Constructive Writing: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans – in fact, few Kansans – had ever heard of Holcomb.

With In Cold Blood, Truman Capote created a new genre of writing, True Crime, and later the book became the topic of two Hollywood movies, Capote and Infamous. Yet, the book he wrote is considered a classic for much more than its impact. It is superbly written and thoroughly engrossing. This is, to an extent, because of the way we read the intermit lives of people and their reactions, almost in the voyeuristic nature of modern day Reality Television.

The Cowboy skippered the boat; Otto sketched and fished; Perry baited hooks, daydreamed, sang, and sometimes fished; Dick did nothing – only moaned, complained of the motion, lay about,,, like a lizard at siesta.

The people in the book are real. Not just because they actually lived or because they are superbly described, often with a modicum of words, but because of the detail in their actions. They have ambitions and failings and quirks that make them real. They make decisions, sometimes horrific ones, which we come to understand by learning about these people and, as mentioned before, real people can react in unexpected ways.

Suddenly as the car began to move again, the boy hollered, ‘Hold it!’ Hopping out, he hurried along the edge of the road, stopped, stooped, picked up one, two, three, four empty Coca-Cola bottles, ran back, and hopped in, happy and grinning.

Capote spends time in the book, as he did in real life, getting to know the people, events and the town. All three are moved (figuratively not literally) by a series of events and react to them. Events that we know include murder.

‘I didn’t want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.’

Research is one thing to take from this book. If you should wish to write this well (and apart from years of practice and work experience), you must know the topic you are writing about very, very well.

Standards employed…

Create interest: The murders and excruciations are telegraphed early. However, only little bits of explanations are placed along the way, the focus mostly being on explaining the characters and their actions. The reasons for all events are held back for a long as actual events made possible.

Real Characters: The characters are real and artfully conveyed. As always, these are what make the actions and events in a story both believable and unpredictable.

Changing Status: Things change in Holcomb through the murder of members of a highly respected family. This fallout, how people deal with it as a community and as individuals, is central to the interest in reading this book. The ramifications of events are often bigger than the events themselves. Furthermore, one of the murders is constantly battling his confidence, his own status in society.

In the Shit: The criminals are being pursued, and the result will be not good for them.

Final Analysis: This is a good book that should be essential reading to anyone who wants to learn how to present the mind and personality of a person and town, so that the reader becomes invested in the results of your story’s events.


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