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It was a dark and stormy night

PotomacBob

As much as it is the subject of much criticism, what's wrong (or right) with starting a story with "It was a dark and stormy night"?

Wheezer
Updated:

@PotomacBob


It was a dark and stormy night


First use: "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."

English novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1830 novel Paul Clifford

So, other than not being original and the most lampooned and parodied phrase in English literature as well as the archetypical definition of purple prose, why not?

Replies:   helmut_meukel
Switch Blayde

@PotomacBob

Are you asking why an author shouldn't begin his story with "It was a dark and stormy night" or why is the infamous opening bad?

helmut_meukel

@Wheezer

So, other than not being original and the most lampooned and parodies phrase in English literature as well as the archetypical definition of purple prose, why not?


If it's used as factual description of the environment, why not use it? It's short and pregnant, the reader will immediately understand why there are few – if any – people outside without you telling him/her this explicitely.
OTOH, using it holds the word count of your story down, so if you get payed by words...

HM.

Replies:   Wheezer
Ernest Bywater

I've often thought of starting a story with - It was a stark and dormy night - where the main character is introduced into a no frills large dorm room at a youth detention facility around 8 p.m. on a moonless night.

karactr

But, what does that have to do with Tony Stark?

awnlee jawking

@PotomacBob

I love that opening because Snoopy used it.

It's such a cliche that authors have to be a little bit special to pull off a good story with that opening.

AJ

Replies:   Wheezer
docholladay

Its a cliche, because it works when used wisely.

Wheezer

@helmut_meukel

If it's used as factual description of the environment, why not use it?


Except for stories set north of the Arctic Circle, all nights are dark. City lights may artificially brighten some areas, and a full moon can lessen the darkness, but if it is night then the reader will know that it is dark.

Wheezer

@awnlee jawking

It's such a cliche that authors have to be a little bit special to pull off a good story with that opening.


I cannot imagine a serious modern work of literature starting with that phrase. Humor? Certainly. Satire? Also acceptable. The phrase is just too well-known as an example of bad writing.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Wheezer

How dare you disparage Snoopy. He sets the standard to which I aspire :)

AJ

Replies:   robberhands
Ernest Bywater

@Wheezer

Except for stories set north of the Arctic Circle, all nights are dark.


I would disagree with that. yes, it's darker than daylight, but a moonlit night is good enough to go hunting in, and a the week covering the full moon is good enough to read a large print book in, well, it is for me when I'm outside of the range of city lights. Out in the paddocks of a rural area is very light at night due to the starlight, at least, down here in Australia it is.

robberhands

@awnlee jawking

He sets the standard to which I aspire :)

Then you'll also never beat the Red Baron.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@robberhands

Then you'll also never beat the Red Baron


You're right, Red Baron BHS (Bachelor of Health Science) :(

AJ

helmut_meukel

@Wheezer

and a full moon can lessen the darkness, but if it is night then the reader will know that it is dark


Hmm, I remember one winter night without clouds and a full moon when I was driving home from Berlin southward on the autobahn to Bavaria and the generator of my car broke down after about 80 km into East Germany. I hoped the battery would hold until I passed the border, but no luck. About 70 km north of the border I killed all lights and hoped to reach the border. The car had a diesel engine, so no electricity needed as long as the motor was running. The fields and forests were white with snow and I could clearly see the lanes and shoulder of the autobahn. It was past midnight and I was the only one travelling through this godforsaken part of East Germany.

HM.

Bondi Beach
Updated:

@PotomacBob

The protagonist and narrator in Lawrence Durrell's "Alexandria Quartet" is an unsuccessful novelist. At last, he achieves an epiphany of sorts and begins to really and truly write. (Spoiler alert: he gets the girl, too, sort of.)

His opening sentence of this future great work of literature: "Once upon a time ..."

So, yeah, why not? If Lawrence Durrell could use the companion to "dark and stormy night," you can, too.

bb

Remus2

@Wheezer

Except for stories set north of the Arctic Circle, all nights are dark. City lights may artificially brighten some areas, and a full moon can lessen the darkness, but if it is night then the reader will know that it is dark.

Polar Night, and Midnight Sun last ~28 and ~40 days respectively. The Arctic Circles are very large areas. Given the southern Artic Circle encompasses Antarctica only for all intensive purposes, the Northern Artic Circle encompasses several countries with varying degrees of sunlight depending on the season.

That said, was your statement intended to reference Midnight Sun? Not trying to be a smartass, just not clear on what you said.

Replies:   Wheezer
Wheezer

@Remus2

That said, was your statement intended to reference Midnight Sun?

More or less. With Midnight sun, iirc, The hours of darkness are very brief, but there are periods of time where the sun sets below the horizon. You do not actually get into 24 hours of continuous sunshine or darkness in a day until you get above the arctic circle.

Still, this is drifting into minutia & hair-splitting. It is ONLY my opinion, but calling the night dark in the original example is like calling the ocean wet. It conveys no useful information.

karactr

There is dark and there is DARK. Most nights have light...moon, stars, ambient light from near or far towns, street lights, you get the picture...but on a stormy, rain swept, blustery night most of those sources would be occludded. Having been in such conditions where the brightest light source was fire flies...how they avoided the rain, I have no idea...that ruined my night vision, I can still see "It was a dark and stormy night" as a valid description. Cliche though it may be.

Replies:   Wheezer
Wheezer

@karactr

There is dark and there is DARK.

You are making my point. The original phrase lacks adequate detail. It is cliche simply because it is such a poor way of describing the night in question.

joyR

@PotomacBob

As much as it is the subject of much criticism, what's wrong (or right) with starting a story with "It was a dark and stormy night"?


Other than it having been used before, nothing is wrong with using it.

The opening line of a story isn't supposed to be highly detailed, technically accurate or scientifically precise, it's simple purpose it to grab the readers interest. Short is often considered best, though long works too.

It was a dark and stormy night.

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.

Mother died today.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Not one of them is detailed, none are concise, which is the point, the opening line shouldn't provide answers, it should provoke questions, interest, otherwise who would read the second line?

Uther_Pendragon

Actually,

An SF writer started a story with that line -- years after Bulwer-Lytton had made it famous -- . Then, he went on to say that most nights aren't dark (in the rural area where the story was set) because of starlight.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Uther_Pendragon


Then, he went on to say that most nights aren't dark (in the rural area where the story was set) because of starlight.


My last house was outside the city. Unless the moon was shining, it was pitch dark even with the stars out.

Since I live in the desert where the humidity is often in single digits, there aren't clouds to block the stars.

Replies:   Dominions Son  Remus2
Writer Mick

@PotomacBob

I recently wrote a silly little story with the idea that I would build it around the phrase. I ended up making the phrase the introduction to the action in each chapter.

What works works, whether you take it seriously or in jest.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

Since I live in the desert where the humidity is often in single digits


Humidity a ground level dosen't necessarily have any relationship with the humidity at the altitudes where clouds form.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

Humidity a ground level dosen't necessarily have any relationship with the humidity at the altitudes where clouds form.


Yeah, but it's so dry we don't have clouds when the humidity is that low.

The meteorologists always talk about dew point when they talk about our monsoons. Monsoons here is when the dew point reaches a certain number so many consecutive days (actually that's how it used to be. It's now a date). When the monsoons come, it gets humid. Of course humid here is like 35%.

Remus2

@Switch Blayde

My last house was outside the city. Unless the moon was shining, it was pitch dark even with the stars out.

That is a subjective condition. Different people have varying degrees of low light vision AKA scotopic vision.

https://www.cis.rit.edu/people/faculty/montag/vandplite/pages/chap_9/ch9p1.html

What appears to you as total blackout, may not be so for the next person.

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