5 Gonzo Traits Content Marketers should learn from Hunter Thompson

A great way to create amazing content marketing writing is by dialing up the Gonzo Style of Hunter Thompson. Afterall, the internet is the spawn of what the New Journalists instigated. Rejecting the studied, expert, informed approach to a story, the Gonzo Journalist Thompson and New Journalists like Tom Wolfe swarmed a topic with personal asides, back story and conjecture based on instinct. It was spontaneous. It exploded the line between place and context.

It had spittle flying off its serifs.

Thompson’s own definition of it has varied over the years, but he still maintains that a good gonzo journalist “needs the talent of a master journalist, the eye of an artist/photographer and the heavy balls of an actor”. He believed that gonzo is a “style of reporting based on William Faulkner’s idea that the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism”.

It’s the perfect model for anyone writing anything online and calling it content marketing. Read my imagined interview with a Dead Hunter S. Thompson as part of the Writing for Fame and Fortune Interview series.

Now…The Rules
OK. When people say ‘there are no set rules’ they don’t get it. That’s more cliche than a Gonzo can handle. There are definite rules. They just have one little kick-in-the-butt footnote that says any rule can be re-cast or twisted on itself so as never to be cliched, expected or god forbid, put-the-story-down-and-stop-reading bland.

1. Write non-fiction as if it were fiction.

The point is to get at the real. It is not objective. That’s to say, it is opinionated. It can be belligerent, manic, rant-inspired or imagined. Or reverential. What works best online? Having a strong POV. And that means imagining it as if it were fiction.

2. Vulgarity and sarcasm rock

What do people read most online? Sex, violence, drugs, sports and politics. These are exactly the topics covered by Gonzo and New Journalists. But before your corporate editor pops onto your shoulder think of it this way: Consumer audiences are cool with vulgarity if it’s funny and on-story. Business audiences are cool with sarcasm as a way to make a point. Always a good rule for the first line of your story: shock them.

3. Dab on a whiff of celebrity
Public figures, newspeople, actors, musicians, politicians–they’re all ripe for bringing any topic to life. But we’re not talking about lionizing them. Who is the antithesis of your story who happens to be famous? Use quotes (or links) that point out their folly to give your argument spark.  It grounds a story in reality–elevating the trashy and vile to ‘newsworthy’. Trending topics don’t suck for search results either.

4. Step Away from ‘The Story’
The Gonzos have a tendency to move away from their subject and veer into the fringe. Their extreme scrutiny of situations provides insights beyond mere reportage. What’s the room smell like? What’s the vibe between the people talking–do they like each other? trust each other? Again, the novelistic descriptions of what’s ‘around’ the story gives it depth.

5. Let words flow with a creative use of English
Ad copywriters have long favored odd or even illegal sentence construction as attention-grabbers. Brevity works. Gonzo and New Journalists take the other extreme. They ramble. An observation becomes an aside that travels the perimeter of the story and digs under the surface of the writer’s own feelings before popping up in the middle of the bullseye, back on topic. Don’t let the keywords keep you down.

Hunter Thompson remained a freelancer his entire career. That’s not exactly a rule, but a nod to the fact that to tell stories in a visceral way might not fly in the everyday confines of a corporate CMS content calendar. Then again, what do you have to fear? A re-edit?

To paraphrase, HST himself, you might think of these rules as a salt shaker full of your favorite pick me up, a dust you add to the story and bake in for flavor. Just don’t turn it into MSG and give us a headache, promise?

UP NEXT Tomorrow: Interview with Dead Hunter Thompson for the Writing for Fame and Fortune book. Subscribe to the RSS Feed or Twitter @ContentCarnivor to get it.

UPDATE: Some fun with the Kentucky Derby story that started it all.

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