The Worst First Sentence

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The Worst First Sentence

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a successful novel must be in want of a striking first sentence. But writers get their first sentences wrong – sometimes disastrously so. Instead of sentences that enthral you, they come up with ones which leave you bored or confused. The most famously bad first sentence was written by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton for his novel Paul Clifford in 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 house tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

When Professor Scott Rice of San Jose State University came across this, he decided that it was the worst first sentence of any book ever written. In its honour he established the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which encourages contestants to come up with a sentence that could outdo even Bulwer-Lytton’s effort. The competition has been run since 1982 and produced some worthy winners.

Now we're sure that h2g2's writers are talented enough to frame some really bad first sentences. So we are inviting you to submit your efforts here and we will assemble them into a hall of fame (or shame). We might even give you the chance to vote on your favourite worst sentence. To kick the collection off and to honour the spirit of Douglas Adams, we are looking for bad first sentences for a science fiction novel. Don’t worry, you don’t have to write the rest of the novel. Here’s one of mine to start you off - it’s bad but is it bad enough?

“Grant concentrated hard as he stared at the computer screen, which showed a huge mass of brown filaments stretching across space in the direction he was heading, until suddenly the truth dawned: Flight Officer Jessica was combing her hair again.”

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