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The Two Question Novel Quiz Part 3: Voice

Categories: This Writer's Life.
In order to sell your novel, books recommend having a unique “voice”
that separates you from the pack and wins you literary, commercial,
and social-emotional praise. The fact that books also recommend that
you be married to the chairman of Random House and/or Judith Regan is
neither here nor there. But what kind of voice do you want to have? Do
you want your voice to be strong and masculine like Hemingway and that
dude who told Oprah he woke up on an airplane with no teeth or clever
and flirty like Lauren Weisberger or whomever writes Candace
Bushnell’s books? If you said neither, books would point out that
you’re lying.

Either way, to discover where your voice fits in on the voice
spectrum, please take this short, two question quiz and then feel free
to spend the rest of the week in a semi-concussed state of food coma
remembering the vaguely worded story of Squanto and the Pilgrims
before venturing to the mall at 5 AM on Black Friday to buy
vanilla cookie candles at 40% off. It’s totally worth it.

Directions: Read then choose, then read then choose, then learn.

1. Your protagonist finds themselves seated across from their true
love at the Olive Garden. Please describe said scene.

A. The breadsticks were warm and garlic-scented and I was hungry.
First, I was thirsty though and I ordered a whiskey and thought about
bull fighting and other sports. I like sports. A girl was there, I
think.

B. Unless he’s being ironic or something, the fact that Jeremy even
considered taking me to an OG (in the burbs!!) is kind of ridic. Olive
Garden’s are full of ew people, and ew people cannot appreciate the
fact that I squeezed into this Bottega Veneta Camel Shearling Shrug
and these Jimmy Choo Biker Leather Flat Boots With Rabbit Fur Lining.
I need like eleven Cosmo’s.

C. Music. The gentle hum of the synthesized version of “Hey Ya”
reverberated off of the plush, faux-Italian decor. A cold rush came
over me, a suspicious rush of season’s past, a remembrance of things
before, before a flood of emotions crept up on me like our vaguely
mustachioed waiter. As Daphne ordered her Endless Pasta Bowl, I
reflected on a time when the song of my love still played, still
reflected towards me like a pool of reflective water. That my heart
still beats is a wonder at all. I ordered the Tour of Italy and became
dour.

D. Don is famous for a lot of things, and most of those things have
something to do with being a naughty, naughty boy.
“Have you been a bad boy,” I asked in a whisper, leaning over the
table as the waiter brought the breadsticks.
“You know I have,” Don said, his crystal clear blue eyes running up
and down my body. I picked up a breadstick, seductively. Three minutes
later, we were doing it in the men’s lavatory.

2. Your character finds themselves at an ATM machine needing money.
How do they handle it?

A. We went to the woman at the bank and requested money. She said to
use the machine. I told her I don’t use machines. Walking home, I
tried to think of what she meant.

B. Jeremy made some joke about going “dutch” to dinner tonight, so I
went to the ATM, the one down on Houston and Mott in Nolita by that
cute brunch place Nolita House with the morning margarita’s. Going
“dutch” wasn’t my problem. My problem was that as I was walking up to
the ATM, I got my Purple Label Grey Metallic “Lizard” Crissy Evening
Sandals stuck in a grate and I slipped, nearly ruining my Adriano
Goldschmied Boyfriend Shorts and that cute top I borrowed from Kristin
(whose new thing, apparently, is not eating). I should have moved to
the Village.

C. Doors. Opening and closing, exposing and then covering up. The
automatic doors at the ATM remind me of the clapping hands of a
babysitter I once had, a small Latina woman with strong, callused
hands. Isn’t life often like the closing and opening of doors, be they
automatic, manual or otherwise? Friends become enemies, enemies,
friends and the seasons pass with nay a look in the direction of God.
I’ve forgotten my ATM card.

D. “Where are we going to do it?” I asked Don, the bad boy actor. I
felt bad. So bad that I kind of felt good.
“I don’t care baby, as long as it’s hot and in public,” Don said. He
was smoking a cigarillo.
“Well,” I said, slyly plucking the cigarillo from his mouth and taking
a long pull. “The ATM machine has a camera.”
“You’re bad,” Don said with a mischievous smile.
“I know,” I said. “I am bad.”

Key:

Mostly A’s: Your sparse prose gives the bare minimum of details and
doesn’t really let us “inside”. You pull it off, you’re Hemingway. You
don’t, and you’re (insert any male high school writer after just
reading Death in the Afternoon by Hemingway). I’m pulling for you.

Mostly B’s: Your voice is a little bit sexy and a little bit city. As
long as your protagonist is 23-25 and working in a cool, creative,
city job (fashion, magazines, advertising, corporate accounting, etc)
with some boy trouble, you’re pretty much already published.

Mostly C’s: Oh, pseudo-literary. The eternal quest to flood the page
with hyper-symbolic prose and internal reflection. When it’s good,
it’s amazing, when it’s bad, it’s the worst. A little bit like sushi.

Mostly D’s: You are Jackie Collins. And you are naughty.

Ok. Let me know where you stand in the comments. And–if you feel like
your voice wasn’t given a shout out– feel free to drop where exactly
you place yourself, preferably in that Hollywood movie-pitch style,
“Tom Clancy meets E. Annie Proulx at Ken Follett’s house”. Don’t use
that one though, that’s mine.

I Wanna Be,
Rich

Calloway

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14 Responses to The Two Question Novel Quiz Part 3: Voice

  1. Samata says:

    Kev, throw out your novel right now and start anew, beginning with your 1. A answer. No joke man, there are tens of thousands of college kids out there that would eat that up like Pizza Hut at midnight.

  2. Kevin Alexander says:

    And yes I did make up two words in that comment.

  3. Kevin Alexander says:

    Genevieve– the professional side of me must hindsightedly (not a word, yes I know) warn you against sending out letters to agents before you’ve actually finished a book, because you have to assume they’re going to love it and everyone’s going to want to see the whole thing right away. After all, assumptions like that keep writer’s going… but, the more logical, understanding, and procrastinatory side of me gets why you would do what you did, and why you’ve put yourself in an exciting, but scary, but potentially exciting situation and why that must be stressful.

    I mean, I don’t even have three kids (or two kids…or really any kids that I’m aware of) and it took me forever to finish a draft, as I, too, like to look things up online. And sometimes watch six consecutive episodes of the Showtime show Weeds on my ONDEMAND Comcast cable provider. Anyway, bottom line is: we all get stressed and blocked, especially when the pressure’s on, but sometimes that forces you to pull through and make things happen when you normally wouldn’t and that can be a good thing.

    Keep me posted on said progress. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to work.

  4. Genevieve Cancienne says:

    Kevin- Silly man, you sound like you. Just wait, soon a critic will read some new, up and coming writer’s work and they’ll say, "He has a Kevin Alexander-esque style." And on that day you will rejoice, jump out of your coffeehouse seat, and kiss the hippi next to you, which he’ll allow without hitting you because he’s a pacifist.

    Since you have declared this comment page an open discussion then I must vent that I’m really stressed out with the book I’m writing. I’m almost finished and a couple of weeks ago I sent out letters to agents, thinking that by the time they got back to me, if any of them wanted to bother with my book, I’d be done. One of them e-mailed me this week and wants me to send her the whole thing. I’d sent her the first three chapters and she liked it! As wonderful as that is now the pressure’s on to finish the book in the next couple of weeks. Have I mentioned before that I have three kids? I’m not always in charge of my own schedule. And then sometimes when I’ve got the time I sit in from of my computer and freeze. Or I look up things on-line.

    This was longer that I meant it to be. Sorry about that. I’m just blocked and stressed and one of the things I like about this blog is that sometimes your regular commentors talk about stuff like this. It’s comforting.

  5. Kevin Alexander says:

    DEFINITELY over. I think they’re going to go 81-1.

  6. The Sherminator says:

    Celtics over/under 60 wins?

  7. Kevin Alexander says:

    And Genevieve: I totally agree. I’m under the impression that I sound something like Hemingway mixed with Sam Lipsyte and topped off with a touch of john kennedy toole, but most likely I sound like a semi-literate version of Franklin W. Dixon.

  8. Kevin Alexander says:

    Corey– you’re never allowed to post off topic!!!! Postings are only allowed under very strict, strict parameters that i make up in the final paragraph of said blog entry. I will delete all/any others!!!!

    If you can’t tell by my exclamation points, i’m joking. Comment page is an untamed area of openness, real talk. Do with it what you will. But thanks though. I’m glad you like it. And Tom Perotta, for the record, is a great, great, very cool guy. I was a fan of his before I met him, but now am a…hmmm… like a super fan? That sounds weird/stalkerish. Either way, definitely someone who deserves their success.

    Anyway, thanks again, feel free to drop comments at any time on literally any topic. And to all, a Happy Thanksgiving.

  9. Corey says:

    I’m not totally sure if posting off topic is allowed, but I randomly bought a copy of WD the other day because I recognized Tom Perotta on the cover. After reading that article, I saw the plug for your blog and had to check it out. Needless to say, you now have a new fan– a new "Subscriber", even.

    Anyway, back to the Quiz: I think more B-like(Can you even get a Cosmo at the OG?), but write more C-like…maybe I should keep practicing.

    Good work with the Cab Calloway reference.

  10. Genevieve Cancienne says:

    I’m kind of A-ish, kind of C-ish, and I’m totally intimidated by B and D.

    Speaking of writing voices, do you ever wonder if your writer’s voice sounds different to you than to everybody else? Like, you know how when you hear your voice on a machine you say, "That’s not what I sound like," but it really is. Maybe if I was able to read my stuff from someone else’s point of view I’d say, "No way, I thought I sounded like Amy Tan."

  11. Pat says:

    Well, I’m a totat D which is where my critique group says I am. However, I’m not sure that’s where I want to be, I don’t think. Maybe I’ll try this test again.

  12. I’m a complete and total D. Great quiz. Thanks!

  13. John Asher says:

    After reading Glamorama I totally get the B’s. That’s very a cool reference. It’s really very hip of you, man.

    I find myself alternating from a C to an A most of the time. Well, except after reading the book mentioned above. The first draft of the short story I wrote after reading Glamorama had several paragraph long (50+ word) sentences.

    Until I really find my voice, I’m sure to be heavily influenced by whatever I’m reading at the time. I’m sure that even after I find my voice, I’ll be occasionally lured into different styles.

  14. ES Gaffney says:

    I found use of themselves for a 3rd person singular rather jarring. I understand the application of the 3pp for 3ps of indefinite gender (as in your use of "their"), but I think in compound pronouns such as themselves, the number of the usage should stay with the suffix, i.e., themself. What does the Great Grammarian over all of us say about that?

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