Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Dark and Stormy Night

Time is fleeting and thoughts are slippery. Sometimes the desire to add meaning to life by splattering sequences of words onto paper is overwhelming. Certain people, often blessed with a robust imagination and a high sense of self-importance, must splatter words onto paper until their brain bleeds or spend their dreary lives wondering what might have been.

It was a dark and stormy night, many moons ago, when I decided to write novels. I had a robust imagination, a high sense of self-importance and nothing better to do at the time.

The first sentence of a novel is extremely important. It must compel the reader to read the second sentence.

I now have four published novels and they're all selling like hotcakes. The first sentences are as follows:

THE DOGMAN OF TOPANGA (romantic suspense/thriller) -- "As soon as I got out of the car, I had the feeling I was being watched."

GOOMBA IN MONTANA (coming-of-age suspense/thriller) -- "I sat on the stool behind the counter, staring out the window, basking in the glory of my placid existence."

A BAD RUN OF FATE (psychological mystery) -- "A magnificent beast wandered into range, a lone buck with a gigantic rack."

THE ELEVENTH SAGE (metaphysical mystery) -- "The next thing I knew, I was in the back of an ambulance."

These may not be the four finest opening lines but they aren't the worst either. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton was a popular novelist in his day. His 1830 novel titled PAUL CLIFFORD begins with the following immortal sentence.

"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."

Since 1982, San Jose State University has perpetuated literary whimsy with the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest whereby contestants construct a single opening sentence to a bad novel. Last year's winning entries include:

ADVENTURE: "The legend about Padre Castillo's gold being buried deep in the Blackwolf Hills had lain untold for centuries and will continue to do so for this story is not about hidden treasure, nor is it set in any mountainous terrain whatsoever."

CHILDREN'S LITERATURE: "Jack planted the magic beans and in one night a giant beanstalk grew all the way from the earth up to the clouds--which sounds like a lie, but it can be done with genetic engineering, and although a few people are against eating gene-engineered foods like those beans it's a high-paying career to think about for when you grow up."

FANTASY: "Gringran Roojner had only gone to see the Great Warlock of Loowith to get his horoscope and he couldn't believe he'd been sent on a quest for the legendary Scromer of Nothleen to ask him for the answer to the Riddle of Shimmererer so that he could give it to the Guardians of Vooroniank, thereby gaining access to the Cave of Zothlianath where he would find the seldom seen Cowering of Groojanc, whose spittle was an absolute necessity in the making of the Warlock's famous pound cake, the kind with raisins."

GENERAL FICTION: "The sun oozed over the horizon, shoved aside darkness, crept along the greensward, and, with sickly fingers, pushed through the castle window, revealing the pillaged princess, hand at throat, crown asunder, gaping in frenzied horror at the sated, sodden amphibian lying beside her, disbelieving the magnitude of the frog's deception, screaming madly, 'You lied!'"

ROMANCE: "Looking up from his plate of escargots, Sean gazed across the table at Sharon and sadly realized that her bubbly personality now reminded him of the bubbles you get when you put salt on a slug and it squirms around and foams all over the place, and her moist lips were also like the slime on a slug but before you salted it, though after all these years Sharon still smelled better than slugs, but that could have been the garlic butter on her escargots."

WESTERN: "This town's not big enough for the two of us," growled Slim Jenkins, "but I think that if we can get the townspeople to agree to issue a bond to annex the Carter Ranch, we can then incorporate and there should be plenty of room for everyone."

By the way, the market for hotcakes isn't exactly booming these days, even on dark and stormy nights.

Writing is not the road to riches, but rather a journey of self-discovery. It gives you the illusion of control, but in reality it controls you.

Anyone can write 80,000 words. The secret is to put them all into the correct order.

Quote for the Day – "A writer is someone who can make a riddle out of an answer." Karl Krause

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and many dark, stormy nights with nothing better to do. His blogs appear on several websites, including

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