Shakespeare stated that “all is well that ends well”, but the opening of a story can be just as important. For example, “once upon a time” instantly transports a child (or adult) to a magical, faraway land full of wonders and adventure. So how would one open a story of drama, mystery or even horror?
One of the most infamous examples of such an opening is the line: “it was a dark and stormy night”. This opening sentence was first used by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. The full opening is:
“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 phrase is effective in establishing a setting and painting a word picture.
However, this opening is considered overly florid and descriptive, overachieving its goal of establishing the setting. This kind of sentence is known as a purple prose and is mocked in the world of literature. This opening has become the poster child of purple prose, such as the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which celebrates the worst examples of “dark and stormy night” stories.
Probably the most popular mention of “it was a dark and stormy night” is in the comic strip, Peanuts. Snoopy, the canine protagonist, is often seen starting a novel on his typewriter with the line “it was a dark and stormy night”. Perhaps it is no surprise as to why his novels were never published.