The cliché: It was a dark and stormy night, dear reader, when several beleaguered and befuddled columnists strained to find openings for their pieces and, miraculously, all came around to the same conclusion. "It was a dark and stormy night, no doubt about that," observed The Washington Post's Miranda Spivack. "It was a dark and sort of stormy night," says Abby Sher in The New York Times somewhat less certainly. "It was a dark and stormy night..." adds The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens, allowing the ellipses to leave unclear just how stormy he thinks it was.
Where it's from: The famous line opens the 1830 novel Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.It has since become a famous go-to example of all things overwrought. Madeleine L'Engle opened her classic A Wrinkle in Time with the line. So, too, did Snoopy, of the "Peanuts" comic strip, in many of the (presumably terrible) novels he attempted to write. In 1982, a San Jose State University professor started the "Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest," named for the "dark and stormy" author, which tasks entrants with composing "the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels." The contest has produced some whoppers. Take, for example, this year's wining sentence: "Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories."