Strange Brouhaha

Friday, July 29, 2005

Bulwer-Lytton Contest

Okay, so go read a short CNN article about this year's Bulwer-Lytton contest, then come back and tell me why "It was a dark and stormy night" is an example of bad writing, because I don't get it. I assume that the objection is to the idea of a "dark...night," but anyone who's ever camped during a full moon can probably tell you the difference between a dark night and a bright night.

I mean, I suppose that a person could say that if it's a stormy night, then it must also obviously be dark, but "it ain't necessarily so, Joe." Think about a heavy downpour from sporadic cloud cover during a full moon. Or, in the modern age, think of all the light pollution even a small city gives off, bouncing off the clouds and creating a night that isn't truly dark.

I will grant that it's not the strongest opening line in the entire history of fiction, but is it really that much worse than "The pyramid was separated from the lawn by a sheet of water, its reflection doubling it, adding a triangle to a triangle, with nothing between but a long, thin tongue of green"? Or "Karl Rynndal moved a black rook"? Or "I don't know what it is about summer cottages"? I'm not saying that those are bad--I pulled them from a short-story magazine I have sitting conveniently nearby--but rather that I don't think they're any better or worse than "It was a dark and stormy night".

After all, if it really was a dark and stormy night, how else are you supposed to say it? "Apollo's chariot had long since traced its trail across the sky, its glory faded beyond memory into ebon stillness, leaving behind it roiling charcoal clouds arcing lightning, thundering fury down upon the world"?


  • (Ham) Yeah, I don't see why that's such a bad line either. It's certainly way hackneyed and cliche now, but objectively it seems alright to me.

    What's next line in the story? Maybe in that context its awfulness becomes evident.

    (Nice literary reinterpretation at the end of the post there too, by the way.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:04 AM  

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