Tuesday, July 31, 2007

weekly writing coach: torture

It's time once again to reveal the winner of the Bulwer-Lytton prize, a contest in which writers vie to create tortured prose in the form of the first line of an imaginary novel. The prize honors Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the author who opened with "it was a dark and stormy night" -- but few recall the entire line:
"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."
While we commend his active verbs, Bulwer-Lytton (and all the contest winners who followed him) mastered the tangential phrase, jamming too many clauses and distractions in between the start and finish of his sentences. This year's winner pushes the form to the brink, inserting a 55-word tangent between dashes in the middle of a four-word sentence. If this is a record, don't seek to replicate it -- but do study the winners to learn what not to write.

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