MANY WRITERS HAVE talked about the agony of being faced with a blank page and no inspiration.
The opening line of a novel is particularly hard. How do you set the scene for an entire book and engage the reader in just one line? For every “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins,” there are a hundred other “It was a dark and stormy night” openers.
The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is a competition to find the worst-possible opening sentence to a novel and it has just announced this year’s winner.
The er, honour went to Cathy Bryant who wrote this unforgettable first line:
As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and if so, his soul needed regrouting.
The contest, which is one of a number of similar contests, has been run since 1982 by the English department at the San Jose State University which invites people to submit their entries. The prize? “In keeping with the gravitas, high seriousness, and general bignitude of the contest, the grand prize winner will receive… a pittance,” the contest website states.
The competition was set up by Professor Scott Rice, who gave a special award to this particularly graphic opener from David Pepper:
As an ornithologist, George was fascinated by the fact that urine and faeces mix in birds’ rectums to form a unified, homogeneous slurry that is expelled through defecation, although eyeing Greta’s face, and sensing the reaction of the congregation, he immediately realised he should have used a different analogy to describe their relationship in his wedding vows.
The winner of the Romance section also gets an honourable mention:
“I’ll never get over him,” she said to herself and the truth of that statement settled into her brain the way glitter settles on to a plastic landscape in a Christmas snow globe when she accepted the fact that she was trapped in bed between her half-ton boyfriend and the wall when he rolled over on to her nightgown and passed out, leaving her no way to climb out.
Meanwhile the winner of the Science Fiction section deserves a mention just for managing to include the phrase “back into the tentacles of the alien who loved me”:
As I gardened, gazing towards the autumnal sky, I longed to run my finger through the trail of mucus left by a single speckled slug – innocuously thrusting past my rhododendrons – and in feeling that warm slime, be swept back to planet Alderon, back into the tentacles of the alien who loved me.
Over to you: Do you have a favourite opening line? Let us know in the comments…