The Most Important Literary Prizes That You’ve Never Heard Of… The Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest

The world is awash with literary prizes of all kinds, from the prestigious Booker Prize and the pinnacle of a writer’s craft with the Nobel Prize for literature to the genre specific Hugo and Nebula awards.

Only the very best published works can achieve such heights and most writers, even at the peak of their powers, can only dream of such achievement.

But there is still hope! There are a myriad of lesser known prizes that bring with them pride, glory, a sense of achievement and in some cases, shame.

The first of these we’re bringing to your attention is the wonderful Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest. Many articles have been written and debates had about the importance of the opening of a book. Many a writer has sat stumped in front of an empty page, their story fighting to escape if only they can get past those first few words. The BLFC celebrates this, in it’s own way.

The competition judges the worst possible opening lines, from non-existent novels.

That’s it.

As an example, here is the 2018 winner from the Fantasy Category:

His steel sang as Dothrak, mighty thews febrile with barely-checked power, drew Aelthmor (the blade forged in eldritch shadows by the Zdrahali adepts) and declared, “All who have sworn allegiance to the False Duke will feel my wrath!” yet he was summarily admonished to silence, for it is at the Reference Desk of the Skokie Public Library that our story takes place.


– Greg Carlson, Minneapolis, MN

Humour is key, rather than just abject poor writing. Anyone can enter, and can submit as many entries as they like. The rules on the website even state that “A fellow once submitted over 3,000 entries.”

It has the pedigree of a legitimate writing competition with a rich history and has been sponsored by the English Department at San Jose State University since 1982!

The award itself is named for Edward George Bulwer-Lytton whose novel Paul Clifford began with the infamous and oft-used line, “It was a dark and stormy night.” This connection inspires the award category Dark & Stormy wherein the entries pay homage to the origins of the contest.

You can find out more, enter the competition and read the winning entries on the award website here:

The Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest

All that leaves for us to do is to give you the full beginning of Paul Clifford, judge it for yourself!

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents – except at occassional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that or scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.


– Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton

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