Beanery Online Literary Magazine

February 7, 2008

BAD WRITING CONTESTS

—written by Carolyn C. Holland for the Beanery Writers Group meeting

The Internet news article, Fifteen Nominees for Worst Movie Dialogue Ever, listed worst movie lines. My favorites from the list were:

5. THE MOVIE: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992),
THE SCENE: Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) tearfully breaks up with her boyfriend and heads to her death.
THE LINE: ”I’m gone, like a turkey in the corn. Gobble gobble!”

And

8. THE MOVIE: Pretty Woman (1990)
THE SCENE: Hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Vivian (Julia Roberts) looks down her fire escape to see her favorite ”John” Edward (Richard Gere) climbing up to ”rescue her” from her crappy life.
THE LINE: ”And she rescues him right back.”

It reminded me of the time I entered a bad writing contest and lost. When I brought the piece to the Beanery Writers Group, one comment was that the writing was “too good” to win. (Click on BAD WRITING CONTEST ENTRY to read an article on Carolyn C. Holland’s submission to a bad writing contest, posted at http://www.carolyncholland.wordpress.com)

I decided to explore the Internet to discover other bad writing contests, of which I picked two.

The Philosophy and Literature journal sponsored one such competition between 1995 and 1998. It celebrated the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles published in the previous few years.

The site included the following invitation: Feel free to forward the above text to email lists or to post it, without alteration, on other web sites. http://denisdutton.com/bad_writing.htm

“As usual,” commented Denis Dutton, then editor of the journal, “this year’s winners were produced by well-known, highly-paid experts who have no doubt labored for years to write like this. That these scholars must know what they are doing is indicated by the fact that the winning entries were all published by distinguished presses and academic journals.”

In 1998 Stewart Unwin of the National Library of Australia passed along this gem from the Australasian Journal of American Studies (December 1997). The author is Timothy W. Luke, and the article is entitled, “Museum Pieces: Politics and Knowledge at the American Museum of Natural History”:

Natural history museums, like the American Museum, constitute one decisive means for power to de-privatize and re-publicize, if only ever so slightly, the realms of death by putting dead remains into public service as social tokens of collective life, rereading dead fossils as chronicles of life’s everlasting quest for survival, and canonizing now dead individuals as nomological emblems of still living collectives in Nature and History. An anatomo-politics of human and non-human bodies is sustained by accumulating and classifying such necroliths in the museum’s observational/expositional performances.

1996: Finally, the Canadian David Savory found this lucid sentence in the essay by Robyn Wiegman and Linda Zwinger, in “Tonya’s Bad Boot,” an essay in Women on Ice, edited by Cynthia Baughman (Routledge, 1995):

Punctuated by what became ubiquitous sound bites — Tonya dashing after the tow truck, Nancy sailing the ice with one leg reaching for heaven — this melodrama parsed the transgressive hybridity of un-narrativized representative bodies back into recognizable heterovisual codes.

Continuing my search found the headline: ‘Obscure bureaucrat’ wins bad writing contest, July 14, 1999, an article on the Lyttle Lytton Contest, This contest is named after Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the Victorian novelist famous for the opening sentence “It was a dark and stormy night” from his 1830 novel “Paul Clifford.”

Crafting a winning “bad” sentence is not as easy as it might seem. It’s not just your average Joe who can come up with something truly bad, said Rice, competition organizer from California’s San Jose State University. “We do get generally bad writers, but the best (bad) writing is by good people,” Rice said.

Below is a sampling of winning entries.

Two winners taken from the 2007 contest—

By Gurnther Schmidl: It clawed its way out of Katie, bit through the cord and started clearing.

Comedy is to a great extent an exercise in short-circuiting expectations. So we start reading — “It clawed its way out of…” — and next up should be what, “the crypt”? “Hell”? And instead we get… “Katie”! Any actual name would have been funny in that spot, but “Katie” in particular forces us to replace our image of a subterranean prison with that of a pert-nosed Girl Scout. Then we get to “bit through the cord,” which is both unexpectedly gruesome and rejiggers our mental image again (oh, so this is a pregnancy! described in such a way as to make the whole concept of pregnancy horrifying!) before the coup de grâce: “and started clearing.” What does the demon baby do upon emerging? Tear out the throat of the obstetrician? Unleash a torrent of hellfire? No, it just starts clearing — funny because it’s unexpectedly peaceful, funny because Scientology is inherently hilarious, and funny because now we have to readjust our mental reconstruction of events yet again to account for the realization that this sentence must describing the birth of Suri Cruise. Winner.

By Leon Leon Arnott: The foot delivered an unending holocaust of pain as it rocketed into Zamboni’s crotch.

A guy getting kicked in the crotch is not funny. Having the crotch kick described as the delivery, by a foot, of “an unending holocaust of pain” is the sort of thing that makes this contest worth running.
Rice said the 1999 contest was greased with the following prose: “Through the gathering gloom of a late-October afternoon, along the greasy, cracking paving-stones slick from the sputum of the sky, Stanley Ruddlethorp wearily trudged up the hill from the cemetery where his wife, sister, brother, and three children were all buried, and forced open the door of his decaying house, blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that was soon to devastate his life.”

Below are samples commended by the judges in other years:

“Her breasts were like ripe strawberries, but much bigger, a completely different color, not as bumpy, and without the little green things on top.”

“George stared intently across the table which supported the golden-brown fresh-baked cornbread with butter and sizzling cholesterol-laden bacon which could finish blocking his previously hardened arteries at any time, into Margerie’s clear-blue eyes and realized that she knew what he knew, and she knew that he knew what she knew, and he must practice carpe diem before angina seized the day.”

“Rain — violent torrents of it, rain like fetid water from a God-sized pot of pasta strained through a sky-wide colander, rain as Noah knew it, flaying the shuddering trees, whipping the whitecapped waters, violating the sodden firmament, purging purity and filth alike from the land, rain without mercy, without surcease, incontinent rain, turning to intermittent showers overnight with partial clearing Tuesday.”

And my favorite, being a grandmother who considers school busses ravenous monstrosities which gobble schoolchildren into their huge, growling bowls, a writing by Wendy Lawton of Hilmar, California, who captured the children’s literature prize with:

“The greedy schoolbus crept through the streets devouring clumps of children until its belly groaned with surfeit, then lumbered back to the schoolhouse where it obligingly regurgitated its meal onto the grounds.”

The Beanery Online Literary Magazine invites you to submit writing you find is “awful.” Post it in the comments.  Thank you ahead of time!

The Lyttle contest is an annual event. To learn more about it, or to submit items to it, check out their website: http://adamcadre.ac/lyttle.html

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2 Comments »

  1. […] To read an article on bad writing contests posted on the Beanery Online Literary Magazine, click on BAD WRITING CONTESTS […]

    Pingback by BAD WRITING CONTEST ENTRY « Carolyncholland’s Weblog — February 7, 2008 @ 10:44 pm | Reply

  2. Well check this one out – http://www.math.yorku.ca/SCS/Gallery/badwriting.html

    Comment by Falkor — April 24, 2008 @ 9:22 am | Reply


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