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Was it a dark and stormy night?

Several events in my life have come into alignment to make me think of posting this this week. First, sometime after 4:00 Sunday morning we lost our electricity. We were a little concerned since we were having guests for lunch and the preparation involved having power. Fortunately it came on shortly before 7:00. We never did hear why we lost power, but it was definitely not because it had been "a dark and stormy night."

Second, the first several weeks of my summer break I have been hired to copy a website from one server to another. The work is fairly tedious (and tasteless) as I copy the 300 pages, one page at a time. It should take me only 60 to 100 hours. %-) My eyes are almost crossed from the repetitive nature of the task, but it does pay well. 🙂 The website belongs to ABC — the Association for Business Communication It's been interesting to read a bit of the history of this association whose goal is to improve the writing of people involved in business.

The third event in this interesting alignment will be explained later in the post.

About 8 years ago I did a blog post about the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. I will copy below my explanation of the whole Bulwer-Lytton phenomenon. I have updated some things so that they are correct at the time of this post.

During my 42 years of teaching French, I've graded my share of student compositions. Some things that students have written, not always intentionally, have made me laugh out loud. The most memorable is what one student wrote in a composition for second semester French — they have to write the first paragraph of a thriller. One student wrote (and I translate) something like "The man and his dog rounded the corner and found the baker lying in the alley behind the bakery with a spoon in his chest." This student had obviously not taken the time to look up the French word for "knife" in the dictionary and gone with her memory. I commented on her paper that that must have been a horribly painful way to die! I still laugh at this one, but the really humorous twist on this is that that student went on to minor in French and lived in Paris, France, where she was transferred to work for three years with the Ernst and Young accounting firm. UPDATE: She is in the final stages of a doctorate in International Accounting from a university in France! Finding that out recently was the third event that led up to today's post.


I did a little research online about this contest. If you go to the Bulwer-Lytton site, be warned that some of what you find there may not be to your liking. I trudged through a lot to give you what I'm posting today. 😎 Here's some of what I learned from Wikipedia and from the official site for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest:

Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton (May 25, 1803—January 18, 1873) was an English novelist, playwright, and politician. Lord Lytton was a florid, popular writer of his day, who coined such phrases as "the great unwashed", "pursuit of the almighty dollar", "the pen is mightier than the sword", and the now famous, incipid "It was a dark and stormy night." Despite the popularity in his heyday, today his name is known as a byword for bad writing. Since 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. The first year there were only three entries, but the contest has really taken off since then.

Here's the (in)famous opening sentence of Bulwer-Lytton's novel Paul Clifford (1830): "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."

(And here I had always attributed "It was a dark and stormy night..." to Snoopy sitting atop his doghouse with his typewriter! Is nothing sacred?! The "Peanuts" beagle Snoopy plagiarized Bulwer-Lytton for years!)

Today I'm going to post a recent winning entry that was so bizarre it made me laugh out loud, followed by some entries in the "Dark and Stormy Night" category.

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. — Cathy Bryant, Manchester, England

It was a dark and stormy night, as it would be for the next 23 years on the world of Lo’soun, a lop-sided planet that rolls around its axis like one of those spinning tops kids have, and for the next 23 years the brave space colonists would have to live without light, warmth, or the screaming, car-sized cicadas that only come out in the summer. — Matthew Hannum, Glen Burnie, MD

It was a dark and stormy night, although technically it wasn’t black or anything – more of a gravy color like the spine of the 1969 Scribner’s Sons edition of “A Farewell to Arms,” and, truth be told, the storm didn’t sound any more fierce than the opening to Leon Russell’s 1975 classic, “Back to the Island.” — Kevin Hogg, Cranbrook, BC, Canada

It was almost a dark and stormy night – not dark or stormy enough to be called that but just the kind of sweaty night that makes your shirt stick to your back and make you wish you were still at home with the air conditioning and eating pig skins and watching the Martha Stewart trial on T.V. — Sarah Harris, White Rock, NM

It wasn’t a dark and stormy night when the Russian space station burned up in its final descent through the atmosphere, so it cast a glow on the face of a young Fiji girl sitting on the beach, causing her boy friend sitting next to her to utter, “Bei MIR bist du schoen.” — Jerome Radding, M.D., Laguna Woods, CA

It had been a dark and stormy night, but as dawn began to light up the eastern sky, to the west the heavens suddenly cleared, unveiling a pale harvest moon that reposed gently atop the distant mesa like a pumpkin on a toilet with the lid down. — Gerald R. Johnson Vancouver, WA

It was a dark and stormy night, although according to meteorologists since the lightning density on the satellite imagery for the area was only about 0.5 strikes per square mile, it wasn’t stormy, and according to members of the American Society of Cinematographers because the lights from the city reflected off the clouds and created about 13 lumens of light, it didn’t really fit the technical definition of dark. — Steve Petermann, Plano, TX

It was a dark and stormy night, well, not pitch dark so much a plumby, you know, that time of night where it turns into that kind of eggplant color, which I hate – eggplant not the time of night – and it wasn’t stormy so much as drizzly, like a cold that’s not so bad but really annoying, where you sound a little plugged up and all your mucus just sort of hovers at the edge of your nostrils or drips down the back of your throat, it was like that. — Maisey Yates, Jacksonville, OR

It was a dark and stormy night when, in the course of being snoopy, I happened upon the most extraordinary dog – sitting at an old-school typewriter upon the roof of his doghouse – who grumbled that he was working for peanuts.— Amy Torchinsky, Greensboro, NC

Here's the link again if you'd like to read my post from 8 years ago.

Some of my readers might like to try their hand at writing an awkward opening sentence of a novel in the comments to this post. In the actual contest at Bulwer-Lytton the categories are Adventure, Children’s Literature, Crime, Dark and Stormy Night, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Purple Prose, Romance, Science Fiction, Vile Puns, and Western. Who knows, your sentence might be so good that we'll all encourage you to enter the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. From their site, "The official deadline is April 15 (a date that Americans associate with painful submissions and making up bad stories). The actual deadline is June 30."

Write on!


"We (believers) live in a tension between already and not yet." — J. D. Crowley


Why did they make the word dyslexia so hard to read?

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1 Comment on “Was it a dark and stormy night?”

  1. #1 Jonathan
    on May 22nd, 2015 at 11:42 am

    That’s why I don’t read classic literature. It’s so full of cliches. Especially Shakespeare.