“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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