Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest
The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (BLFC) is a tongue-in-cheek
Tongue-in-cheek is a phrase used as a figure of speech to imply that a statement or other production is humorously intended and it should not be taken at face value. The facial expression typically indicates that one is joking or making a mental effort. In the past, it may also have indicated...

 contest that takes place annually and is sponsored by the English Department of San Jose State University
San José State University
San Jose State University is a public university located in San Jose, California, United States...

 in San Jose, California
San Jose, California
San Jose is the third-largest city in California, the tenth-largest in the U.S., and the county seat of Santa Clara County which is located at the southern end of San Francisco Bay...

. Entrants are invited "to compose the opening sentence
Opening sentence
At the beginning of a written work stands the opening sentence. Considered "most important", the opening sentence needs to entice the reader and sets the subject, the tone and possibly the style for the whole work, although this does not have to be obvious. David Lodge describes the opening...

 to the worst of all possible novels" – that is, deliberately bad. According to the official rules, the prize for winning the contest is "a pittance", or $250.

The contest was started in 1982 by Professor Scott E. Rice of the English Department at San Jose State University
San José State University
San Jose State University is a public university located in San Jose, California, United States...

 and is named for English novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer-Lytton
Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton
Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton PC , was an English politician, poet, playwright, and novelist. He was immensely popular with the reading public and wrote a stream of bestselling dime-novels which earned him a considerable fortune...

, author of the much-quoted first line "It was a dark and stormy night
It was a dark and stormy night
"It was a dark and stormy night" is an infamous phrase written by Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton at the beginning of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. The annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest uses the phrase as a signifier of purple prose...

". This opening, from the 1830
1830 in literature
The year 1830 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:*Amos Bronson Alcott marries Abby May.*Edgar Allan Poe takes up an appointment at the United States Military Academy, West Point....

 novel Paul Clifford
Paul Clifford
Paul Clifford is a novel published in 1830 by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton. It tells the life of Paul Clifford, a man who leads a dual life as both a criminal and an upscale gentleman...

, continues floridly:
"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
Gas lighting
Gas lighting is production of artificial light from combustion of a gaseous fuel, including hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide, propane, butane, acetylene, ethylene, or natural gas. Before electricity became sufficiently widespread and economical to allow for general public use, gas was the most...

 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
Detective fiction
Detective fiction is a sub-genre of crime fiction and mystery fiction in which an investigator , either professional or amateur, investigates a crime, often murder.-In ancient literature:...

, romance novel
Romance novel
The romance novel is a literary genre developed in Western culture, mainly in English-speaking countries. Novels in this genre place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending." Through the late...

s, Western novels, and purple prose
Purple prose
Purple prose is a term of literary criticism used to describe passages, or sometimes entire literary works, written in prose so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself. Purple prose is sensually evocative beyond the requirements of its context...

. Sentences that are notable but not quite bad enough to merit the Grand Prize or a category prize are awarded Dishonorable Mentions.

Winning entrants

Year Author
2011 Sue Fondrie Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Oshkosh, Wisconsin
As of the census of 2000, there were 62,916 people, 24,082 households, and 13,654 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,662.2 people per square mile . There were 25,420 housing units at an average density of 1,075.6 per square mile...

2010 Molly Ringle Seattle, Washington
Seattle, Washington
Seattle is the county seat of King County, Washington. With 608,660 residents as of the 2010 Census, Seattle is the largest city in the Northwestern United States. The Seattle metropolitan area of about 3.4 million inhabitants is the 15th largest metropolitan area in the country...

2009 David McKenzie Federal Way, Washington
Federal Way, Washington
Federal Way is a city in King County, Washington, United States. Federal Way is located between Seattle and Tacoma. Its western boundary is Puget Sound. It is bordered by Des Moines on the north, Kent, unincorporated King County, and Milton on the east and Tacoma and Fife on the south...

2008 Garrison Spik Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

2007 Jim Gleeson Madison, Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin
Madison is the capital of the U.S. state of Wisconsin and the county seat of Dane County. It is also home to the University of Wisconsin–Madison....

2006 Jim Guigli Carmichael, California
Carmichael, California
Carmichael is a census-designated place in Sacramento County, California, United States. It is part of the Sacramento–Arden-Arcade–Roseville Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 61,762 at the 2010 census, up from 49,742 at the 2000 census.-Geography and geology:Carmichael...

2005 Dan McKay Fargo, North Dakota
Fargo, North Dakota
Fargo is the largest city in the U.S. state of North Dakota and the county seat of Cass County. In 2010, its population was 105,549, and it had an estimated metropolitan population of 208,777...

2004 Dave Zobel Manhattan Beach, California
Manhattan Beach, California
Manhattan Beach is the wealthiest beachfront city located in southwestern Los Angeles County, California, USA. The city is on the Pacific coast, south of El Segundo, and north of Hermosa Beach. Manhattan Beach is the home of both beach and indoor volleyball, and surfing. During the winter, the...

2003 Mariann Simms Wetumpka, Alabama
Wetumpka, Alabama
Wetumpka is a city in Elmore County, Alabama, United States. At the 2000 census the population was 5,726.The city is the county seat of Elmore County, one of the fastest growing counties in the state....

2001 Sera Kirk Vancouver, British Columbia
Vancouver is a coastal seaport city on the mainland of British Columbia, Canada. It is the hub of Greater Vancouver, which, with over 2.3 million residents, is the third most populous metropolitan area in the country,...

2000 Gary Dahl Los Gatos, California
Los Gatos, California
The Town of Los Gatos is an incorporated town in Santa Clara County, California, United States. The population was 29,413 at the 2010 census. It is located in the San Francisco Bay Area at the southwest corner of San Jose in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains...

1999 Dr. David Chuter Kingston, Surrey, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

1998 Bob Perry Milton, Massachusetts
Milton, Massachusetts
Milton is a town in Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States and part of the Greater Boston area. The population was 27,003 at the 2010 census. Milton is the birthplace of former U.S. President George H. W. Bush and architect Buckminster Fuller. Milton also has the highest percentage of...

1997 Artie Kalemeris Fairfax, Virginia
Fairfax, Virginia
The City of Fairfax is an independent city forming an enclave within the confines of Fairfax County, in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. Although politically independent of the surrounding county, the City is nevertheless the county seat....

1996 Janice Estey Aspen, Colorado
Aspen, Colorado
The City of Aspen is a Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat and the most populous city of Pitkin County, Colorado, United States. The United States Census Bureau estimates that the city population was 5,804 in 2005...

1995 John L. Ashman Houston, Texas
1994 Larry Brill Austin, Texas
Austin, Texas
Austin is the capital city of the U.S. state of :Texas and the seat of Travis County. Located in Central Texas on the eastern edge of the American Southwest, it is the fourth-largest city in Texas and the 14th most populous city in the United States. It was the third-fastest-growing large city in...

1993 Wm. W. "Buddy" Ocheltree Port Townsend, Washington
Port Townsend, Washington
Port Townsend is a city in Jefferson County, Washington, United States, approximately north-northwest of Seattle . The population was 9,113 at the 2010 census an increase of 9.3% over the 2000 census. It is the county seat and only incorporated city of Jefferson County...

1992 Laurel Fortuner Montendre, France
Montendre is a commune in the Charente-Maritime department in southwestern France.-Population:-References:*...

1991 Judy Frazier Lathrop, Missouri
Lathrop, Missouri
Lathrop is a city in Clinton County, Missouri, United States. The population was 2,092 at the 2000 census.-Geography:Lathrop is located at .According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of , all of it land....

1990 Linda Vernon Newark, California
Newark, California
Newark is a city in Alameda County, California, United States. It was incorporated as a city in September 1955. Newark is an enclave, completely surrounded by the city of Fremont. Its population was 42,573 at the 2010 census.-Geography:...

1989 Ray C. Gainey Indianapolis, Indiana
Indianapolis is the capital of the U.S. state of Indiana, and the county seat of Marion County, Indiana. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city's population is 839,489. It is by far Indiana's largest city and, as of the 2010 U.S...

1988 Rachel E. Sheeley Williamsburg, Indiana
Williamsburg, Indiana
Williamsburg is an unincorporated town in Green Township, Wayne County, Indiana. Its a town populated with many churches and nature trails. There is a central common ground for all the towns people, this is the Lions Club Community Park....

1987 Sheila B. Richter Minneapolis, Minnesota
1986 Patricia E. Presutti Lewiston, New York
Lewiston, New York
Lewiston is a village in Niagara County, New York, United States. The population was 2,781 at the 2000 census. The village is named after Morgan Lewis, an early 19th-century governor of New York. It is part of the Buffalo–Niagara Falls Metropolitan Statistical Area.The Village of Lewiston,...

1985 Martha Simpson Glastonbury, Connecticut
Glastonbury, Connecticut
Glastonbury is a town in Hartford County, Connecticut, United States, founded in 1693. The population was 31,876 at the 2000 census. The town was named after Glastonbury in Somerset, England. Glastonbury is located on the banks of the Connecticut River, 7 miles southeast of Hartford. The town...

1984 Steven Garman Pensacola, Florida
Pensacola, Florida
Pensacola is the westernmost city in the Florida Panhandle and the county seat of Escambia County, Florida, United States of America. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 56,255 and as of 2009, the estimated population was 53,752...

1983 Gail Cain San Francisco, California


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:
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night (1997), audio cassette, ISBN 1-57270-045-9.

See also

  • Purple prose
    Purple prose
    Purple prose is a term of literary criticism used to describe passages, or sometimes entire literary works, written in prose so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself. Purple prose is sensually evocative beyond the requirements of its context...

  • Lyttle Lytton Contest
    Lyttle Lytton Contest
    The Lyttle Lytton Contest is a diminutive derivative of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, and was first run in the year 2001. Both are tongue-in-cheek contests that take place annually and in which entrants are invited "to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels."The...

    , a derivative favoring extremely short first sentences
  • Bad Sex in Fiction Award run by Literary Review
    Literary Review
    Literary Review is a British literary magazine founded in 1979 by Anne Smith, then head of the Department of English at Edinburgh University. Its offices are currently on Lexington Street in Soho, London, and it has a circulation of 44,750. Britain's principal literary monthly, the magazine was...

  • Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year
    Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year
    The Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year, originally known as the Diagram Group Prize for the Oddest Title at the Frankfurt Book Fair, commonly known as the Diagram Prize for short, is a humorous literary award that is given annually to the book with the oddest title...

External links

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