Odyssey is an outstanding speculative-fiction writers workshop, a 6-week program (early June to mid-July) with pro editors: serious workshops for serious aspiring writers on their way up.

Here though, on their website, is a fun page, called The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, that mixes great opening lines with some hysterical clunkers from the infamous Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

Here are a couple of the fantastically funny Bulwer-Lytton beginnings:

The dragon cast his wet, rheumy eyes, heavy-lidded with misery, over his kingdom – a malodorous, rot-ridden swamp, with moss cloaking brooding, gloomy cypresses, tree trunks like decayed teeth rising from stagnant ponds, creatures with mildewed fur and scales whom the meanest roadside zoo would have rejected – and hoped the antidepressants would kick in soon.

Not to be outdone in dreadfulness:

Gringran Roojner had only gone to see the Great Warlock of Loowith to get his horoscope and he couldn’t believe he’d been sent on a quest for the legendary Scromer of Nothleen to ask him for the answer to the Riddle of Shimmererer so that he could give it to the Guardians of Vooroniank, thereby gaining access to the Cave of Zothlianath where he would find the seldom seen Cowering of Groojanc, whose spittle was an absolute necessity in the making of the Warlock’s famous pound cake, the kind with raisins.

For comparative purposes, the Odyssey page intersperses a batch of good (and published) opening sentences by workshop graduates.

Check out the details of the Odyssey workshops, at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, one hour from Boston. Or read the text of this testimonial, by Lane Robins, comparing her creative writing training in college to the Odyssey summer session:

Odyssey: A Step on the Journey, by Lane Robins

I majored in Creative Writing in college. . . . But the college workshop experience wasn’t helpful for me as a genre writer. I wasn’t writing what I wanted to write, and so I wasn’t getting the feedback that I needed to get. This fact became rapidly apparent when I began sending stories out to genre magazines and collected rejections by the handful. (. . .)

Then I heard about Odyssey. Six weeks of intensive writing and critiquing, taught by the Dell Abyss editor, Jeanne Cavelos. (. . .) At Odyssey, I could ask an actual editor why the story “didn’t quite work,” something I’d heard more than enough of by then.

Until Odyssey, all my writing instruction had been focused on tiny, technical details, or story ‘rules’ that I had unconsciously absorbed after years of reading. Odyssey taught me about story structure, about asking myself questions, and about understanding the reader’s expectations as well as my own.

Odyssey taught me to look at writing from a more analytical standpoint, first while critiquing others, then in my own writing, and did so in an environment that was both challenging and nurturing.

Did it work? Robins started a new novel that fall, Maledicte, which was published by Del Rey in 2007. It was well reviewed by Publishers Weekly and Booklist, noting: “Robins is a fantasist with a future,” and “well-paced adventure and arresting characters,” respectively.

Kudos to Odyssey and director Jeanne Cavelos. Fantasy fiction is built on a tradition of great storytelling . . . and for many writers, that means unlearning the literary self-obsession too often learned in college writing programs.

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