Who first wrote “It was a dark and stormy night”… and are you also guilty of bloated writing?

You can thank the Victorian writer/politician Sir Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, for penning the now well-worn cliché, “a dark and stormy night,” to open his 1830 novel “Paul Clifford.” The phrase has since come to symbolize overwritten, melodramatic prose — a style Victorians considered the height of fashion.

The phrase is only a fragment of the full sentence, which reads: “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.”

The opener has become so notorious that there is even an annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest to compose the first sentence to the worst of all possible novels.

If you’re a writer/editor like me, when reading an overwritten sentence like Lytton’s you may think, Wait, that’s not altogether terrible, I can work with that. Afterall, it does paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind and isn’t that what every author wants? Yes, absolutely, but it’s just too too much (note the extra ‘too’ there.)  The challenge is not to dull descriptions down, but to make them succinct. Here’s a stab at a rewrite:

‘In the London night, rain fell in torrents interrupted by violent gusts of wind sweeping up the streets, rattling along the housetops, and whipping lamp flames as they struggled against the dark.’

Perfect?  Hardly. There’s no such thing, but it is tighter. First drafts are often filled with overwritten, bloated descriptions. As writers, we want to get it all in there, but we also need to make sure every word counts. So look at your bloated word-babies with a cold editor’s eye and be ruthless in trimming them to their core, even if it hurts a bit.

The Source of an Idea

So how did you come up with that?

analysis blackboard board bubble

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This is a common question creative people get asked. I’m taking a writer’s perspective here, but I believe this question applies to all creative efforts.  People simply like to hear how other people come up with ideas, and the answers are as varied as the creators themselves and the whatever it is they’ve created. Inspiration can come from sources ranging from a fleeting observation to a lifetime of hard-earned experience.

Since my own creative juices focus on science fiction, keeping abreast of new discoveries is a high priority. Science related magazines and articles provide me with a reliable source of inspiration.

I find it fascinating to read about research underway that might change how we perceive and interact with the world around us. Sadly, I can only absorb a limited amount so keeping up with everything coming out of the scientific community is an impossible challenge. The rate of incoming new information seems to be accelerating at ever increasing rate, so I have to pick and choose carefully from a cornucopia of scientific pursuits and focus on the ones that interest me most.

There was a time when people hoped the physical world could be explained with a set number of rules wrapped in a nice neat little package, but time and experience has proven otherwise. One question just leads to another and another and …. well, you get my point. The unending openness of scientific inquiry can be disconcerting.  Safety seems to lie in what is known, while danger in what is not.

I agree, a nice neat package would be comforting, (which explains the appeal of a religion that  provides set answers based on unquestioning faith), but the price of accepting a wrapped package without examining the contents, means closing one’s mind and ending the pursuit of knowledge.

Personally, it’s the uncertainty that keeps me awake and alive, ready to get up each morning to see what we might learn next, and what gets me thinking about how those discoveries might change the human experience in the future. And that’s when I start to write.

A lethal climate. A manmade plague. Hostile aliens. How will mankind survive? Find out in “NanoMorphosis”

Like surprises? Like future tech? Like complex characters caught in tricky situations? This novel was inspired by nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and a love for all speculative fiction from space opera to the Phantom of the Opera. Sound like an oxymoron? Not when they all come together in “NanoMorphosis”.
Kindle Countdown Deal running now. Only 99 cents for the e-book version, but that price won’t last long.

Dystopia – Just a term for the things we worry might happen someday

Dystopian novels like “Brave New World”, “1984”, “Fahrenheit 451”  and “The Handmaid’s Tale” made a big impression on me. Guess they must have because I wrote one of my own: “The Cost of Living: A Life for a Life”. I took the opposite situation from the low birthrates in “The Handmaid’s Tale” and set up a world so overcrowded, there is no room for children to be born unless someone dies in exchange. I’m giving the book away free for a limited time. You can check it out here:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D3YY45Q Whatever you do, don’t get pregnant.

NanoMorphosis is Launched!

“At the intersection of love and ambition, one man must face his fears and re-evaluate what it means to be human.”

My science fiction novel is now available for purchase on Amazon. The e-book is there now. I’m still working on the print version, but that should be up soon as well.  This is a complex novel which has been through the editing wringer. The end result is polished and hopefully error free. I hate typos, missing words, misplaced spacing, and so forth, and worked very hard to eliminate them.  I’m happy with the book now and hope it finds an audience.  If you’d like to take a look, here is the link:

“NanoMorphosis” by Marla L. Anderson