The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is a tongue-in-cheek contest that takes place annually and is sponsored by the English Department of San Jose State University in San Jose, California. Entrants are invited "to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels" – that is, deliberately bad.
The contest was started in 1982 by Professor Scott E. Rice of the English Department at San Jose State University and is named for English novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, author of the much-quoted first line "It was a dark and stormy night". This opening, from the 1830 novel Paul Clifford, continues floridly:
"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."
The first year of the competition attracted just three entries, but it went public the next year, received media attention, and attracted 10,000 entries. There are now several subcategories, such as detective fiction, romance novels, Western novels, and purple prose. Sentences that are notable but not quite bad enough to merit the Grand Prize or a category prize are awarded Dishonorable Mentions.
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
Cheryl's mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.
— Sue Fondrie, Oshkosh, WI