One of the greatest starts of a novel in English is It was a dark and stormy night. One that tells you where this story is going. Downhill at a rapid speed, normally.
This text has been immortalised by Charlie Brown’s pet Snoopy. At the times when he is inspired to write. This is always the first line of his prose. Normally it’s the only line we see. He has changed it but only after intervention from someone else. Not only that, we have generations of people who think it’s his gift to literature. I was one of them. It’s not.
It has been described as the literary poster-child for bad story starters. It just sounds bad. Even when you say it out loud.
The original is the start of the opening sentence from the novel Paul Clifford. The 1830 novel from Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
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.
It’s a dreadful opening from a sentence that goes on for, almost, 60 words! Something that should be edited into multiple sentences without using a semicolon and multiple commas.
The reason I started this post was to talk about the opening and no matter how it is used, it is always thought as bad writing. It could be the best novel ever but if it starts with the same seven words… It is almost a prerequisite for a start of a bad novel.
We all have a start of a story using that as an opening line. Mine comes from watching bad, American, detective noir films. Pulp novels tend to follow the same sort of clichéd ideas.
It was a dark and stormy night, the night of the 5th. I never should have let that dame walk into my office. If I had known then, what I know now, I should have thrown her out there and then and taken another offer…
It does sound dreadful. that’s the point of using that starting point. After reading it, you should have guessed that. I bet, as well, you read it in a New Yorkish accent as well.
The sentence’s author has been immortalised in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Content. The rules of that contest is simple. All you have to do is write one sentence…