It Was A Bad ANd Awful Line

Like a good copy writer, Rephah Berg spent hours, days, weeks honing the perfect sentence. To make it really, really horrendous.

The right stinker she emerged with has earned the Oak land, Calif., woman top prize in the 2002 Bulwer-Lytton bad writing contest, which recog nizes comically awful opening sentences to fictional novels. (It’s named for Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel Paul Clifford memorably began, “It was a dark and stormy night …”)

Berg’s noxious entry: “On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained.”

Berg loves the sentence’s “bathetic descent” from a formal style into casual diction and slang, and its heroic, alliterative recovery at the end. Crafting it required the kind of pain staking care she used to take in writing slogans for buttons. Fewer than 1 per cent of her lines were accepted. Among those that were: “I’ll try being nicer if you try being smarter” and “Another 12-step program and I still can’t dance.”

Bulwer-Lytton’s $250 prize is a help: Berg now scrapes by selling word puzzles. When Shoptalk suggested she try an agency job, she replied, “Why, do you have one for me?”