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In Cold Blood
Writing Techniques



-         Use of dramatic statements

o       To induce suspense

§         P. 1: “The Last to See Them Alive”

§         P. 13: “Then, … he headed for home and the day’s work, unaware that it would be his last.”

§         P. 230: “Hickock said, “Perry Smith killed the Clutters.”  He lifted his head, and slowly straightened up in the chair, like a fighter staggering to his feet.  “It was Perry.  I couldn’t stop him.  He killed them all.”

§         P. 336: “Just so long as I’m not the one being hanged. // But then he was.”


-         Use of contrasts, especially of not entirely dissimilar things

o       To describe decaying things

§         P. 3: “the streets … turn from the thickest dust into the direst mud”

§         P. 4: “flaking gold on a dirty window”

§         P. 288-289: “Priests and nuns have had their chance with me.  I’m still wearing the scars to prove it.”


-         Use of conversational tone

o       To give levity, diffuse the looming dire seriousness

§         P. 4: “And that, really, is all.  Unless you include, as one must…”

§         P. 288: “Many observers of the trial scene were baffled by the visitor from Boston, Donald Cullivan.  They could not quite understand…”


-         Use of natural imagery

o       As a means of immediate foreshadowing

§         P. 5: “on the keening hysteria of coyotes”

§         P. 338: “The sudden rain rapped the high warehouse roof”


-         Use of “backshadowing” – foreshadowing that you probably only catch when you go back and re-read the book

o       To point out events that prove important

§         P. 5-6: “as a result of a recent medical examination for an insurance policy, [Mr. Clutter] knew himself to be in first-rate condition”

§         P. 13: “let him [Teddy, the Clutters’ dog] glimpse a gun … and his head dropped, his tail turned in”

§         P. 281: “The judge up there!  I never seen a man so prejudiced.”





-         Use of quotation marks around key terms or phrases

o       To indicate euphemisms

§         P. 7: “She was “nervous”, she suffered “little spells””

§         P. 7: “poor Bonnie’s afflictions”

§         P. 336: “the trial had been “saturated” with publicity

o       To indicate an idealized term

§         P. 7: “she would be her “old self” again”


-         Use of italics

o       To add emphasis, as well as a degree of disbelief or incredulity

§         P. 7: “it was physical, a matter of misplaced vertebrae”

§         P. 7: “a special, eleven-thirty, Friday-the-thirteenth ‘Spook Show’”

§         P. 327: “I have had no occasion to associate with him.  None whatsoever.

o       To better render speech; to visually imply verbal emphasis

§         P. 17: “I told your daddy not to wake you up.  I said Nancy must be tired after all that wonderful acting she did last night.”

§         P. 334: “And I never killed anybody”


-         Use of long, rambling sentences

o       To downplay the importance of a passage

§          P. 9: “Mr. Clutter enjoyed the chore [cooking], and was excellent at it – no woman in Kansas baked a better loaf of salt-rising bread, and his celebrated coconut cookies were the first item to go at a charity cake sale – but he was not a hearty eater; unlike his fellow-ranchers, he preferred Spartan breakfasts”

§         p. 330: “However, even an attorney of moderate talent can postpone doomsday year after year, for the system of appeals that pervades American jurisprudence amounts to a legalistic wheel of fortune, a game of chance, somewhat fixed in favor of the criminal, that participants play interminably, first in the state courts, then through the Federal courts until the ultimate tribunal is reached – the United States Supreme Court.


-         Use of irony

o       To denote a conflict within the book

§         P. 14: “Kind of funny, if you thought about it; imagine being back in Kansas, when only four months ago he had sworn, first to the State Parole Board, then to himself, that he would never set foot within its boundaries.  Well, it wasn’t for long.”

§         P. 336: “I believe in hanging.  Just so long as I’m not the one being hanged.”

o       To illustrate the extreme depths of the callousness of Dick and Perry

§         P. 154-155: Dick and Perry both plan to kill and rob the next rich-looking person who offers to pick them up as hitchhikers; in the next paragraph, they are singing “Glory! Glory! Hallelujiah!” (this is, we are told, their marching song)



-         Use of quotes, aside from those that drive the plot forward

o       To describe a character without actually stating a description, making at times a more vivid description and arguably illustrating less bias (if someone else said it, he has every right as a reporter to quote it…)

§         P. 15: “Every time you see a mirror you go into a trance, like.  Like you was looking at some gorgeous piece of butt.  I mean, my God, don’t you ever get tired?”

§         P. 334-335: “Uh-oh.  There I go again.  Old crybaby.  You’d think I’d learn.  But honest to God, I’ve done my damnedest to get along with Perry.”


-         Use of short, to-the-point sentences

o       To describe something as curt and unambiguous, especially in contrast to previous sentences

§         P. 17: “drifting downward through the strange waters, … plunging toward a green sea-dusk, sliding past the scaly, savage-eyed protectors of a ship’s hulk that loomed ahead, a Spanish galleon…  A car horn honked.  At last – Dick.”

§         P. 335: “Revenge is all it is, but what’s wrong with revenge?  It’s very important.  If I was kin to the Clutters, or any of the parties York and Latham dispensed with, I couldn’t rest in peace till the ones responsible had taken that ride on the Big Swing.”


-         Creation of quotes that Capote certainly didn’t hear, and probably didn’t hear about (in his interviews)

o       To describe a point of view missing from the “dry evidence”

§         P. 165: “Think of those eyes.  Coming toward you.”

§         P. 185: “Please, Bobo.  Please listen.  You think I like myself?  Oh, the man I could have been!”


-         Use of spiritual or religious references

o       To add to the emotion of the passage, either amplifying dread or enhancing elation

§         P. 187: “When Mrs. Johnson bolted the door, she had in mind the dead as well as the living”

§         P. 42: “Perry … felt “upset” when he heard Willie-Jay sing “The Lord’s Prayer”; the hymn’s grave language sung in so credulous a spirit moved him”

§         P. 155: “Through the silence of the desert , their hard, young voices rang: “Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!  Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!”