict (1992), ISBN 0-14-015791-3
- Dark and Stormy Rides Again (1996), ISBN 0-14-025490-0
- It Was a Dark and Stormy Night (2007), ISBN 978-1-905548-60-6
An audio cassette of the winning entries in the BLFC was also released:
- Purple prose
- Lyttle Lytton Contest, a derivative favoring extremely short first sentences
- Bad Sex in Fiction Award run by Literary Review magazine
- Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year
- International Imitation Hemingway Competition
- "The rules for the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest are childishly simple:". Retrieved August 31, 2018.
- Hesse, Monica (August 15, 2008). "Purple Prose? His Is Truly Bruising". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 30, 2010.
- "2014 Contest Winners" (PDF). The Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
- "Our Story". The Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
- "Contest Winners By Year". The Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest. 2018. Retrieved 17 December 2019.
- Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest web site
- "From Worst to First: Literary Award Marks the Pits of Prose" Chronicle of Higher Education News blog (2007)