A Dark and Stormy Night


Don’t you just love Snoopy? He has just as much guts as Madeleine L’Engle, who also parodied Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the original author of that famously melodramatic opening line.

Do you know it’s origin? Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote that opening line in his book from 1830 entitled Paul Clifford. The entire opening line is below:

“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.”

Honestly, that opening just makes me want to crack up a bit. According to many scholars, it is a stereotype for mushy, florid prose. It’s been parodied so many times, it’s laughable, and Madeleine L’Engle is probably one of the most famous users of that line. It’s how she opens her groundbreaking book, A Wrinkle in Time, which is one of my all time favorite books.

Opening lines can be tricky little devils. My current manuscript has had probably – oh – at least fifty different versions of opening lines/paragraphs/chapters, etc. But it has finally brought me to what I hope is my last opening line before publication. (At least, until an agent or editor gets their hands on it).

So here it is. The opening line to my middle-grade/YA/fantasy fiction novel, which is the first in a series: “The mansion was bubblegum pink.” ~ Amy Doepker

What do you think? Do you like it?

I know, I know. It’s not exactly, “Call me Ishmael,” or “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

However, I’m not trying to write the next Moby Dick or Pride and Prejudice. I’m just trying to be me.

I don’t think I’ll ever aspire to writing the next great American novel, simply because I think that phrase is a bunch of malarkey. So many writers have written extraordinary books that aren’t high literary, but that end up making much more of a societal impact than their literary predecessors.

I’m not trying to make a huge societal impact. It’s not that I’m not confident in my writing, I just don’t think it’ll happen.

I get very frustrated with people who turn their noses up at the different genres of writing. Many people simply don’t like fantasy fiction. And that’s okay! But that doesn’t mean it isn’t just as difficult to write as high literary prose.

I’m a simple person. I don’t try to be anything more. So no, I’m not striving to be the next Jane Austen, or Herman Melville, or J.K. Rowling, or J.R.R. Tolkien.

I’m simply me, and that’s how I am happiest.

So come on, what are your favorite opening lines? I’ll be you know a bunch that I’ve never heard of. Can you recommend any for me?

Every beginning must draw your reader into your story and, as quickly as possible, get them to suspend disbelief in your created world and accept it as “reality.”

— Elizabeth Lyon, Manuscript Makeover


7 thoughts on “A Dark and Stormy Night

  1. Let’s remember Bulwer-Lytton’s audience. In 1830, literacy was a highly prized accomplishment, often achieved only at great cost, and reading aloud was a valued talent worth cultivating. People wanted words to paint pictures inside their heads, whether they read the books, or had someone read aloud to them.

    Today, literacy is a free choice that so many are willing to do without, technology has gone backwards, to accommodate finger-pointing with touch-sensitive screens. People are so accustomed to color photography that they need to see swooping, flashing, 3-D animation, and they’ve been so deafened by wearing stereophonic dual ear-buds that they need to be roared at with SurroundSound.

    My own experience has been that the use of a large, varied, and polysyllabic vocabulary is a compliment to the listener’s or reader’s intelligence. For example, over a period of nearly five years, I read the two major Irish newspapers daily, and observed Irish journalists routinely use big words, archaic words, and even strings of alliterative words in newspaper columns, but nobody ever remarked on their writing style (and Irish newspaper readers are not bashful about criticizing columnists). (And no, I am not Irish.)

    I’ll take book of florid prose over a bludgeoning with flamboyant technology, any day.

    • Thank you for your comment!
      I may have misconstrued my meaning in my post. I am very fond of literature, and used to despise the type of writing I am currently engaged in. Heaven knows, I probably wouldn’t be able to construct such an opening line as he did.
      Some of my favorite authors are from the time of Bulwer-Lytton, who also used florid prose, and I enjoy them immensely. For example, I adore Elizabeth Gaskell, and she does flowery, complicated prose better than many other authors I have read.
      I am not disparaging the talent of Bulwer-Lytton, as I try hard not to disparage any writer, but you’re right. The complex nature of the entire line is something to admire. Most people don’t know the whole line, only the oft-parodied “It was a dark and stormy night.”
      I simply mean that, in the time when everything is ‘dumbed down’ for the masses, the intense writing behind his famous line is a marked contrast to our current times. Which can appear comical, based solely on how different it is from current writing styles and societal norms.
      I don’t enjoy books that assume I’m ignorant, as I have a doctorate degree, so I apologize if I misconstrued my meaning. I’m still bungling my way through how to blog.
      Thank you for giving me something to think about. Another perspective and eye-opening comments help to further my scope of consideration when I write and blog.
      Happy writing!

  2. Here’s one of my favorite opening lines:

    When Madeline Hammond stepped from the train at El Cajon, New Mexico, it was nearly midnight, and her first impression was of a huge dark space of cool, windy emptiness, strange and silent, stretching away under great blinking white stars.

    ~ Zane Grey, The Light of Western Stars (copyright 1914, 1942)

    • I love that! Thank you for sharing it with me. I have not read any Zane Grey (shame on me, I know). One of my favorite TV characters of all time read every Zane Grey novel he could get his hands on. I need to read at least one. Which would you recommend?

      BTW, the character was Col. Sherman Potter on MASH.

      • You could begin with <The Light of Western Stars. It takes place during the Mexican Revolution, shortly before the First World War. Good old-fashioned descriptive writing to bring out the setting; there’s action and adventure, with some historical realism, comic relief, and an unusual romantic subplot. It has a sequel that takes place in the early 1930s, but that one’s not as good. I own a matched hardcover set of all 60-odd westerns and adventure books and novellas Grey wrote. My mother bought them for me by mail-order subscription, three at time for a dollar apiece, more than forty years ago, and I’ve read them many times. Most of them are good to very good, although he has a couple of losers (they tend to be the ones his wife didn’t edit for him).

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