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. 


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. . .


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

Enter your worst first line for a novel to win fame and prizes. Click to Tweet


208 Responses

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  1. 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

  2. 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.”

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.”

  10. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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.


  13. 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.

  14. 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

  15. 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

  16. Turgid.

    Genre: Memoir

  17. 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

  18. 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

  19. 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.

  20. Sorry. Forgot the genre. Southern thriller.

  21. 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.”

  22. 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)

  23. 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.

  24. 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.


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

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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. :)

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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’.