We’ve all heard about the magic of a book’s first sentence. Melville’s “Call me Ishmael” or Orwell’s “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Some sentences stay with you forever. At the very least, we writers want our first sentences to set the tone for the novel and persuade the reader to give the book another few pages.
There’s no shortage of commentary about good first sentences: examples, why they’re important, how to make them good. I won’t try to add to those lessons since I’m not a great writing teacher unlike, say, for example, Murderati’s very own Alex.
Instead, I want to talk about the bad first sentences. No, not sad, pathetic bad. Funny bad. Intentionally bad. Hilariously bad.
Turns out there’s an award for worst imaginary first sentences. Named for the author of Paul Clifford (as in “It was a dark and stormy night”), the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest promises that its www stands for “Wretched Writers Welcome.” And wretched are the submissions indeed.
In the genre of detective fiction, the winner, from Steve Lynch (San Marcos, CA): “She walked into my office wearing a body that would make a man write bad checks, but in this paperless age you would first have to obtain her ABA Routing Transit Number and Account Number and then disable your own Overdraft Protection in order to do so.”
I also enjoyed this “dishonorable mention” for purple prose: “Elaine was a big woman, and in her tiny Smart car, stakeouts were always hard for her, especially in the August sun where the humidity made her massive thighs, under her lightweight cotton dress, stick together like two walruses in heat.” -Derek Renfro (Ringgold, GA).
And the overall winner, from writer Molly Ringle: “For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss — a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil.”
Pretty good (meaning bad) stuff, right? But as atrocious as those first sentences are, I suspect we here at Murderati can reach even higher (lower?) levels of literary abomination.**
I’ll get this party started.
The first sentence of my next novel (NOT!): Harlow felt oddly detached from the sight of her own fat, rumbling inside the lipo hose like tapioca and cherry slurpee, as she wondered if her newly flat abdomen might bring Trevor back home.
Can’t wait to see what y’all come up with. Go for it!
*Shout out here to fellow law prof Stanley Fish for his excellent NY Times Op-Ed on first sentences of crime fiction novels.
**Hat tip to my bible, www.ew.com, for playing this game first.