Today’s Illustration: The Most Famous Opening Line . . . .

Image result for "it was a dark and stormy night"  Can You Guess What It Is?

On This Day:  1982  — Professor Scott E. Rice initiates a contest for “Opening Lines” in a novel.  The idea for the contest was based on the most famous opening line of a novel which is known around the English Speaking world.

There have been many famous opening lines!*

“The countdown had stalled at T minutes  and 69 seconds . . . .” — Martha Simpson

“The bone-chilling scream split the warm summer night . . . ” — Patricia E. Presutti

Perhaps the most famous opening line was . . . .

It was a dark and stormy night . . . . “ — which were the first world of the novel by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton called, “Paul Clifford.”


Facts & Information:

“In 1830, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton began his new novel Paul Clifford with this 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.”

“Paul Clifford,” about a highway robber during the French Revolution. The robber doesn’t know he’s the son of a well-heeled judge — and he only learns it just in time to be sentenced to death by that very same judge.”

Bulwer-Lytton is also known for the phrases . . . .

“the pen is mightier than the sword”

“the almighty dollar”


Scott Rice came up with the idea for a competition to compose the opening sentence to the worst possible novel, inspired by Bulwer-Lytton’s notorious “It was a dark and stormy night”.

“The sentence went on to serve as the literary posterchild for bad story starters, and it also became the inspiration behind the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which writers compete for top honors by penning egregiously bad fake first lines.”

Book by Scott Rice: “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: The Best (?) from the Bulwer-Lytton Contest.”

It began as a  “whimsical contest” in that Rice was initially looking for what were some of the worst beginning lines of a novel.  Today, people from all over the world submit first lines to gain a place and name in this yearly contest.

The Rules:

The entry can only be one sentence.
It may be of any length.
It must be original.
It must be unpublished.


A book by Charles Schulz featuring Snoopy was titled, Snoopy & It Was a Dark and Stormy Night — published by Holt, Rinehart, & Winston — 1971.

“The Peanuts comic strip character Snoopy, in his imagined persona as the World Famous Author, always begins his novels with the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night.

 Cartoonist Charles Schulz made Snoopy use this phrase because “it was a cliché, and had been one for a very long time”.


There is a board game called, “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night.”

Joni Mitchell’s song “Crazy Cries of Love” begins with . . .  “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Many a campfire story begins with “It was a dark and stormy night . . . .”


Key Illustrative Thoughts:

• In the beginning God . . . .
• first words
• first words to Adam & Eve
• the closing line
• setting the context
• creation: Let there be light
• evolution: Out of nothing comes something
• another dark and stormy night
• the book of Revelation
• the tribulation
• the rapture
• and the word came to Jonah / a second time
• holy, holy, holy
• some opening lines establish an eternal principle
• some opening lines establish a simple fact
• some opening lines pair two facts
• some opening lines introduce a character
• some opening lines set the mood
• some opening lines establish the time frame
• some opening lines tell you where you are
• never was, nor never will be
• the Flood / Noah
• in heaven  — upon your death
• at a funeral
• trite/well-worn/hackneyed opening words — let’s turn to the book of


Other Information & Links:

*Other recognized opening lines . . . .

A screaming comes across the sky.
—Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
—George Orwell, 1984

It was a pleasure to burn.
—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.
—Stephen King, The Gunslinger

Mother died today.
—Albert Camus, The Stranger

The flash projected the outline of the hanged man onto the wall.
—Arturo Perez-Reverte, The Club Dumas

This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.
—Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.
—Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

If you’re going to read this, don’t bother.
—Chuck Palahniuk, Choke

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

True! – nervous – very, very nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?
—Edgar Allan Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
—J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

I am a sick man … I am a spiteful man.
—Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.
—Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

It was love at first sight.
—Joseph Heller, Catch 22

Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.
—Arthur C. Clarke,  2001: A Space Odyssey

Winners List:

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