Monday, June 10, 2019

Writing for Voice First Devices

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.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

She's got a head start on what could be the next phase of reading. Definitely going to check it out.

Natalie Aguirre said...

How interesting. I'll have to check it out too.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That's something that might fit well with some of DLP's books.

Jemi Fraser said...

Interesting! I haven't even considered this as an avenue!

Tyrean Martinson said...

I think it's a fascinating new arena for writers and all lovers of words!

Gwen Gardner said...

Fascinating! I need to explore this furry.

Gwen Gardner said...

*further. Lol.

Jadiee said...

What a interesting post!

Jadieegosh   Instagram

Toi Thomas said...

What a great post. Cool stuff to consider.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I never even thought of it. I do use Alexa to "read" my stories. I have become accustomed to her robot voice.

SpacerGuy said...

When I was in my 20's I had a hyperactive imagination. Isaac Asimov was my teacher of the universe. All Asimovs novels were introduced in paper when universe was still a mystery but not anymore!

Unknown said...

I appreciate all the comments on my post! It occurred to me that I should have mentioned Amazon's Alexa Blueprints. They have templates for creating an interactive adventure story. If you have an Echo and want to experiment in a simple way (no coding or design work required) with writing stories for Alexa, you can try filling out the Adventure Story template in blueprints and see how it sounds. (Might be a fun project for kids home for the summer). They have a bunch of other templates too (trivia games, flashcards, etc.)

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

I kind of get the "choose your own adventure" approach (though my mind leaps to the mathematics of having a lot of choices which increase the number of story lines you have to write exponentially).

But I"m not at all clear what is meant by "conversational storytelling" in a practical sense. I don't have (and have no intention of getting) an Alexa, keep Siri turned off, and don't game, so maybe I'm just too old for this :D

Juneta key said...

Enjoyed the post. Gave lots to think about and consider.