The Best of the Worst

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

One of the things you may not know about me is that I won the infamous Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest in 1999 for the worst first line in children’s literature.

My line read:

The greedy schoolbus crept through the streets devouring clumps of children until its belly groaned with surfeit, then lumbered back to the schoolhouse where it obligingly regurgitated its meal onto the grounds. 

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Yep. It was appropriately awful. My sentence was featured in newspapers across the country from The Boston Globe to our local papers. I even got a call from the booking agent at the Jay Leno show. They saw that I won in the children’s category and pictured a precocious child writer to go head to head with Mr. Leno. Not exactly. But it was a wild week.

We often talk about great first sentences in fiction but I think it’s fun to toy with the reverse and come up with the worst sentence you can think of to open a book.

Wanna play?

Here’s what we will do. In the comments section share your masterpieces– the worst first sentence you can create. *Keep it clean* It can be any genre from westerns to fantasy to romance to suspense, but let us know the genre. Enter as many times as you like. In the Bulwer-Lytton one man once submitted over 3000 entires.

I’ll have my team read over all the entries– I won’t comment– and next week I’ll share the winners in several categories, telling why each was especially awful. Besides your brush with renown, each winner will receive a gift basket of books and goodies. (And don’t forget: once you’ve created your masterpiece you can enter it into the Bulwer-Lytton contest yourself.)

So, let the fun begin. . .

TWEETABLES:

Forget the best first sentence in a novel. Let’s have the worst. Click to Tweet

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208 Responses

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  1. Wendy, that’s funny that you won for the best worst first line. :) Loved that. I’m not sure I’m creative enough to come up with a really great BAD first line but here’s my first attempt:

    “Cassandra Stephenson pontificated on the meaning of life to her somnolent students, as she pondered her future with her boyfriend Sigfried.”

    Genre: We’ll call it contemporary romance. :)

  2. I was reluctantly invited to the party by my neighbor, but she is thinking that my predilection for not avoiding the use of ten-dollar words will result in her stealthy abandonment by her friends, since that is the kind of behaviour which they are finding intolerable and up with which they will not put.

  3. This is like eating M&Ms. Surely a bad sign for my writing future.

    Genre – Historical Romance

    To effectively eat the Christians, I thought the lions should have been given silverware by us, while all the while Lucian is quietly thinking that to happily turn over to lions our best silverware by us will only increase their greed which is like throwing pearls before swine, and Bubba will do what Bubba always does, which is drinking all the wine he can find under the circumstantial events of the live-long day we’re going to.

  4. Like the fork in the ear repetative repeatingly over and over looping of annoyance, and the socially untamable scourge of a chronic wedgie, the super-fan stalked her prey…weather under the jungle like atmosphere of the bathroom doors, complete with roaches and drug dealers, or in the sultry, heady realm of the cocktail partay, where lies spun like gymnasts doing cartwheels on Red Bull, platinumnmumnun blonde model, Kandy Klooliss was going to speak to somebody about her Amish Ninja Haiku Prehistoric Romance documentary, even if she had to inpail them to a wall.

  5. Or maybe I don’t surrender. Memoir!

    It all began, as most lives do, at birth, but my wife thinks, No, and she will say “Isn’t it conception that you are speaking of?”, and thus began the beguine.

  6. Jaime Wright says:

    He saw her prance cross the dance floor, her stilettos looked as awkward as flip flops on a cow’s hoof and her legs were as long as a spider and perhaps just as hairy and he realized in that moment that he was in love with creep crawly bovine.

    Genre: should be horror, but written from the badly mutilated contemporary romance genre.

  7. Lori says:

    Here’s mine:

    Sandy Snodgrass, a 32 year computer programmer, contemplated the last hour of her life before she headed to lunch to meet with her best friend Susan who is married and always asking if she has found the love of her life yet which today Sandy actually had but there is a dilemma because no one wants to hear about a person visit to their proctologist no matter how wonderful and good looking he is.

    Contemporary Romance though I should also go join Andrew with Literary Horror.

  8. Repetitively pressing his tummy and finally presenting a perfect ten-inch circumferential ball of olive green spit-up from mouth to hand, the gratified gorilla began to revisit and wolf down every delicious mushy morsel, while Josh’s baby brother howled at the glass encasement, “Mommy … big monkey spit!”

    Middle Grade and had a blast!

  9. Jim Lupis says:

    Last year I entered a contest for what I thought was “best first sentence” so I gave it my all and entered. Sure enough I won, but then found out the contest was for “best worst sentence”. So much for my writing career! (Only kidding…I think.

  10. Wendy, you have unleashed the word minions, and this is going to be a very fun day…

  11. Seriously, this is keeping me engaged today – thanks, Wendy!

    Genre(s) – inspirational non-fiction, and taxidermy

    “A journey of loss begins with a single step, and they say morticians can do wonders these days, but how was I to know that when we were on the shark-fishing boat and they said “Toss the chum overboard!” they were talking about bait?”

  12. Stunningly beautiful, and poised to steal every heart in the room, Lola raised her hands and plunged her fingers into her perfectly coiffed hair, smiled, turned her head…and sniffed her armpit.

  13. This is the longest sentence I’ve ever written, queen that I am of the 100-word blog post :^) The first sentence of a fictional autobiography of a big reader:

    I write this while sitting in the kitchen sink because you don’t know me without you read this book, the saddest story you have ever heard, when once upon a time in the beginning in my younger and more vulnerable years, between the bright and cold day where the sun shone on nothing new and the dark and stormy night when the cold passed reluctantly from the earth, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, all this happened more or less and I almost deserved it—in a sense I am out of my mind and it is all right (after all, my family was unhappy in its own way)—where my father took me to discover that I am invisible but my keeper is watching me, and yet I am the hero of my own life.

  14. Repetitively pressing his tummy and finally presenting a perfect ten-inch circumferential ball of olive green spit-up from mouth to hand, the gratified gorilla began to revisit and wolf down every delicious mushy morsel, while Josh’s baby brother, having gobbled the remaining mucus from his fingertip, howled at the glass encasement, “Mommy … big monkey spit!”

    Just to show they have some similarities! Ha! Middle Grade

  15. I stood quietly in the kitchen, glass in hand, staring at the errant ice cube fallen to the floor, feeling my heart somehow connected to it by a taut cord of melancholy, the melancholy of potential melting away on cheap linoleum.

    Genre: Memoir

  16. Genre – writing craft how-to –

    The arc of a good story is like firing a mortar, when you drop the round down the tube and it fulfills its destiny, soaring joyously up, up, up into the fleecy innocent clouds sailing on the cheery blue sky, and then descends like a rollercoaster, faster and faster with a happy excited whoo-HOO! until it lands at the feet of your reader and blows him or her into a red mist drifting lazily on the breeze.

  17. Jim Lupis says:

    Genre – Historical Romance

    As she sneezed in his face and the snot dipped off her chin he thought to himself he had never seen such a more beautiful woman turning to his friends he said “youse guys take a good look that is my future wife!

  18. Six months old, and already their love had picked up memories like lint, which, now that Maddie thought about it, was appropriate, since she and Brian met at the laundromat, when Maddie found herself hampered by a stubborn washing machine coin slot, but then snickered at the thought of being “hampered” while doing laundry, and then found herself explaining her snicker to the nearest laundromat patron, who turned out to be Brian and who, better yet, turned out to have a sense of humor even, well, dryer than her own.

    Genre: Romance

  19. Okay one more: contemporary romance. :)

    Hallee stood behind the counter of the only hardware store in her town, the town she’d lived in all of her twenty one years—combing through her long latte-colored locks, her mouth dropped open, her heart pining, her stomach lurching like butterflies bouncing around in it—as she watched the man she always told everyone she would marry put his barrel-thick arm around her nemesis, the ugly Matilda Hawthorne.

  20. genre-romance

    Melvin, now sitting very close to Isabelle, smiled and leaned over to kiss her lips as she daintily lifted her fingers to his mouth and picked out a piece of lettuce from between his teeth.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

  21. More memoir…

    It all starts in childhood, when it is belatedly realized by me that to first test my new catapult using my baby sister (whose name as you will divine was Gloria) as the payload was a bete noir to my parents who said, “Whoa, dude, uncool!” and like the blind man at the pool of Siloam I just plain didn’t listen, and they were Godly people so I should have, but I named the catapult ‘Sic Transit Gloria’ because she puked.

  22. When she saw that he could beat the original Mario Bros in under half an hour, she knew she was falling in love; when he showed her the secret glitch level, she knew she was already there.

  23. Julia Lewis says:

    Hello my name is Bean Windblown and right now I’m whimsically picking herbs as I do every Quansiqualm morning.

    Genre: Fantasy.

  24. Traci Krites says:

    Here’s mine: genre Western

    Penelope Pruz pickpocketed the prentious Miss Sadie Lee while Miss Sadie preened for Mr. Doublas who kept a careful eye on the pretty Penelope.

  25. These are great. What fun. Congratulations on your accomplishment, Wendy. Too bad about that Leno spot. It must still be fun to talk about, though.

    Here’s my shot at a memoir piece.

    Tentatively approaching my archenemy, my legs felt like two logs watered down by months of rain and then tossed into the river, carried by the current over the waterfall, and then beaten to a pulp against a pile of jagged rocks.

  26. The nuns left town in droves to get some much needed advice when they found out what were once their habits had become vices.

  27. Middle Grade:

    I’m tired of being the crumbs at the bottom of her glass of milk, the dirty gum stuck on the sole of her shoe, the wet, smelly glob in her litter box, the broken lead in her mechanical pencil.

  28. She didn’t live to tell about it because she died and so she asked me to tell her tale, a tale that will keep you on the edge of your seat until you fall off, like she did.

    Genre: Suspense

  29. Time stood still, but not really, because time doesn’t stand, nor does it stand for personification of itself, evidenced by–I think you can see where this is headed, no?–the refusal of a sundial to quit working and the insipidly long endurance of today’s lithium batteries, which makes one wonder if time is bipolar, to which any thinking person would reply, “Why, of course! That’s explains a lot!” since time is at once a gift and a curse, a respite and a poltergeist, a kitten in the lap and a tiger’s claws embedded in the turkey-neck folds of skin beneath my trembling, winter-pasty but not altogether weak chin.

    Genre? Time Travail…I mean Time Travel.

  30. Contemporary fiction –

    The passage of the years left the old hippie looking as if he’d put his bell-bottoms on upside-down.

  31. Her steps quick and light, she thundered down the hallway, the pounding rattling picture frames on the walls in a whisper-soft, cattail fluff way while the sirens outside sang their sweetly soothing melody only God and dogs could hear.

  32. Her voice was like the slow drip of a tap in a darkened room at the in-laws’ cottage on a rainy 4th of July with a busload of pre-teens at a One Direction concert.
    Only more annoying.

  33. I stare out the window watching the rain fall down wondering how yesterday it snowed and today it’s raining and tomorrow it will probably be sunny again, but then I wake up and realize it’s all a dream and it’s actually sunny today.

  34. I told Momma I weren’t never gonna marry, unless she found me a pirate with a degree in Nuclear Physics who lived in a yurt with indoor plumbing and a view of the Chicago River…and I never, ever expected she would.

  35. What is WRONG with me? I want to write all these stories! There’s such a fine line between brilliant and bizarre.

  36. The Goodlybloppers attacked the Meazelmoobs with their horrendously puffy chests, destroying any hope for either race until the bluebird started to sing.

    Genre: Sci-fi

  37. She loved him and he loved her, so clearly, they were destined to hate each other until the last chapter.

    Genre: Romance

  38. While chewing a piece of chunky meat in my mouth, wind blowing my hair, I thought about the meaning of life and why I must fall in love with an incredibly gorgeous man to make my life complete, bonus points if he’s a vampire.

    Genre: Romance

  39. OMG Mark is like totes hot!

    Genre: Vapid teenage mass market paperback.

  40. Paula says:

    The turkey lumbered skyward like a winged bowling ball, straining its neck as if it could want its way up into the endless blueness, as if it really believed it was going to be safe up there with no cover and no camouflage or maybe it suddenly got the idea it had turned smurf-blue – I don’t know what goes through a turkey’s head, it can’t be much, and was about to be a whole lot less, I thought as I sighted down my rifle.

    (Genre: hunting magazine first person account )

  41. Ekta Garg says:

    I came. I saw. And then I decided to go get a smoothie while I tried to figure out whether I really wanted to…well, you know, try out the whole conquering deal.

    Genre: dystopian comedy

  42. After our wedding reception, we climbed into the getaway car and my husband looked at me and said “I never go anywhere without my Mommy.”

    Genre: Self Help Book “How to get INTO the Witness Protection Program”

  43. Action –

    As I looked around the living room at the bullet-riddled bodies of my family, the fallen Christmas tree, the smashed presents, I swore vengeance on those who had perpetrated this foul deed, but then I realized that “Downton Abbey” was about to come on.

  44. And some historical fiction –

    In a clear, brave voice, she called out “Shoot if you must this old gray head…” so I did.

  45. She wanted to be a writer so bad that she always said she’d do anything to see her name on the front of a real book with title pages and chapters and everything, anything at all, really anything but then she sat down at the computer and clicked open the internet and anything became a thousand nothings, so she decided a blog might be as good as a book.

    How-to book on Writing or maybe How-not-to

  46. Historical Romance

    “It’s hard for an anthropologist to find true love, but when she said that she still practiced the traditional Aztec ways I knew she would soon have my heart.”

  47. Addy Porter had been told all her life that she had to get married on her sixteenth birthday, but the only problem was, when the big day came around, every male in town under the age of two hundred took one look at her in her orange dress, pink hair, and pea soup green high heels with purple and yellow polka dotted feathers hanging off them and ran to the next county before they’d even decided to move.

    Genre: Contemporary Romance

  48. Anna Labno says:

    Slowly, not too fast, she went, one step at a time. :)

  49. It was a dark and stormy night when the stranger looked over at the other stranger and said: “pardner, my horse done fell over dead two hunnert miles back, so I used my knife- which I glued the blade on with flour and water- ta cut the wings off a turkey buzzard, then put ’em on my arms using hay to tie it in place and flew all the way here, and I wanted to ask ya iffin ya was willin’ ta share that there chaw of turbaccur ya gots in her cheek.”

    Genre: Western

  50. I love you, but I have to kill you.

    Genre: Historical Romance

  51. John Henry Jones jumped out a ten story window when his wife woke up retching and informed him she was carrying a child… And landed in a pile of rabid fire ants.

    Genre: Historical

  52. He leaned close to her ear, his breath as sweet as caramel stuck in the cavity in her back molar, and confessed what she’d been expecting to hear: “Rosie, love of my life, pulse of my heart, I believe–no, I KNOW–I have ulcerative colitis.”

  53. Susan Roach says:

    I want to play. Here’s my entry for contemporary romance:

    Her blood-red lips glistened into a grin as she tossed her ebony eyes over her shoulder and hit the hunk hunkering behind her, and he tossed his blue eyes back at her, eyes that glistened like limpid pools into the depths of his soul, and they both wondered what this exchange of eyes might mean, but hers were too small for him and his too big for her.

  54. Megan DiMaria says:

    Genre: Women’s Fiction

    I’ll never forget that day Uncle Bob lay against the couch with a cannula feeding life-sustaining oxygen to his cancer-riddled lungs. He’d grabbed my hand and said, “I promise I’ll kill Anthony before I die.” Unfortunately the cancer got him before he could do-in my good-for-nothing cousin.

  55. Al Stinker was just about to kiss his bride when a parade of women burst into the church and cried in unison, “we’re all Stinky’s wives and he’s been holding each of us captive in his bathroom while he runs around with more women!”

    Genre: Contemporary Fiction

  56. Fred Upton stumbled into the outhouse, shoved the screaming half dressed woman aside, stared at the two wooden holes and tried to figure out what he was supposed to do now.

  57. The beautiful woman in the fancy dress stared at the name she’d just scrawled across the affidavit for a proxy marriage, Ugliest Girl In Texas, and prayed her future husband was drunk when he opened his mail, because there wasn’t a man alive that wanted a wife with a name like that.

  58. The outlaw aimed a single shot derringer at Caroline Watson while he stole her cocked Winchester rifle, turned it to stare down the barrel, and pulled the trigger.

  59. Ugly Mugg Hanson brushed last week’s stew out of his beard as he stumbled into the room of spinsters holding their monthly how to get hitched meeting, and yelled, “I’m here ta find my tenth wife.”

  60. Death was nothing to a man like Fester Burch, he’d already died twenty three times, in his eighteen years, one more wouldn’t matter.

  61. They climbed into the ribbon bedecked buggy with its sign proudly proclaiming they had just married… right before it exploded, killing the bride groom, and the pet shark wearing suspenders in the back.

    Genre: Historical Fantasy

  62. Becky Jones says:

    “Run, and quick…this anthropomorphized amoeba thing is about to ingest us like a Kleenex on a drippy nose,” Bruce Swain said loudly, as he gasped macho lungfuls of sweet spring air.

    –Suspense

  63. Jarod Grimly stood frozen in front of the man holding a cocked revolver on him while the woman he loved jumped in front of him, taking the bullet meant to kill him and proving once and for all that she was right, he really was a yellow bellied sissy boy that couldn’t figure out how to unbutton his union suit.

  64. I’m Boon Hobbs and I like to sit by myself alone on a nice quiet, peaceful, and tranquil river of water tryin’ to catch my fish with my long fishin’ pole in my bright green fishin’ boat.

    Genre: Historical redundancy

  65. I am the first victim in the story who dies once you’re emotionally invested in my wellbeing before you meet the true main character.

    Genre: Wasted suspense

  66. Turgid.

    Genre: Memoir

  67. We all lived and we all died and that’s all there is to know, oh and a bunch of stuff got blown up.

    Genre: War Tragedy

  68. Becky Jones says:

    “I hatched from good, solid stock, the first in my litter of larvae, born on a bad, browning banana…but already, my transience tamped down, a thick smog of sorrow on my gossamer wings.”

    -Fruit Fly Memoir

  69. The sun leaped away from the horizon like Bo and Luke’s souped up General Lee shooting into the air, leaving Rosco P. Coltrane in the dust as it lands and races away into a sultry southern sunset without a scratch, even though we all know it’s just a bunch of Hollywood camera tricks and they’ve totally wiped out the undercarriage of yet another Dodge Charger.

  70. Sorry. Forgot the genre. Southern thriller.

  71. Romantic Techno-Thriller

    “They may call it ‘enhanced interrogation’ these days, but for most of the participants it’s still a lovely way to spend a lazy summer afternoon.”

  72. Paula says:

    Dearest Reader,
    As your eyes lick over my words on the screen, my mind brushes up against yours, infecting it with my thoughts and molding it to my perspective.

    (Self-published how-to on writing persuasively)

  73. Jennifer Valent says:

    I awoke to a cold sweat, desperately hoping it had all been a nightmare, but I knew there was no escaping the dreadful fact that the world as we knew it had run out of chocolate.

  74. Panic-stricken Royce Palance crushed the accelerator as his nether regions gurgled their demand for instant relief from the storm roiling within, and his sphincters cried for release from the contraband burrito secreted to him at the religious retreat, before the fast was over, and he shook his head with regret, but still with hope, racing home with undiminished faith it would all come out in the end.

    ~Thriller

    Yeah, I’m the guy who went there. Sorry.

  75. Tessa Afshar says:

    I am still laughing too hard at Wendy’s story to expect my brain to function. Jay Leno? How brilliant is that? But here is my try at it:

    Huddled on the trash heap of life, Job decided that God was not very just after all, since He had thought it alright to take Job’s beautiful children and leave behind his obnoxious wife and her smelly, pock-marked mother.

  76. Tessa Afshar says:

    I am chewing on a big wad of blueberry bubble gum when it suddenly hits me: I’ve been the hapless hopeless victim of a horrific homicide.
    Genre: Suspense.
    Oh and the one above about Job is from my regular genre, biblical fiction.

  77. Suspense: Realizing the fragility of the moment at hand, I gave Slumpy Howard a sideways glance, nodded and grinned as if chewing on a piece of meaty gristle as I stood on the veranda sweating through the back of my cocktail jacket in the most unusual pattern.

  78. Caitlin says:

    Genre: Children’s historical

    “The cold bowl of oatmeal was fairly crawling with worms, but the headmaster was looking; I tipped back a wriggling spoonful and felt it inch down my gullet—chokingly forced back a gag—there was a bit that wouldn’t budge.”

    • Oh, that’s awful and great, Caitlin! My husband once had to drink spoiled milk because his mother didn’t believe him. He is not fond of milk today! Ha!

      • Caitlin says:

        Thank you, Shelli! It was inspired by my Dad’s tales of boarding school. Oh, your poor husband! I can well believe an aversion to milk after an experience like that. :)

  79. Sharyn Kopf says:

    I know I’m late to the party so hope folks are still reading. So disappointed to have missed out on all the fun Tuesday! Anyway, here’s my historical contribution:

    My name is Ishmael Farouk Mellofluesciousmegoozapam … but you can call me Ned.

  80. Sharyn Kopf says:

    OK, one more (contemporary romance):

    He strode like a lion through the door, his silver blue eyes shooting sparks of liquid fire in rhythm to the Air Supply song coursing from the speakers, causing me to drop my venti half-caff triple-foam caramel latte right before I fainted into a heap beside it, allowing the brown beverage to slowly soak into my shirt until I looked very much like a mushed banana.

  81. Ekta Garg says:

    (Disclaimer: I absolutely LOVED _The Hunger Games_, so you know what they say about imitation and flattery…)

    My name is Kat-Tris, and I live in the future America where everyone wears gray clothes that are ratty, and I’ve got this cool guy friend who can sometimes go by his number or name, depending on what version of this we’re doing today, and even though I’m just a teenager it looks like none of the adults around here care enough about the state of things to change them or have the intelligence to do it, so I know I’m going to have to save the world or destroy the government or both, and along the way I’ll probably meet a vampire or a werewolf and might even fall in love with one of them, which will totally make my guy friend, [insert name/number here], act all stupid and egotistic, but somehow all of that works to my advantage as I change and destroy the world as we know it, which doesn’t explain what happens to that world in the future future, since my story already starts in the future, and in this future only the teenagers have enough drive to change anything.

    Just sayin’.