Welcome back to Member Monday! It’s a pleasure to feature Larry Watters, President of Writers Forum.
Dark and Stormy Night, with Apologies to Snoopy
by: Larry Watters
“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.”
So starts the first of a long line of stories that use variations of the phrase “dark and stormy night.”
Of clichéd openings, this is one of the most well-known. However, most attribute it to Snoopy in the Peanuts strips by Charles Schultz. The first time Snoopy typed the phrase was July 12, 1965. Its cousin, “He was a dark and stormy knight,” has also been used by Schultz; I imagine when he thought the readers couldn’t stand one more night.
But it actually belongs to Edward George Bulwer-Lytton from the novel Paul Clifford way back in 1830. Bulwer-Lytton, a Victorian novelist, poet, playwright, and politician, lived from 1803 to 1873.
It spawned the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a tongue-in-cheek contest that takes place annually and is sponsored by the English Department of San José State. Entrants are invited “to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels” — that is, deliberately bad. A prize of $250 is awarded.
If you are a beginning writer, and are stuck for an opening for your mystery thriller, there are ways to not have it recognized as a cliché if you use a thesaurus.
First look at the word dark (when used as an adjective).
The built-in Thesaurus for Microsoft Word has, sinister, gloomy, and, surprisingly, brunette. Merriam-Webster Online has added, among others, darksome, dusky, murky, obscure, and somber. Thesaurus.com starts out a little weird with aphotic, atramentous, then gets common with black, and then weird again with caliginous, Cimmerian. Imagine; all these for dark.
The word stormy (as a weather adjective) is far less complicated.
Your built-in Word Thesaurus lists tempestuous and wild. MW Online follows up with pouring, blustery, brutal, harsh, unsettled, and windswept. Thesuarus.com suggests blustery, boisterous, coming down, foul, howling, raining cats and dogs, and rip-roaring.
As a noun, night is quite limited. In fact, it is hard to think of nouns as having synonyms, but the Word program has nighttime, Webster has dark and darkness, and Thesaurus.com rocks on with after hours, bedtime, before dawn, dead of night, nightfall, and witching hour.
With these in mind, it is hard not to come up with: “It was an inky and rip-roaring dark.”
But the sentence itself is redundant to begin with; nights are dark! So it all boils down to a simple “It’s a stormy night” or, if you will, “It’s a raining cats and dog bedtime.”
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