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Computer Analyst Wins Best Worst Writing Contest 124

pmadden writes "Dan McKay, a friend from years ago, has won a prestigious literary award. I've enjoyed technical manuals over the years, but never like this. Who would have guessed that such great writing would come from the grad of a small technical school."
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Computer Analyst Wins Best Worst Writing Contest

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  • by cathouse ( 602815 ) * on Saturday July 30, 2005 @11:05AM (#13202082)
    that anyone tried to write the way I was always criticized mfor.
    • You'll enjoy this excerpt from the 1994 winner's entry (CNET [com.com]):

      As the fading light of a dying day filtered through the window blinds, Roger stood over his victim with a smoking .45, surprised at the serenity that filled him after pumping six slugs into the bloodless tyrant that mocked him day after day, and then he shuffled out of the office with one last look back at the shattered computer terminal lying there like a silicon armadillo left to rot on the information superhighway.
  • by Rhoon ( 785258 ) on Saturday July 30, 2005 @11:06AM (#13202090) Homepage
    His entry, extolling a subject that has engaged poets for millennia, may have been inspired by Roxie Hart of the musical "Chicago." Complaining of her husband's ineptitude in the boudoir, Roxie laments, "Amos was . . . zero. I mean, he made love to me like he was fixing a carburetor or something."

    Nahh, he's just been speaking to my wife.
  • by Fastball ( 91927 ) on Saturday July 30, 2005 @11:11AM (#13202109) Journal
    I am a literary agent. I recently read your novella, "Ample Bosom," and I think it is a smash! Your talent for the mammary gland-carburetor metaphor leaps off of the page! I want to represent you. Please call the number below at your earliest convenience...
    • in a transfer of overinvoiced funds from the Lagos Oil Trust Bank in Nigeria. Your discretion is appreciated.

      (Pretend the last paragraph was in all caps.)

  • Dark and Stormy... (Score:2, Informative)

    by UCFFool ( 832674 )
    From TFA:
    The competition highlights literary achievements of the most dubious sort -- terrifyingly bad sentences that take their inspiration from minor writer Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel "Paul Clifford" began, "It was a dark and stormy night."
    Ok, I get the redundancy of 'dark' and 'night', but I don't find this as horrific as comparing anatomy to car parts *Though Jay Leno may disagree*
    • by swilde23 ( 874551 ) on Saturday July 30, 2005 @11:31AM (#13202193) Journal
      I was a little confused as well. Being in the Engineering department, I don't venture over to the English side of things. However, wikipedia seems to clear things up.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bulwer-Lytton, _1st_Baron_Lytton [wikipedia.org]

      His name lives on in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which contestants have to supply the openings of terrible (imaginary) novels, inspired by his novel Paul Clifford, which opens with the famous words:
      "It was a dark and stormy night"
      or to give the sentence in its full glory:
      "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 shorter form of the opening sentence was popularized by the Peanuts comic strip. Snoopy's sessions with the typewriter usually began with it. Entrants in the contest seek to capture the rapid changes in point of view, the florid language, and the atmosphere of the full sentence.
      • Having served on the editing staff of my high school literary magazine for three years, I remember reading a good number of terribly cliched opening lines. We had several entries each year that started "It was a dark and stormy night" and ended with their own horrible writing. Once or twice the ending was a simple period, as in "It was a dark and stormy night." We discovered that many young writers believed that this line was the official start of a short story or novel.

        As a 16-year-old poet, I forced mysel
      • Oddly enough, a very good novel that I would imagine many slashdotters enjoyed started with the same fateful phrase: Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time. Anyone else still dream of tessering?
    • Stolen directly from the fortune databases:

      Whenever Snoopy starts typing his novel from the top of his doghouse, beginning "It was a dark and stormy night..." he is borrowing from Lord Bulwer-Lytton. This was the line that opened his novel, "Paul Clifford," written in 1830. The full line reveals why it is so bad:

      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
      • You are right, the full original sentence reveals the extent of his soul-crushingly bad sentence. But the opening phrase does have issues by itself. The problem with "It was a dark and stormy night" is not just in the redundancy of "dark" and "night," as some have implied. Certainly different nights have different degrees of darkness, so describing a "night" as "dark" alone is reasonable if put in the right context (which he tries to do after starting things off so badly). But, you have to admit that, a
    • "The pen is mightier than the sword" is also a Bulwer-Lytton quote. It's funny that people quote him as an example of wisdom while attaching his name to bad writing contests.

      What's even funnier is that it's so out of context as to be nearly a misquote. He wrote "Beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword". I've never seen a better description of good government.
    • Haven't you ever been out in the woods on a bright moonlit night?

    • The best parody of this was from Eddie Murphy on SNL. He played a prison inmate who wrote poetry.

      "Images" by Tyrone Green
      Dark and lonely on a summers' night
      Kill my landlord, Kill my landlord.
      The watchdog barkin'. Do he bite?
      Kill my landlord, Kill my landlord.
      Jump in the window, break his neck.
      Then his house I start to wreck.
      Got no reason.
      What the heck?
      Kill my landlord, Kill my landlord.

      C-I-L-L.... my landlord.
    • This is really nitpicking of the worst sort. I don't find this contest of much use to people who really want to know the difference between bad writing and good writing. At most, it shows us (highlights) what a bad sentence is. But, hey, only in Slashdot does anything less than a paragraph's worth of keystrokes count (mostly modded as Funny).

      Most people read by the paragraph (news reports or short stories) or by the chapter (novels). A bad sentence or three doesn't a bad novel make. (Nor does a few insightf

  • by WickedClean ( 230550 ) on Saturday July 30, 2005 @11:15AM (#13202121) Homepage
    I'm sure Hollywood is calling right now. I wonder if this is where the studios recruit some of their screenwriters.
    • I'm sure Hollywood is calling right now. I wonder if this is where the studios recruit some of their screenwriters.

      Nah, if any of these entries were expanded upon they'd probably turn into something novel and interesting. Most screenwriters get "discovered" by their uncle Charlie the Hollywood producer, and then only if they don't stray too far from a proven formula from the past. I've lived and worked in and around the periphery of the business for some twenty years and have met scores or TV and movie w

      • Ever heard of Troy Duffy, the guy behing The Boondock Saints? He was one of those rare cases where he came out of nowhere and got a movie deal. Too bad he turned out to be a complete idiot and ruined his chances. Sad story, really, because the guy does have creative talent. There's a documentary about it all called Overnight.
        • Ever heard of Troy Duffy, the guy behing The Boondock Saints? He was one of those rare cases where he came out of nowhere and got a movie deal. Too bad he turned out to be a complete idiot and ruined his chances. Sad story, really, because the guy does have creative talent. There's a documentary about it all called Overnight.

          Excellent case in point. Contrast with JJ Abrams, who writes and produces a few thoroughly lackluster movies, disappears for a few years, then comes back and does two more movies even

    • Nope, the White House beat them to it.
  • Thats (Score:5, Funny)

    by JustOK ( 667959 ) on Saturday July 30, 2005 @11:20AM (#13202142) Journal
    Computer person badly writes? Unpossible.
  • Hmmm... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 30, 2005 @11:22AM (#13202149)
    And he works for Microsoft! Hello? Where've the MS bashers gone off to tonight?

    Oh, and if you scroll down the page with the other entries, you get this in the Sci-Fi category:
    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.

    D
    • All self-respecting MS bashers are composing screeds against the mediocrity of Internet Explorer version 7, based on reviews [mezzoblue.com].

      Disclaimer: mine's already written, that's why I'm here.
    • Re:Hmmm... (Score:2, Funny)

      by Pollardito ( 781263 )
      this was my favorite :
      They ask me if it was dark that night the hyenas showed up and ate the little beagle as he sat typing away on his dog house and then ate all the little round-faced kids, and I tell 'em, "no," it was not even stormy, kind of a calm, half-moon lit night where you'd sit on your deck having some peanuts, until the hyenas arrived of course and then it got so noisy you had to go in the house.


      Bill Crowley
      Santa Rosa, CA
    • Re:Hmmm... (Score:3, Funny)

      by jayloden ( 806185 )
      And he works for Microsoft! Hello? Where've the MS bashers gone off to tonight?

      Here: "Now we know who writes all those cryptic error messages and the dialoge for clippy!" ;)
    • Simple: anyone making jokes about Microsoft's employees lack of ability to write anything decent will be modded down as redundant.

      Whoops...
  • Exhaust (Score:5, Funny)

    by confusion ( 14388 ) on Saturday July 30, 2005 @11:26AM (#13202161) Homepage
    Wonder what he would have to say about the exhaust manifold?

    jerry
    http://www.cyvin.org/ [cyvin.org]
    • And what about the mud flaps?
    • For some high brow yet low brow commentary along these lines, let me recommend "Vineland" by Thomas Pynchon; about halfway through, as I recall, during the discussion of the People's Republic of Rock and Roll: there is a tale of a young man who likes his car, rather a lot.
    • Wonder what he would have to say about the exhaust manifold?

      As she flipped over and gracefully cclimbed to her knees, he drifted into anticipation for the new grapefruit shooter he'd ordered on the Internet for his Honda Civic. Slowly he reached under the bumper and checked the muffler - bearings were in place but there seemed to be some leakage. He topped it off with fluid and then proceeded to punch out the catalytic converter.
    • Probably something hole-ly inappropriate...

  • by guynorton ( 149974 ) on Saturday July 30, 2005 @11:28AM (#13202178)
    The competition's title should be changed to 'Best parody of bad literature'.

    Most of the entries I have read are funny, and intentionally so because they are parodying bad writing. Unless their parody fails in the most abysmal way I dont see how it qualifies as bad prose. For writing to qualify as bad, terrible or 'worst' it should be unwittingly so.

    • I see your point. The whole subjective good/bad scale ofcause rates intent rather then content, and if anyone where to read this not knowing that it was a parody and say "that's bad" they would be intirely wrong.

      You should read How I'm Is a Hello THERE!? It's terrible, but intentionally, so it's good. Ofcause it's not intentionally good, so it must be bad, or maybe I am mistaken.

  • I suppose that is one way to explain the subject of breasts to nerds...
  • Disappointing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kongjie ( 639414 ) <kongjie@@@mac...com> on Saturday July 30, 2005 @11:30AM (#13202191)
    As an English major from way back, I have been aware of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for some time but never looked into the complete results.

    My first reaction after seeing the 2005 results pages [sjsu.edu] is that if the people who run this thing want to keep it going, they might invest a little more design thought into their work. Yes, even though they only do it out of love and don't get a nickel for it.

    My second feeling is, despite the burden of reading a lot more bad prose, they should go back to a paragraph rather than a sentence. Many of the entries of note were more silly than really horrible and I think requiring the writer to write a coherent paragraph would produce better (erm, I mean worse) results.

    By the way, if you want more info on the history of the contest, go to the the Bulwer-Lytton home page [bulwer-lytton.com].

    • The strict limit to a single sentence is part of the challenge. There are variants with a word limit too. Personally I think just limiting yourself to two words [everything2.com] is fun. "Captain, we've—!"
  • Uber geek? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jugalator ( 259273 ) on Saturday July 30, 2005 @11:31AM (#13202194) Journal
    As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual.

    As he read this brilliant description, in bright red letters against a background as white as the purest of snow, to make his eyes ache slightly from the strain, a creeping thought slowly approached him much like a stalker of Natalie Portman, and as the thought materialized in his head, it told him -- "wow, he thinks exactly like a Slashdotter".
    • Wow - as an owner of a triumph spitfire, I can attest that those dual carburettors do look like breasts. The fact that they are 'constant depression' carburettors may or may not be related to geeks lack of access to the very breasts they represent.

    • For some reason I don't see most slashdotters handling carburetors. For some reason I don't see most slashdotters handling breasts. I'm serious about the first one, the second was obligatory.
    • As he read this brilliant description, in bright red letters against a background as white as the purest of snow, to make his eyes ache slightly from the strain, a creeping thought slowly approached him much like a stalker of Natalie Portman, and as the thought materialized in his head, it told him -- "wow, he thinks exactly like a Slashdotter".

      He leaned back in his chair and listened to the wood groan under his shifting spine. The words on the computer screen stared at him menacingly. Could it really be th
  • by adam1101 ( 805240 ) on Saturday July 30, 2005 @11:33AM (#13202202)
    Ah, yes, the Bulwer-Lytton contest [bulwer-lytton.com]. The challenge is to write the worst novel opening line you can think of. As most entries tend to be rather long, there is also a Lyttle Lytton contest [adamcadre.ac] limited to 25 word, with classics as

    In 3010, the potatoes triumphed.

    and the latest winner

    John, surfing, said to his mother, surfing beside him, "How do you like surfing?"
  • Who the hell though it would be a good idea to write an entire page of text in header tags? I couldn't bear to read it, even when I scaled the font size down.
  • > I've enjoyed technical manuals over the years, but never like this.

    Considering that he works for Microsoft, that is quire scary :). Btw, he has defected to Communist China as well ... (j/k)

  • I never think that very many of the entries really count as bad writing. Consider this year's entry: it's funny as hell! It's entertaining, which bad writing never is. Bad writing is, well, bad: boring, tedious, incoherent. Judging a truly bad writing contest would be a monumental chore. I think the B-L contest is really a "silly writing contest".
  • by Rob Carr ( 780861 ) on Saturday July 30, 2005 @12:08PM (#13202345) Homepage Journal
    Of all the engineers and scientists and doctors that I know, all find their writing skills to be far more important than their math skills. They all wind up writing documents to get funds and report findings; most barely use calculus in their jobs and only one uses numerical methods for solving partial differential equations -- and he only uses that in his high power rocketry hobby.

    A computer programmer I know wishes he'd skipped his Fortran and Cobol classes for a technical writing class, but that might be damning by faint praise.

  • He works at Microsoft!!!

    Ok... regroup... you guys pull around back by the shed and grab some pitchforks....
    I'll get my torch... :)
    • He's not all bad, he went to New Mexico Tech so I know he's working on bringing down the evil empire from the inside.

      Go New MIT!

      Congrats Dan! Sorry about getting stuck in accounting though... Not exactly something we studied at Tech.

      Class of '86
  • by panurge ( 573432 ) on Saturday July 30, 2005 @12:34PM (#13202477)
    Sticking to the stuff that matters, I thought it was the SU (Skinner Union) carburetor that was found on so many British cars of that era. The SU had a remarkably boob-shaped chamber on top which was indeed capped with a nipple-like object which held the damper rod. There was a chamber inside which contained oil and was connected to a piston which went up and down according to the inlet manifold depression. I am sure the SU was one of the reasons that the VW beetle was so much more successful than small British cars of the same period. (The other reasons were the appalling quality, the underpowered engines, the high cost of spares, the rust, the inaccessibility of mechanical parts, and the whole bad karma of the entire British car industry with the exception of Morgan, which actually made a virtue out of being quirky and English.)

    Accordingly I have to point out that what makes this such bad writing is that in reality anybody faced with tuning a pair of SUs would naturally find his thoughts turning to the more attractive subject of boobs, and not vice versa.

  • Vogon bait (Score:3, Funny)

    by GrAfFiT ( 802657 ) on Saturday July 30, 2005 @12:41PM (#13202509) Homepage
    I'm sure that this is a conspiracy to get the Vogons [wikipedia.org] to destroy Earth by challeging them on writing skills [wikipedia.org].
  • e.e. cummings pulled off the same comparison rather nicely in his poem "She Being Brand" - he just did it with style.
    • yes he did... she being Brand -new;and you know consequently a little stiff i was careful of her and(having thoroughly oiled the universal joint tested my gas felt of her radiator made sure her springs were O. K.)i went right to it flooded-the-carburetor cranked her up,slipped the clutch(and then somehow got into reverse she kicked what the hell)next minute i was back in neutral tried and again slo-wly;bare,ly nudg. ing(my lev-er Right- oh and her gears being in A 1 shape passed from low through seco
  • these gems are just begging to be compiled into a fortune file.
  • From the article on CNN: "McKay was is in China and could not be reached to comment"

    :)

  • Is it just me, or does the winning sentence remind anyone else of Faulkner?
    • Faulkner. Ballard. Joyce. With their unusual figures of speech, the samples have a very post-modern feel. Maybe that's what make them "bad" to stodgy and self-important professors of English. But I don't think they would fare any worse than the comparisons that Shakespeare would make had the Bard been living in the 21st century:
      She looked more lovely than a summer's day with its sudden winds and uncertain end.
  • Winner? (Score:2, Funny)

    by mendaliv ( 898932 )
    It's amazing that the winner wasn't "Anonymous Coward". That guy is amazing for writing particularly bad stuff!
  • that's it (Score:3, Funny)

    by lubricated ( 49106 ) <michalp@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Saturday July 30, 2005 @01:22PM (#13202711)
    We need a contest on the best worst use of mathematics and/or statistics. That way we can poke fun back at those snotty English majors. The problem is that the contest is probably oversaturated.
  • My cousin teaches adult education creative writing at the University of Colorado. She gets a lot of computer programmers in her class that aspire to be science fiction writers. As a programmer, that was my dream also.

    My cousin says she has yet to have a programmer in her class that was any good at fiction.
  • It's extremely familiar to sci-fi writer, J G Ballard's novel Crash [amazon.com], which looks at the warped connection between automotive accidents and sexuality. That sentence reads like it could have been straight from Crash.
  • NM School of Mining and Tech, back when it was just New Mexico School of Mines, was also the alma mater of Conrad Hilton, of Hilton Hotels fame. Nothing else to add to this, just that.
  • The fact that these people are trying to make them bad makes some of these rather impressive. I've been going through the archives of both this one and the short lines contest, and they have an odd beauty to them. When I first read the story, on Fark, two days ago, I thought that they had come across these somewhere, not that people were trying,
  • there was this nice signature..

    "his writing makes people all over the world cry, shout in disbelief, emotional.. sometimes happy and sometimes brings about revolutionary changes, so WHO is this HE? He writes error messages for Windows"
  • I got a kick out of the LotR parody:

    Runner-Up
    When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday, his children packed his bags and drove him to Golden Pastures retirement complex just off Interstate 95.

    Stephen Farnsworth
    Manchester, U.K.
  • This must've been the guy who wrote the dialogue for Max Payne!!!

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