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…

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.

    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.

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  1. 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.


  2. 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?


  3. 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


      1. In other words, a pingback is a two way link, like a phone call. You link yourself to this post (which you have done) then you put a link to this post in the post you wrote. On your site.

        A to B — and — B to A. Once you get it, it’s really simple.


  4. This challenge can’t be reconciled with the science fiction theme of my blog, but I’ve gone right out of character for it. I’m showing respect. I loved Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, even though I never took acid. Hunter was the man who taught verbiage to shoot from the hip. And everyone I know in real life is gonzo enough to work with. Here’s a slice of my day.


  5. Hi! Thank you for explaining the three hallmarks of Gonzo journalism. Do you think that the hallmarks (vernacular, detail, first person) are easily found in contemporary writing?


    1. Hi @Azhouston — in some writing, sure. (My opinion only) I feel as though most contemporary writing doesn’t use the level of detail or the depth of vernacular Gonzo journalism embodies.


  6. I first read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when I was in high school. We were supposed to be reading Crime and Punishment in class, and I had F&L tucked into Dostoyevsky. People were giving me funny looks because we were silently reading the part where Raskolnikov committed the grizzly murder and I kept cracking up laughing. People probably thought I was a serial killer. Here’s my homage:


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