Frank Fiore – Novelist & Screenwriter

August 16, 2009

“It Was a Dark and Stormy Night”

Filed under: On Writing — Frank Fiore @ 11:20 AM

In the Peanuts comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, the character Snoopy was often shown to be starting yet another of many novels with the canonical phrase, or variations of “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Snoopy

“It was a dark and stormy night” is a phrase penned by Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton at the beginning of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. The phrase itself is now understood as a signifier of a certain broad style of writing, characterized by a self-serious attempt at dramatic flair, the imitation of formulaic styles, an extravagantly florid style, redundancies, confusing syntax, and sentences—sometimes incorrectly dubbed run-on sentences—that are exceedingly lengthy. Bulwer-Lytton’s original opening sentence serves as an example:

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.

There is a Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest each year where writers submit their best opening run on sentence.

Here are some of the more amusing entries.

Darnell knew he was getting hung out to dry when the D.A. made him come clean by airing other people’s dirty laundry; the plea deal was a new wrinkle and there were still issues to iron out, but he hoped it would all come out in the wash – otherwise he had folded like a cheap suit for nothing.

She walked into my office on legs as long as one of those long-legged birds that you see in Florida – the pink ones, not the white ones – except that she was standing on both of them, not just one of them, like those birds, the pink ones, and she wasn’t wearing pink, but I knew right away that she was trouble, which those birds usually aren’t.

The dame sauntered silently into Rocco’s office, but she didn’t need to speak; the blood-soaked gown hugging her ample curves said it all: “I am a shipping heiress whose second husband was just murdered by Albanian assassins trying to blackmail me for my rare opal collection,” or maybe, “Do you know a good dry cleaner?”

After quickly scrutinizing the two dangerously buff men coming toward her in the dark and wondering whether she could take them both out, P.I. Velma Plusch mentally inventoried her arsenal-two pistols, two stiletto-clad feet, two leather-gloved hands, two each eyes, ears, lips, and breasts-and decided that she could.

It was a quarter ’til eight in the ninth precinct when I got the call of a possible two-eleven at a nearby Seven-Eleven that turned out to be just a four-fifteen–that is until my number two from the ninth discovered the one-eight-seven under the Tenth Street Bridge, some two-bit mob soldier with a blossom of five .357’s right in the ten-ring.

Towards the dragon’s lair the fellowship marched — a noble human prince, a fair elf, a surly dwarf, and a disheveled copyright attorney who was frantically trying to find a way to differentiate this story from “Lord of the Rings.”

On a fine summer morning during the days of the Puritans, the prison door in the small New England town of B—-n opened to release a convicted adulteress, the Scarlet Letter A embroidered on her dress, along with the Scarlet Letters B through J, a veritable McGuffey’s Reader of Scarlet Letters, one for each little tyke waiting for her at the gate.

The gutters of Manhattan teemed with the brackish slurry indicative of a significant though not incapacitating snowstorm three days prior, making it seem that God had tripped over Hoboken and spilled his smog-flavored slurpie all over the damn place.

Without warning, their darting tongues entwined, like a couple of nightcrawlers fresh from the baitshop–their moist, twisting bodies finally snapping apart, not unlike an old man’s muddy galosh being yanked away from his patent leather shoe.

He slowly ran his fingers through her long black hair, which wasn’t really black because she used Preference by L’Oreal to color it (because “she was worth it”); her carrot-colored roots were starting to show, and it reminded him of the time he’d covered his car’s check engine light with black electrical tape, but a faint orange glow still shone around the edges.

Using her flint knife to gut the two amphibians, Kreega the Neanderthal woman created the first pair of open-toad sandals.

As Lieutenant Baker shrank his lips back to their normal size, he tried desperately to think of a situation in which his new-found power might be useful, as have I, your narrator.

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2 Comments »

  1. Thanks Frank – this was great!

    Comment by Gregg Haugland — August 17, 2009 @ 9:21 AM | Reply

  2. Frank,
    Thanks for this great laugh-out-loud page. I forwarded it to my editor.
    Nancy Lynn Jarvis, author of “The Death Contingency” and “Backyard Bones”

    Comment by Nancy Lynn Jarvis — August 17, 2009 @ 2:44 PM | Reply


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