If you’re thinking of April 15th as your tax deadline, it’s time to get your priorities in order. Turns out there’s a much more crucial item on that day’s to-do list: your official entry in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest sponsored by the English department at San Jose State University. The challenge? Pen the opening sentence to the worst novel imaginable in under 50-60 words and submit (or “inflict” as the contest sponsors say) your entry by the deadline, which was selected because Americans associate mid-April with painful submissions and bad fiction.
So who was Bulwer-Lytton? A late-nineteenth-century English politician and novelist famous for the opening line: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Except the line didn’t end there. The reason his prose now seems so dated and mock-able is that the full line was:
"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."
Fair warning: scanning the contest archives for ideas for your own entry may lead to a full lost hour in cyberspace as well as inappropriately loud bursts of laughter. If you find you need most of the next month to wrangle receipts for that other deadline, you can always try the Lyttle Lytton contest; same concept, twenty-five word limit. Good luck!