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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…

  • Ready to write? We’ll give you a new challenge each Monday. Publish a new post on your blog that interprets the challenge. Include a pingback and we’ll list your post below. Learn More

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. Thomspon, father of Gonzo journalism.

Hunter S. Thomspon, father of Gonzo journalism.

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:

And now for the challenge part

Gonzo, yes, but not a journalist.

Gonzo, yes, but not a journalist.

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.
      Scenarios:
    1. You’re standing on a busy street corner. A car runs a red light, hitting a cyclist crossing the intersection.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.

201 Comments

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  1. This sounds really difficult! Does it have to be in “Gonzo journalism style” exactly or simliar to it? Do you have any tips?

    1. Hi @Themadmuslimah — the object is to get you writing. If you’d prefer not to emulate Gonzo journalism style, that’s perfectly fine. My tip would be to write a post that uses first person narration, compelling dialogue, and as much detail as possible.

  2. Sure I will do it today for the first time and I will choose the third situation…”couple breaking up”.. so just wait for my ping to appear. This time it’s a really appealing challenge.

  3. The writing challenge is motivating that I decided to self publish some free verses though AuthorHouse, W.Y.Lee’s Over A Cup Of Coffee and now is circulating through Barnes and Noble, Amazon and other countries….I encourage others to write and maybe, someone might read it and resonate with what you have written.

  4. Interesting article. In the world they are a few doing Gonzo journalism and most of them are unfortunately men. I guess, being a woman in this journalism “field” is tough!

  5. Interesting challenge but I am not a fan of Hunter S. Thomspon or Gonzo journalism. Not years ago when he was a big deal or now. So I’ll pass on this one, but will be curious to see what folks come up with.

    1. Hi @Marilyn, agreed — HST is not someone I would say has universal appeal. No need to go full on Gonzo with this challenge. Might I suggest experimenting with vernacular-heavy dialogue as part of a challenge entry?

    1. Hi @Tom, a pingback is a link to this post, somewhere in the post your write for this challenge. A list of those pingbacks appears after the comments on this post. It’s what we use to find all the entries and read them. For example, if you read @Bumblepuppies’ post above, you’ll see that @BP’s linked the word “gonzo” back to this writing challenge. If you take a peek at the list of pingbacks below (they get generated automatically), you’ll see that @BP’s post is number five on the pingback list.

      This works on WordPress.com blogs. It may not work on Blogspot if Blogspot doesn’t support pingbacks. Thanks for posting the link to your entry, just in case!

    1. Hi @M.R., I did sneak a flight to Vancouver, Canada into scenario two in a bid to be a tiny bit international, though I understand entirely that that might not nearly be international enough. You’re welcome to invent any scenario.

  6. This is great. I’m still learning how this site works so I’ll be asking for a lot of help while I figure out how everything works. I took the Gonzo writing challenge and had some fun writing out the scenario (I picked my own). Not sure if I understand his style but what the heck.

    1. @Vington, that’s the spirit! It’s all about stretching yourself as a writer and being open minded enough to consider using new styles and emulating new forms.

  7. Krista…your challenge got me thinking
    could I write the story I wanted to tell
    in those confines and by those rules?
    I did write
    a six page
    stream of conciousness poem about what happened in my life yesterday
    could I submit that?

  8. Wow, how synchronistic, I was just reading about Hunter Thompson and the “gonzo” style — I will definitely be trying your challenge later today (I’m a brand new blogger, not much of a voice yet) — thanks

92 Responses Ready to write? To participate, publish a post on your blog that responds to the prompt. Include a pingback and we’ll list your post below. Learn More