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Literature / Lyttle Lytton Contest

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A yearly competition run by Adam Cadre since 2001, where people compete to submit the most atrocious opening line to a novel they can think of, reaching for maximum entertainment. The contest is a derivative of the annual Bulwer Lytton Contest, which has the same purpose; Cadre started Lyttle Lytton when entries in the original contest started getting too unwieldy for his taste (the initial rules for the competition stipulated that an entry could feature no more than 33 words. The rules have since been revised such that the total length of an entrant's combined entries can be no greater than 200 characters).


Though the crux of the contest is thinking of bad opening lines for novels, other challenges are offered from time to time—for example, writing a bad opening line of a play, or writing a bad ending line. In addition to the main winner, the various runners-up, the honorable mentions and the jury prizes, Cadre used to award special prizes to particular types of entry, though he stopped doing this some years ago. These included:

  • invoked The Berman Prize, for an opening line suggesting a type of novel Cadre would least like to read. For these entries the emphasis is less on the poor construction of a sentence, and more on a particularly dire premise or poor handling of difficult subject matter.
  • The Comrade Todd Award, in which both the prose and the situation described in the sentence are indefinably off-kilter.
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  • The Montfort Medal, for a sentence which amusingly refers to either the sentence's production or consumption.

A recurring alternate challenge is to submit bad opening lines found in actual published prose (the "Found" challenge). Cadre has stated on several occasions that he did not intend the Found challenge to be an opportunity for contestants to trawl through hunting for howlers (which he considers low-hanging fruit): he is rather more interested in people taking sentences from journalism or academia and imagining them as opening sentences of novels.

The contest website is here.


Tropes exhibited by the contest or entries:

  • Accidental Aesop:invoked Cadre notes that a "young ponyless reader" would draw some damaging conclusions from this. Presumably the hypothetical bad author did not intend to emotionally scar little girls...
    Some girls never get a pony, but Jane was good and her daddy loved her.
    — Sasha Cornish
  • Androids and Detectives: From the 2011 entries, a line from Will Nicholes that has a "robot lieutenant" with a "humanoid partner".
  • Artistic License – Religion:
    • The subtle anachronism Cadre noted in this entry:
      Eve stood there, half-eaten apple in one hand, desire burning in her eyes. Adam screamed “Jesus woman what the fuck have you done?!!
    • This doozy:
      The Ramadan tree was lit, and Aladdin joyfully sat around it.
      — Mary Potts
  • Anachronism Stew: From the 2008 contest,
    Queen Elizabeth sat alone, wondering when Napoleon was gonna get there.
    —Jennian Leister
  • Animal Motifs: "Attempted" here, in the 2011 contest:
    Mongoose-to-cobra, two serpentine forms, he was my rival; are we fighting in these holes, or are we really making love?
    — Susie Thai
  • Animal Religion: From what seems to be a genuine attempt at a Xenofiction story, considering it was found on DeviantArt:
    It was that time again. The time where all the horses used to show off to their gods.
    anonymous, quoting "hylianwolflink"
  • As You Know: Cadre noted that this entry was trying to check all the boxes.
    "Mom," I asked my mom. "What’s for breakfast?"
    "You know I haven’t made breakfast since your father died in a mysterious car crash a year ago on your birthday," she said sadly. "You have his eyes."
    —Akiel Surajdeen
  • invoked Audience-Alienating Premise: The Berman Prize, as noted above, if given to opening sentences of novels Cadre would least want to read.
  • Author Tract:
    The battlefield stank thick with writhing “progressives.”
    — Neil Martin

    “Climate change is real,” squawked the lady scientist to an auditorium crammed full of human sheep who didn’t question a word she said. “And I can ‘prove’ it.”
    — Harper Cole

    The millennial squirmed, but there was no entitling her way out of the firm grip of reason.
    — Gunnar Þór Magnússon

    This is the story of how I found my Father in Heaven, but it begins with my mommy, lying back as the cruel forceps tore apart my still forming yet passionately beating human heart.
    — Aimee Lim
  • Bathos: Many entries rely on this kind of humor, with the fictional authors putting serious and ludicrous together.
    It was a time of darkness in the land of Gath-ka’noug. But then, out of the darkness, there shone a brilliant light. And the name of that light was: Horick the Elf.
    —Marc Silcox
  • Be Yourself: Parodied and taken up to eleven:
    “You are the greatest human in the world,” the dragon told the boy who desperately wanted to be a dragon, too.
    — Adam Contini
  • Buffy Speak:
    The general, one might have said, had a sly, sneering-smile expression upon his face.
    —Sara Barrett
  • Captain Obvious:
    The mega beasts were united by only one thing: their size.
    What Killed The Mega Beasts?, a Discovery Channel documentary, as quoted in the "found" challenge

    Deborah walked briskly down the street with pants on her legs.
    — Susie Thai

    Our daughter is not quite 12 years old yet. That means she is 11., quoted by Ben Waldorf

    • And a more literal example:

    Queen Aquareine had a stern look upon her beautiful face. Cap’n Bill guessed from this look that the mermaid was angry.
    The Sea Fairies by L. Frank Baum
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    Critics are calling me a fat cat, viciously ignoring the fact that I've been working out.
    — Christos Talanoez
  • Could Say It, But...: As noted above, Cadre no longer officially hands out Berman Prizes, Comrade Todd Awards, or Montfort Medals. But he will sometimes note that an entry would have won such a prize if he was still awarding it (which he isn't).
  • Creatures by Many Other Names: From the 2020 entries, implied as both an orc and an ogre from the name:
    Oogor Orkson let out a curdling hell scream and plunged his rigid warpick deep into elven flesh; this was not an Age for soft long-ears, but hard green men.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: A lot of entries run off of this, going by the (correct) assumption that needless rambling is likely to make any decent writer or reader pluck their eyes out.
    John, surfing, said to his mother, surfing beside him, "How do you like surfing?"
    —Eric Davis, 2005 winner

    Anamaria had already gotten up obviously because there was no Anamaria in Anamaria’s bed.
    unnamed FanFiction.Net user, quoted by Christine Dearden

    This story is a murder mystery — the mystery of a murder.
    — Walt Freitag
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: From Will Nicholes in the 2011 entries, a robot lieutenant's humanoid partner "ate donuts unaware."
  • Emoticon:
    Bob is sad. :(
    — Mozell Gibbons

    They say to write what you know, so this one’s about my mom :)
    — anonymous
  • Exotic Equipment:
    Sadly, Jim retracted his penis; it obviously wasn't welcome here.
    — Alex Burleson
  • Failed Future Forecast: One of the 2016 finalists. Cadre notes that this hypothetical novel comes from 1974 or so:
    1993, it is the future. Acid rain had destroyed civilization.
    —Eric Bauer
  • Familiar: A rather unconventional one:
    Her ovine familiar baaahed angrily.
    — Curt Long
  • Fetus Terrible:
    • One that stealthily references Scientology:
      It clawed its way out of Katie, bit through the cord and started clearing.
      — Gunther Schmidl
    • ...and whatever is being born here:
      “AAHHH” she screamed in horror as her infant rocketed from inside her towards the free world.
      — Ryan Hix
  • Flowery Elizabethan English:
    "Hearken," he spake, drawing thither, "and alight thine eyes on yon comely maiden betwixt such knaves as they."
    —Joseph Smith
    “Well, this is passing strange,” thought Shakespeare as he saw the dead body of the lady in Stratford-upon-Avon, “and methinks it dost bear investigating.”
    —Stephen Strepsi
  • Food Porn: This trope's commonness in fantasy novels is parodied here:
    Tagg could scarce believe his young eyes as they met the feast laid out richly before him: all manner of mealbreads, ripest canteloons, and—​by the Star!—​an entire bandersnort, carved and dripping.
    — Aidan Lockett
  • Forgot About His Powers: With Time Travel in this entry:
    I have the ability to go through time, he suddenly remembered while at a bus stop near a tree.
    — Adam Box
  • Gamebooks: The 2017 winner is in the style of one of these.
    1.  YOU, the Anagramancer, stare down the invading MANTICORE: Will you ROMANCE IT (turn to 123), give it CREMATION (turn to 213), or summon EROTIC MAN (turn to 312)?
    Stephen Wort
  • Gay Paree:
    Ah, poetic Paris: with its pâtés and beaujolais, tiramisu and au jus.
    — Leslie Muir
  • invokedGlurge:
    This is the story of how one woman overcame breast cancer by never ever losing faith in herself.
    — Victor Gijsbers
  • Gratuitous French: A particularly weak example:
    “Ooh la la!” whispered Larry in French.
    — Jim Van Donsel
  • Gratuitous Spanish:
    Jorge was helplessly gripped by the sight before him, like cojones in the hand of an expert dominatriz.

    Call me Bastardo Medio, for my costume is black, my skin is pasty white, and I am one muy malo hombre.
  • Gretzky Has the Ball: A particularly mangled science metaphor quoted from ESPN gets compared to "a scientist explaining a phenomenon in particle physics by comparing it to kicking a home run through the hoop for birdie."
  • Groin Attack: And it's a doozy:
    The foot delivered an unending holocaust of pain as it rocketed into Zamboni's crotch.
    —Leon Arnott's 3rd place-winning entry, 2007
  • Gun Porn:
    ‘Pfft’ — he knew the silent but deadly whisper of a silenced SIG SG 550 rifle with a 650mm barrel and a 254mm rifling twisting rate.
    —Chloe W.
    I drew my customized Kimber 1911 .45, with the Pachmayr grips and skeletonized trigger, and leveled it coolly at the African-Americans.
    —Brad Hanon
  • #HashtagForLaughs:
    “Together, we will beat them all,” she whispered, caressing the circlet-girt fontanelles of her #royalbaby.
    — Alex Thorpe
  • A Hero Is Born: From the 2011 entries, presumably:
    “AAHHH” she screamed in horror as her infant rocketed from inside her towards the free world.
    —Ryan Hix
  • Hurricane of Puns:
    “I’ve got a feline these cats didn’t know what they unleashed when they picked a bone with me,” snarled Rex Steele, chief dogtective of the Paws Angeles Petlice Department. “This time, it’s fursonal.”
    — Luke Fowler
  • Ikea Erotica: Multiple:
    • This story is about a man and a woman, with lots of things sticking into things.
      —Ethen Owens
    • From the 2011 entries:
      Slowly, carefully, and with a lot of understanding, he put his mouth onto her mouth.
      — anonymous, quoting Achewood
  • Inherently Funny Words:
    • Discussed in a "Found" entry from 2016:
      To say that Natasha hated lies, but more than that, hated pierogies, would be to create a serious atmosphere and then puncture it with a funny word — a standard formula for a joke. To say that she hated pierogies, but more than that, hated lies? Putting the lies at the end makes that a serious sentence. A serious sentence that for some reason has the word "pierogies" in it.
    • "The skeleton was a sheila" from a 2007 entry by Simon Parker, is considered a two-for-one by Adam.
    • "Mealbreads" from the entry quoted under Food Porn. Instead of explaining at length what made the entry funny, Cadre says it was the inclusion of that word.
  • Innocent Innuendo: From 2006:
    Dora liked to explore.
    —Nicole Dickison

Cadre elaborated that he'd spent months looking at this entry and still couldn't decide if it was intended to be suggestive or not.
  • Male Gaze: Parodied too many times to list. One clumsy attempt to defy it:
    Her perfectly formed breasts swayed soothingly as I (also a woman, this isn’t a "male gaze" thing) fell in love with them.
    —Greg Filpus
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words:
    "Tune your ear to the frequency of despair, and cross-reference by the longitude and latitude of a heart in agony."
    The Amazing Spider Man #544, as quoted in the 2008 contest "found" challenge
  • Measuring the Marigolds:
    "Joy is contagious," he said, peering into the microscope.
    — Morgan Shinstine
  • Mind Screw: Cadre calls them "...whut?" entries. Here's some:
    • Just as we were moving from the wedding to the reception, Mother demanded, "Show me by the way that you dance that you are."
      —Rachel Kelly
    • They had the mettle of men, and yet they ate the biscuits of dogs.
      —Neil Martin
    • Casie did not enjoy the preference dreams, like lemon – red pepper – onion; she much preferred the simple dreams, like orange – orange.
      — Asher Stuhlman
    • The boy had a bounce in his step and a certain marsupiality of the face; we called him Kanga. But the girl, oh ho ho ho the girl, her we just called Jennifer the Bitch.
      — Dylan
  • Mixed Metaphor:
    He was marooned in the jaws of a human minefield, and with every step the noose grew tighter.
    —Sports columnist Jerry Izenberg in The Star-Ledger (a newspaper based in Newark, New Jersey) as quoted in the "found" challenge

    Farmer John admired the golden corn, sprouting from the ground like buried treasure.
    — Drew McWilliams

    “No!” raged the swimmer, his opponent streaking by to touch the wall like a dolphin, “No.”
    — Kinley Gibson

    Zandor stood in the doorway, raking the onlooking crowd with the hot coals of his eyes.
    — Mark Caudill
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Used to great effect.
    • From the 2003 winners:
      Sing, O Muse, of Tiffany's wrath on Triple Coupon Day.
      —Naomi Chana

      It Was a Dark and Stormy Night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. Steeling himself for battle, Fyandor, the oldest and bravest of the lamps, proclaimed, "Nay, foul wind, this will not be the night of our extinguishment!"
      —Winner of the "find the most horrible follow-up sentence to the proverbial It was a dark and stormy night... sentence" contest of 2003, Entry not signed

    • Others:
      Dr. Metzger turned to greet his new patient, blithely unaware he would soon become a member of a secret brotherhood as old as urology itself.
      —Alec Kyras

      To stand tall, to humbly crawl; to laugh, to cry; to puke bitterly, to suck on come what may — here follows my turbulent infancy.
      —Jason Melancon

      The king of ketchups was being dethroned, and I wanted an explanation.
      — Dan Schmidt, quoting Leigh Belanger in Cook's Illustrated
  • Nubile Savage: The subject of this 2021 entry:
    Thog stretched luxuriously, the morning light brushing hungrily over her luscious prehistoric breasts.
    — Dorian Moreland
  • Our Vampires Are Different: From space!
    The meteor formed a crater, vampires crawling out of the crater.
    — Peter Berman

    Painted on the ceiling shines the red sun of Valmar that lights up the dark nights of vampires like you with its eight evil rays.
    "Darkiss" quoted by Lucien Smith
  • Parental Incest: Solely for shock value.
    Torval found great pleasure in his elfin mother’s lips; edgy, huh?
    Robert Jones
  • Pokémon Speak:
    Pika ... chu, thought Pikachu.
    — anonymous
  • Purple Prose: Appears in some winning entries.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: A common theme for entrants in any given year, but 2021 in particular received several COVID-19 Pandemic entries, such as:
    The little mermaid went on land to kiss a prince, but everyone was wearing masks, because (and she didn’t know this) it was COVID times, and so her fantasy quest begins.
    — Asher Stuhlman
  • Robosexual: Inverted here in the 2011 entries:
    “You just may be the most beautiful perp I’ve ever laid sensors on,” thought the robot lieutenant as his humanoid partner ate donuts unaware.
    — Will Nicholes
  • Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: Or in prose:
    “BRRRRRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” rang the alarm clock, awakening me from my Gamma Hydroxy Butyrate-induced slumber.
    — Deborah Grumet

    BUDDABUDABDABUDDA, went the bullets.
    — Brendan Adkins

    Oh no! There they were coming! Francis shut his eyes and jumped into the fray. WANG! went the shovel wielded by him against the zombies. WANG! WANG!
    — Max L.

    PEWPEW — Lasers! — PEWPEWPEW!
    —David Poore

    "BOOM!" said the bomb very loudly.
    — anonymous
  • Screaming Birth: From the 2011 entries:
    “AAHHH” she screamed in horror as her infant rocketed from inside her towards the free world.
    —Ryan Hix
  • Significant Anagram: The 2017 winner takes this to a torturous extent.
    1.  YOU, the Anagramancer, stare down the invading MANTICORE: Will you ROMANCE IT (turn to 123), give it CREMATION (turn to 213), or summon EROTIC MAN (turn to 312)?
    Stephen Wort
  • Show, Don't Tell: Since this is fundamental advice for good writing, it inevitably gets abused in this contest.
    Turning, I mentally digested all of what you, the reader, are about to find out heartbreakingly.
    —Top Changwatchai, 2001 winner
  • Skewed Priorities:
    The spaceship was crashing, but, more importantly, John and Greta were having sex in it.
    — Ben Waldorf
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Register shifts are a recurring theme:
    The evil Intergalactic Emperor surveyed the destruction he wrought. "Booyah!" he cried with glee. "I'm in ur base! I'm killing all ur mans!"
    —James Wall
    I observed this wheelchair dude in the vestibule. He was waiting for me.
    — Rui Pires adapting Apple Thesaurus

  • Sour Prudes: Cadre said that he thought that what made 2008's winning entry work so well was the devastating portrait it created of its fictional author, "an overtly proud but secretly frustrated virgin":
    Because they had not repented, the angel stabbed the unrepentant couple thirteen times, with its sword.
    —Graham Swanson
  • Shout-Out: Entries with allusions to other works regularly appear, usually blatantly.
    • To NaNoWriMo with this entry:
      Thirty days left, forty nine thousand nine hundred eighty seven words to go.
      — Dan Schmidt
    • From 2017:
      Dudley was a magician (not a wizard like in those Harry Potter books, and also he didn’t have a wand like in them), who was poor.
      — Shaked Koplewitz
    • Cadre needed this one explained to him:
      Magical though her school bus may have been, no amount of that selfsame magic could save Ms. Frizzle’s marriage.
      — Gaius Montáña
  • Stuff Blowing Up:
    Emperor Wu liked cake, but not exploding cake!
    — Bret Victor
  • Stylistic Suck: The whole point of the contest is to write a terrible sentence to open a novel.
  • Understatement: Multiple:
    • The 2011 winner:
      The red hot sun rose in the cold blue sky.
      —Judy Dean

      First, you've got the eyeroll that comes from the ham-handed contrast between "red hot" and "cold blue" — and then a second later you realize that "red hot" actually means a temperature of about 1000 kelvin, and is therefore hilariously inadequate as a descriptor of the sun, a gigantic nuclear furnace with a core temperature of roughly ten million kelvin. Intentionally writing a sentence that seems unintentionally bad is hard; writing one that suggests an author going for hyperbole and accidentally winding up with woeful understatement is masterful. Thus, we have our winner.
    • From the 2018 contest:
      I had always been the kind of woman to put my career first, but as I prepared to abandon my crying children to go to work for the hundredth time, a thought struck me—​“Was this His plan for me?”
      —Holly McEwen

      I think that one of the things I like best about this entry is the suggestion that the author considers a hundred to be a really big number.  I am a sucker for the idea of someone reaching for hyperbole but ending up with understatement, as the 2011 winner with the red hot sun attests.
  • Well, This Is Not That Trope:
    Scaling Everest was, by far, the most amazing and transformative experience of my life. Unfortunately, this is a thesis on context-free grammars.
    — Jonathan Blum
  • World of Funny Animals:
    Org of Otterland was not Duke Og and Duchess Dina's first child, for that honor belonged to Natalya, brown-haired, eyed, and furred.
    unsigned, quoting "Duke Otterland's" Org's Odyssey

    Pius XIII stood on the balcony, triumphant. Earlier, when the white smoke had vacated the chimney, not one citizen of FurRome would have bet on a Shibu-Ina to emerge.
    — Sebastian Grillmaier

  • Your Mom:
    This is the story of your mom's life.
    —Rachel Lambert