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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). The contest website is here.


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 also awards special prizes to particular types of entry, which include:

  • 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.
  • 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.


Tropes exhibited by the contest or entries:

  • 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 purpose of the Berman Prize, as noted above.
  • Bad Writing: All of the various tropes are used in abundance.
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Flowery Elizabethan English:
    "Hearken," he spake, drawing thither, "and alight thine eyes on yon comely maiden betwixt such knaves as they."
    —Joseph Smith
  • 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
  • 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."
  • Innocent Innuendo:
    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.
  • 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
  • Mind Screw: Cadre calls them "...whut?" entries.
    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
  • 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
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Used to great effect.
    Sing, O Muse, of Tiffany's wrath on Triple Coupon Day.
    —Naomi Chana

    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

    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
  • Purple Prose: Appears in some winning entries.
  • 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
  • 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

  • Sour Prudes: Cadre said that he thought that what made the winning entry work so well was the devastating portrait it created of its fictional author:
    Because they had not repented, the angel stabbed the unrepentant couple thirteen times, with its sword.
    —Graham Swanson
  • Stylistic Suck: The whole point of the contest.
  • Understatement: The 2011 winner demonstrates this.
    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.

    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.
  • X Meets Y:
    It was just like Jack the Ripper, only, this time, Jack was a she, and possibly some form of time-traveller.
    —Devin O'Reilly
  • Your Mom:
    This is the story of your mom's life.
    —Rachel Lambert


Example of: