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Just for Fun #4: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


Do you have a discerning eye for good writing? Being able to tell a strong sentence from a weak one is a critical skill a writer must develop. Opening sentences are especially important, since they set the tone for the story and give the reader his first impression of the work. An opening sentence can either entice a reader or send a reader away.

Can you tell which opening sentences are from stories published by Odyssey Writing Workshop alumni and which have been judged the worst opening sentences in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest? Write down the numbers corresponding to the sentences you think are by Odyssey graduates. Then check yourself against the answer key!

  1. The scorched pasture, with its charred and smoking remains of dead cattle, was the least of Jessica's worries, and as she pondered her shredded gown, newly shaved head, and the quickly disappearing spaceship in the Nevada twilight, she realized if she were going to hitchhike back to Carson City, she'd have to show a damn sight far more leg than she had ever intended.

  2. I try to tell the difference between the cows and the trees, black humps in a rolling field, but near and far are indistinguishable today.

  3. There was a shark in the kitchen.

  4. Our fearless heroine (well, mostly fearless: she is deathly afraid of caterpillars, not the fuzzy little brown ones but the colossal green ones that terrorized her while she was playing in her grandmother's garden when she was just five or six years old, which, coincidentally, was also when she discovered that shaving cream really does not taste like whipped cream) awakened with a start.

  5. Aleem anchored his dhow in the cove and paddled to shore on a coracle of goat-hide.

  6. Long, long ago in a galaxy far away, in General Hospital born I was, and quite happy were my parents, but when a youngling still I was, moved we did.

  7. He discovered the first corpse at dawn of the second day--7,800 meters.

  8. "Why does every task in the Realm of Zithanor have to be a quest?" Baldak of Erthorn, handyman to the Great Wizard Zarthon, asked rhetorically as he began his journey to find the Holy Hammer of Taloria and the Sacred Nail of Ikthillia so Baldak could hang one of Zarthon's mediocre watercolors, which was an art critique Baldak kept to himself unlike his predecessor, whom Zarthon turned into the Picture Frame of Torathank.

  9. The war had ended, but it didn't feel over.

  10. The dragon cast his wet, rheumy eyes, heavy-lidded with misery, over his kingdom-a malodorous, rot-ridden swamp, with moss cloaking brooding, gloomy cypresses, tree trunks like decayed teeth rising from stagnant ponds, creatures with mildewed fur and scales whom the meanest roadside zoo would have rejected--and hoped the antidepressants would kick in soon.

  11. Swords drawn, a company of ten soldiers advanced down a stone tunnel.

  12. The night resembled nothing so much as the nose of a giant Labrador in excellent health: cold, black, and wet.

  13. What are you doing in my bedroom at this time of night, Ernie, and why are you grinning at me with those sharp teeth and how come you've been spending so much time with the Count lately, and why has Big Bird disappeared, and you should really do something about that breath, or my name isn't Bert the muppet.

  14. Mama brought me back from the dead in the Clark County Hospital morgue.

  15. Gringran Roojner had only gone to see the Great Warlock of Loowith to get his horoscope and he couldn't believe he'd been sent on a quest for the legendary Scromer of Nothleen to ask him for the answer to the Riddle of Shimmererer so that he could give it to the Guardians of Vooroniank, thereby gaining access to the Cave of Zothlianath where he would find the seldom seen Cowering of Groojanc, whose spittle was an absolute necessity in the making of the Warlock's famous pound cake, the kind with raisins.

  16. He wrote his name down so he wouldn't forget it.

  17. It was a dark and stormy night, although technically it wasn't black or anything -- more of a gravy color like the spine of the 1969 Scribner's Sons edition of "A Farewell to Arms," and, truth be told, the storm didn't sound any more fierce than the opening to Leon Russell's 1975 classic, "Back to the Island."

  18. My mother wanted me to play the piano. She had grown up in Boston, among the brownstones and the cobbled streets, in the hush of rooms where dust settled slowly, in the sunlight filtering through lace curtains, over the leaves of spider-plants and aspidistras.

  19. At the bottom of a pile of three thousand corpses, Stefan found an angel.

To the Answer Key


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Updated Jan 7, 2007
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