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There's no substitute for bad writing - Clay Wilson

I have found my aspiration in life. Some people long to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Some aspire to end world hunger. Some just want to get married and raise a nice family.

While these are all noble and laudable goals, I've centered on one that I believe will provide me more personal satisfaction and ultimately do more good for the whole of mankind.

I've set my sights on winning the 23rd annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest honoring bad writing.

Now, I fully recognize that the above sentence opens me up to all kinds of snide remarks from readers to the effect that I should have no problem achieving my goal. Nevertheless, I will explain what I'm talking about.

I was inspired to my quest by an Associated Press article that ran last Thursday detailing how an Alabama woman won this year's contest.

The Bulwer-Lytton award, which is sponsored by California's San Jose State University, is named after 19th century British author Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. Apparently, his 1830 novel "Paul Clifford" began with the now-famous phrase "It was a dark and stormy night."

In honor of this literary milestone, San Jose State now annually honors the writer who comes up with the worst beginning to an imaginary novel.

This year's winner, written by Mariann Simms of Wetumpka, Ala., runs thusly:

"They had but one last remaining night together, so they embraced each other as tightly as that two-flavor entwined string cheese that is orange and yellowish-white, the orange probably being a bland cheddar and the white Mozzarella – although it could possibly be Provolone or just plain American, as it really doesn't taste distinctly dissimilar from the orange, yet they would have you believe it does by coloring it differently."

Even my computer didn't like that sentence, underlining it in green to let me know it is a run-on.

For her abomination, Simms won $250 and the notoriety of being judged the worst writer of the year, ostensibly by a panel of university faculty.

Several things fascinated me about this story. First, the fact that there is such an award just provides more evidence for the theory (already incontrovertible if one is familiar with the Internet) that some people have way too much time on their hands.

Secondly, I was pleased to learn where the phrase "It was a dark and stormy night" originated. I guess I had just always taken it for granted as a cheesy opening to a spooky story.

Finally, I'm almost positive that I have read sentences quite similar, at least in length, to Simms' creation in the works of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy.

Admittedly, Dickens and Hardy were probably describing a landscape in the English countryside rather than a novelty cheese product. Nevertheless, when they did it was somehow judged classic writing, while Simms' was just judged bad.

I had intended to write my own bad sentence, in order to try and get some practice for next year's contest, but unfortunately I've been pretty busy and haven't given it as much thought as I know I should have, and plus my editor (because editors just do this sort of thing) is pressuring me to finish up this column, so I guess I'll just have to wait until some as-yet-undetermined future point to get the practice that I had intended to get.

Then again, my computer underlined that last sentence in green, so maybe I'm on my way.

Clay Wilson is the education and public safety reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or by e-mail at cwilson@henryherald.com.