A story's opening line should serve one purpose: to inspire your audience to read the second line.
There is a right way to do this, and a wrong way to do this. To win the Lyttle Lytton Worst Opening Line Contest, which is accepting submissions for the 2012 awards until April 15 (that's this Sunday!), you need to know how to do both.
Similar to the traditionally more verbose, more pun-driven Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest (which accepts submissions year-round!), Lyttle Lytton strives to honor the best in terrible opening lines to fake novels invented by you, the talented bibliophiles of the Internet! The kicker? Brevity.
The rules of the contest are simple: write a cringe-worthy opening line (or lines) in 25 words or less. Multiple sentences and multiple entries are okay, so long as your total number of entries does not exceed 200 characters. That's less than a tweet-and-a-half, so be succinct! (For more information on submitting visit the website, linked above).
There's a fine line between a good sentence and a so-good-it's-bad sentence. This can be tough to walk without tumbling headlong into the brambles of trying-too-hard country. Lyttle Lytton isn't an explicit, pee-my-shorts-from-randomness comedy contest so much as an unintentional, god-bless-you-for-trying-to-be-a-writer facepalm contest. It's a contest all about honoring sentences that make you laugh only because they're trying so hard NOT to do so, if that makes sense.
Here's an example from contemporary fiction that works perfectly. It isn't a first line, but it should've been:
- "About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was part of him—and I didn’t know how potent that part might be—that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him."
Wow! If your heart isn't fluttering with desire, your stomach is probably wriggling with cringe-worms.
On one level, this is an amazing first line because of all it tells us about the story to come. We have a protagonist (the lovelorn narrator), we have an antagonist (Edward), and we have a multifaceted conflict (I lurves him, be he wants to nom my bloods!). Reading this sentence, you will know right away whether or not you are going to continue reading this book or cast it into the fires of Mordor. That's was also make this sentence, on a second level, terrible. The plot presented is ridiculous to the point of farce, but delivered with such frankness you've gotta wonder what this author does with his/her life when not swooning over undead beasties. And that is why this sentence, on a third level, is amazingly awful. You can just SEE the author, can't you? Sitting in a small apartment, probably wearing sweatpants, surrounded by empty pints of ice cream and worn Anne Rice paperbacks? This sentence conveys more than mere story: it conveys a person behind the story, trying a little too hard and falling a little too short. And that's what the Lyttle Lytton contest is all about.
Remember this sentence as you pen your own amazingly awful opening lines. Ask yourself, do my sentences:
- Introduce a character?
- Introduce conflict?
- Provide context (time and place)?
- Properly set the tone of the story to come?
- Raise baffling questions about the story to come?
- Tell a meta-narrative about the hypothetical author of this story?
- Make me chortle heartily at how this hypothetical author just misses the mark?
The most successful entries will accomplish all these things in as few words as possible. Here are some past winners that set a fine example:
- "When my homie pulled out his gat, the first thing I said was, “That is very tight!” -2011
- "The detective could smell the murder on the knife." -2011
- "Princess Amabel brushed her silky golden hair and tried not to think about my breasts." -2011
- "This is a mystery about a murder I committed." -2010
- "Tuesday. Africa. Lion o'clock." -2010
- “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” Amy sputtered. “What glorious lovemaking!” -2010
- "Pika ... chu, thought Pikachu." -2009
- "I have the ability to go through time, he suddenly remembered while at a bus stop near a tree." -2009
- "Because they had not repented, the angel stabbed the unrepentant couple thirteen times, with its sword." -2008
- "Under Bob’s fez was another." -2008
- "It clawed its way out of Katie, bit through the cord and started clearing." -2007
- "The foot delivered an unending holocaust of pain as it rocketed into Zamboni’s crotch." -2007
Did you lol? We lolled.
So get crackin', eggheads, and invent some terrible literature by Sunday! To stoke a little last-minute inspiration, we imagineered the following entries for some of the more popular genres. Please do not submit any of them. We plan on turning them all into bestselling novels by year's end.
Marshall Texas noticed two things right away about the zombie brothel.
Listen: The last man on Earth is checking his emails.
"FREEZE!!!" The Murder Police exclaimed with a shout. "MURDER POLICE!!!"
I could smell her ovaries inflame with romance as I let down my cowl in the candlelight.
Despite being a professional gangster rappa, MC Bluntz had a heart as luxuriant as a Hummer limousine with an abundant mini-fridge and dope-ass speakers.
Inspiring True Story
After the cataclysm, our hands oozed red with tweets.
Godspeed, lit lovers. Submit your terrible sentences in the comments and at http://adamcadre.ac/lyttle.html