Bad beginnings; also some good ones

Here are the 2012 winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which celebrates the worst opening sentences that people can concoct for novels you’ll never want to read.  This is the overall winner:

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.

Here’s the winner in the crime category:

She slinked through my door wearing a dress that looked like it had been painted on … not with good paint, like Behr or Sherwin-Williams, but with that watered-down stuff that bubbles up right away if you don’t prime the surface before you slap it on, and – just like that cheap paint – the dress needed two more coats to cover her.

If you prefer shorter badness, you can try the Lyttle Lytton awards, which give you a maximum of 200 characters to be awful.  Here is the 2012 winner:

Agent Jeffrey’s trained eyes rolled carefully around the room, taking in the sights and sounds.

These entries are generally much more subtle in their awfulness than the Bulwer-Lytton ones, which rely on top-heavy metaphors and overly detailed descriptions for their comic effect.  Here’s a fantasy runner-up in the Lyttle Lytton contest that for some reason struck me as hilarious:

Kaldor fondled the hilt of his sword with his lanky fingers and inhaled the sunrise. “I taste the future blood of my enemies,” he relished.

So how about a few good beginnings to wipe that bad taste out of your mouth?  Amazon’s “Click to Look Inside” feature makes it easy to check out the opening of any book.  Beginnings aren’t as crucial to novels as their endings.  Sometimes the writer needs to take his time to set things up.  Here is the matter-of-fact beginning of Great Expectations, whose ending we talked about previously:

My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.

Then there’s the spectacular opening of Lolita, after the hilarious faux foreword, which tells us the story should make all of us “apply ourselves with still greater vigilance and vision to the task of bringing up a better generation in a safer world”:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.  Lo. Lee. Ta.

How about Gravity’s Rainbow, whose opening sentence is so central to the novel that it was reproduced on the cover of the original edition:

A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare to it now.

And here are the great opening sentences of Slaughterhouse Five:

All this happened, more or less.  The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true.

Makes me want to read all these books all over again.

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