Writing for Voice First Devices
As a writer, it's probably time to start paying attention to "voice first" devices. I’m talking about the Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant line of smart speakers. Ignoring the odd-looking cylinders and muffin tops that are popping up in more households every day could end up costing you an untapped source of avid new fans.
You probably already know that people are consuming fiction in many new ways. While most still engage with stories by reading or listening to audiobooks, a growing audience listens to stories on podcasts, reads bite-sized episodes in mobile apps, or lives the story via a chat app or game. Especially younger fans of fiction are seeking stories via these “alternative” channels.
You can now add voice assistants living in smart speakers to the list of alternative channels for the consumption of fiction. But what types of fiction work best on devices that include Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) and Natural Language Understanding (NLU)? Here are some possibilities:
● Streaming Audio
○ Passive listening with no input from the listener, such as listening to Alexa play an audiobook
○ Example: "Alexa, read my book 'Lincoln in the Bardo.'"
● Branching Narratives (Non-linear, Choose Your Own Path)
○ The listener hears a story and is asked to choose between two or more paths to drive the story in a different direction
○ Examples: "Alexa, open the Magic Door," "Alexa, play Jurassic World"
○ A story is used as a way to engage the listener is a game
○ Examples: "Alexa, open SpongeBob Squarepants," "Alexa, start Westworld," "Alexa, play Tricky Genie"
● Conversational Storytelling
○ Conversational elements, such as questions, accompany a story in an attempt to engage the listener and personalize the experience
○ Examples: "Alexa, open My Box of Chocolates"
The challenge for writers of traditional fiction is to discover new, but intuitive, ways to invite readers to interact with a story. The current default model for interactive fiction seems to be the branching narrative. Some of these offerings have been very successful and have grown large followings, such as The Magic Door.
At Tellables, we find the idea of conversational storytelling more interesting than branching narratives. Our first attempt at designing a conversational experience is the My Box of Chocolates voice app ("skill") on Amazon Alexa. We've also created a way for independent authors to submit original stories for publication in each monthly box of chocolate stories. Our goal is to create a publishing platform authors can use to publish voice first stories, as well as an audience of avid listeners who enjoy engaging with these stories.
Whatever path you choose, it's not too late to get in on the game. The world of voice first fiction is just starting to take shape. Now is the time to begin exploring the opportunities.
Amy Stapleton is Founder of Tellables, a publisher of voice first conversational stories. Apart from designing voice apps, Stapleton is a writer and editor of content for the Tellables Amazon Alexa story experiences "Tricky Genie" and "My Box of Chocolates." Stapleton retired from an IT career at NASA to pursue her vision of transforming talking devices into a platform for engaging new story experiences.