Weekly Writing Challenge: Three Ways to Go Gonzo
We blog for a million different reasons, but in the end we’re all storytellers. Writing Challenges help you push your writing boundaries and explore new ideas, subjects, and styles.
To participate, read the challenge instructions and write at least one post in response. Tag your post with DPchallenge and include a link to this post to generate a pingback. Make sure your post has been specifically published in response to this challenge. We might just highlight some of our favorites on Freshly Pressed on Fridays, or in our monthly newsletter.
Let’s go Gonzo (without the LSD)
Hunter S. Thompson was an American author and writer. (He was also a drug enthusiast, among other things, but that’s another story for another day.) His infamous, detail-dense, first-person narrative, The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, spawned a genre of reporting called Gonzo journalism. Gonzo journalism differs from typical reporting in that Gonzo journalists renounce claims of objectivity, often place themselves in the story as a first-person narrator, and include verbatim dialogue to capture and convey their first-hand experiences. The work can often have a “stream-of-consciousness” feel to it.
Consider this passage from the opening of The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved:
In the air-conditioned lounge I met a man from Houston who said his name was something or other — “but just call me Jimbo” — and he was here to get it on. “I’m ready for anything, by God! Anything at all. Yeah, what are you drinkin?” I ordered a Margarita with ice, but he wouldn’t hear of it: “Naw, naw…what the hell kind of drink is that for Kentucky Derby time? What’s wrong with you, boy?” He grinned and winked at the bartender. “Goddam, we gotta educate this boy. Get him some good whiskey…
“Say,” he said, “you look like you might be in the horse business…am I right?”
“No,” I said. “I’m a photographer.”
“Oh yeah?” He eyed my ragged leather bag with new interest. “Is that what you got there — cameras? Who you work for?”
“Playboy,” I said.
He laughed. “Well goddam! What are you gonna take pictures of — nekkid horses? Haw! I guess you’ll be workin’ pretty hard when they run the Kentucky Oaks. That’s a race jut for fillies.” He was laughing wildly. “Hell yes! And they’ll all be nekkid too!”
In this scenario, Thompson reports on meeting a stranger headed to the Kentucky Derby. Examine the passage closely. What impression do you get of “Jimbo,” based on Thompson’s account? Consider Jimbo’s language. He drops the letter “g” from “working.” He uses profanity. He doesn’t say, “naked horses,” he says “nekkid horses.”
If you pay attention to the details, a compelling picture of the Kentucky Derby begins to emerge — one that doesn’t necessarily match the decorum we typically associate with a prestigious horse race. You can read the entire piece if you like.
In summary, the basic hallmarks of Gonzo journalism are:
- First-person narration.
- Dialogue complete with vernacular.
- Lots and lots and lots of detail.
And now for the challenge part
There are three different ways to participate in today’s challenge. The goal is to stretch your writing style by experimenting with and emulating a new form. As always, the goal of any writing challenge is to get you writing. You’re welcome to adapt the challenge to your needs as you see fit. For example, you may choose to include only one, two, or all three hallmarks of Gonzo journalism listed above in your post.
- Report on one event/gathering/happening from your week in Gonzo journalism style. The event can be anything from your life: a slice of your weekly drawing class, the conversation between the butcher and the man buying stewing beef at the meat counter in your local grocery store, or what you observe and hear while you’re at the gas station filling up. Cram as many details in as you can. Record any dialogue as accurately as possible: include pauses, slang, stumbles, inflection, etc. Your post needs to be a minimum of three paragraphs long.
- Write at least three paragraphs reporting on a scenario that you imagine in Gonzo journalism style.
- Choose one of the following three scenarios. Imagine the scenario taking place in as great a detail as your brain will allow. Write at least three paragraphs reporting on the scenario in Gonzo journalism style.
- You’re standing on a busy street corner. A car runs a red light, hitting a cyclist crossing the intersection.
- You’re waiting at gate 23 at John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport’s Terminal 7 to board an Air Canada flight to Vancouver. The flight has been delayed two hours so far. The gate agent announces a further three-hour delay before take off. To your right sits an elderly couple. She’s in a wheelchair. To the left, a family of four, with a boy, aged five and a newborn infant girl.
- You’re in a street-side café in San Diego, California. The couple seated at the next table is breaking up.
No matter which option you choose, have fun with the challenge! So looking forward to reading your posts.