Writing Tips I Learned from Frank Sinatra Has a Cold

“Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” by Gay Talese launched the era of New Journalism, and it is considered as one of the greatest magazine articles ever written. Here are some of the writing tips I learned from reading this article:

1. Use roadblocks as creative fodder

Gay Talese was tasked to write a profile about Frank Sinatra, but when Talese arrived at Sinatra’s place, the singer refused to be interviewed saying he had a cold. Instead of being discouraged, Talese turned this roadblock into a pivotal part of his piece.

2. Describe the hell out of the experience

Talese was very meticulous in describing details, so when you read his piece, you’ll be transported to where the writer was. When Talese describes, it is not like a barrage of information like a history-class shot gun. Each description has a purpose. They are made to portray a scene, flesh out a character, and set a certain mood.

Talese surprises readers with unique descriptions like “the television set lights like an operating room.” Talese zeroes in on quirky elements like when he said that Sinatra knew how to sit on the bus in such a way that when the singer stood up, there will be no creases.

3. Actions spark up articles

Describing actions can reveal character so Talese made adequate use of this technique.

4. Transitions build and pulsate

Build the scene and build the moment, but then remember to shake up the timeline. In the essay, Talese starts with the bar scene, describes it, then he takes you to another location, or another time, then he goes back to the bar, then he goes to another story that a friend recalled.

5. Back up statements with evidence

When Talese says “Frank Sinatra does things personally,” he backs it up with examples.

6. People should be complex

Every person has a good side and a bad side, so your piece should reflect this too.

7. Play with sound

Talese’s quiet and tender description of Sinatra’s sentimental side is followed by a scene where Sinatra is shouting in the studio.

8. Play with style

Be bold. Don’t be afraid to try something different. For the segment that starts with, The next day, standing, Talese enters into a myriad of descriptions of Sinatra. Later the descriptions are attributed to certain people, then it flows into the next section which starts with Sinatra hating quotes that people have said about him.

9. Exclaim through images

When you want to say something that seems too good to be true, use an image. Talese illustrates Ava Gardner as a perfect woman by saying, “Sinatra’s daughter Nancy recalls seeing Ava swimming one day in her father’s pool, then climbing out of the water with that fabulous body, walking slowly to the fire, leaning over it for a few moments, and then it suddenly seemed that her long dark hair was all dry, miraculously and effortlessly back in place.”

10. The dialogue should feel alive

If you are using dialogue, don’t pick a stiff conversation. Pick a moment that has charm and character. My favorite dialogue is the one that goes:

“Who would ever believe that staggering would make a star?” Rickles said, but Martin called out, “Hey, I wanna make a speech.”


“No, Don, I wanna tell ya,” Dean Martin persisted, “that I think you’re a great performer.”

“Well, thank you, Dean,” Rickles said, seeming pleased.

“But don’t go by me,” Martin said, plopping down into his seat, “I’m drunk.”

“I’ll buy that,” Rickles said.

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5 thoughts on “Writing Tips I Learned from Frank Sinatra Has a Cold

  1. An excellent write up from you about the writer, Gay Talese, and Frank Sinatra.

    I guess it shows my age but I remember that time period in Frank Sinatra’s life! Frank Sinatra and his friends, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr, and Joey Bishop were known in Hollywood as “The Rat Pack.” Leo Durocher was a famous Major League Baseball Manager back in those days, with the Chicago Cubs and later with the Houston Astros. I have been a baseball fan since 1965. I was only 11 back then.

    Thank you for your excellent comments and for bringing back memories of times past.

    ~ Gary ~


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