WRITING A STORY FOR MY BOX OF CHOCOLATES

Tellables is open for submissions of original bite-sized stories to be featured in our voice app on Amazon Alexa. Wondering how to write a story that works well for our voice app? We compiled the following information just for you!

How Our Voice App Works

Let’s start by taking a look at how the voice app works. Listeners can “open” the My Box of Chocolates experience on any Amazon Alexa device. To open the app or “skill,” a listener needs to have first enabled it by saying “Alexa, enable My Box of Chocolates.” Once enabled, a listener can start the experience by asking Alexa to “open My Box of Chocolates.” 

The listener has the opportunity to work their way through a box of virtual chocolates, where each candy is paired  with a quick 2-minute story. The candy usually represents the story in some way, and listeners with a visual display can see the candy as the story is told.

Each story is told by one of several virtual chocolatiers, who are recurring characters throughout all of the boxes. After listening to a few boxes, listeners come to recognize the chocolatiers and understand their personalities and backstories. 

The chocolatiers use synthetic voices. These voices tend to be less expressive than human voices. Writers can work around the limitations of synthetic speech by carefully choosing wording and sentence structure, avoiding internal dialogue, and not relying on exclamation marks (which are simply ignored by synthetic storytellers).

Goals of A Chocolate Story

The primary goal of a chocolate story is to engage and entertain the listener. As conversational stories, a chocolate story offers a few simple conversational prompts to give listeners the sense they’re having a fun conversation with a friend. 

Ideally, a question that follows a story will add to the listener’s enjoyment by encouraging them to relate to the story or think about it further.

Goal of A Box

Generally each assortment we publish has a stated theme. For example, a theme might be “Summer Romance” or “Mother’s Day.” All the chocolate stories in the box are somehow related to the theme. 

Establishing a theme for each box provides listeners with additional context as they consume the stories. Not only are the stories related to the fictional world of the chocolatiers, they’re also focused on a common topic or circumstance. The theme sets the tone for the conversational questions and “discussion” that follows each story.

For example, discussions in the “Summer Romance” box are more light-hearted and humorous, while questions following stories in the “Mother’s Day” box may be more sentimental and inspirational.

General Guidelines for Crafting a Chocolate Story

What types of stories work best for the My Box of Chocolates voice app? The following basic guidelines should help.

Story Length:

Stories should generally be in the range of 250 words. As the stories are told, we’re trying to have a total “run time” of around a minute and a half. A longer run time of just under two minutes is acceptable in some circumstances, but shooting for one and a half is better. This limitation is based on both technical and subjective constraints.

Story Style:

It’s important to write your story as if it’s being told by one person. Don’t use dialogue. Instead, have the storyteller talk us through all the action of the story.

Story Setting:

At least part of the story action should occur inside the chocolate shop of one of our fictional chocolatiers. Setting some, or all, of the action in the chocolate shop provides context for the listener. 

Characters:

The world of the chocolatiers and their shops is a fictional reality. To maintain the integrity of the world, characters in the chocolate stories should be the chocolatiers themselves, their staff, customers, friends, or other people that have some relationship to the chocolatier and the shop.

Ideally, the fictional world will have some recurring characters who appear in the chocolate shops regularly, along with a smattering of tourists or one-time shoppers who appear just once.

Narrative Structure:

All stories are told by one of the fictional chocolatiers. Currently, there are 5 chocolatiers, each with an established synthetic voice. (You can meet some of the chocolatiers here). When crafting a story, authors need to understand that the story will be told by the chocolatier. 

When crafting a story, it’s crucial for the author to consider the chocolatier’s relationship to the story that they’re telling.

  • Did this story actually happen to the chocolatier?
  • Is the chocolatier retelling a story he/she heard from a customer?
  • Was the chocolatier a passive observer of the story action as it took place inside the chocolate shop?
  • Was the chocolatier an active participant in the story action as it unfolded in the chocolate shop?
  • Is the chocolatier telling us something interesting about a customer, which includes making a few assumptions about things the chocolatier didn’t actually observe?

Examples

Story Setting: Archie’s chocolate shop

Characters: Archie, Mrs. Thomas (possibly recurring character), Hannah (college student, one-time character)

Narrative Structure / Perspective: Archie is an active participant in the action that unfolds in the chocolate shop. The action is split into two separate events.

Suffragette Praline

I think it’s fair to say that I’m quite easygoing.  But, I do have one pet peeve.  I don’t like loud customers, and I certainly won’t tolerate loud and boisterous behavior in my shop. So you can imagine my annoyance when there was a commotion and I stepped away from the chocolate-making equipment to find Mrs. Thomas, an eighty year old retired school teacher, raising her voice to a group of young ladies. Mrs. Thomas has been coming into my shop for years. I’ve always known her to be a quiet and polite woman. What in the world could be going on? Mrs. Thomas seems to be addressing one young lady in particular. It’s Hannah from the local college. Hannah‘s talking about the upcoming elections and saying she doesn’t like any of the candidates, so she’s not going to vote.  Oh dear.  I take a step back as the retired teacher reaches into her purse and pulls out a white suffragette sash with blue and green stripes.  In big letters it says: Votes for Women. She waves the sash at Hannah and tells her she wore it recently, to celebrate the women’s hard-fought right to vote and the passing of the 19th amendment. I watch a very convincing history lesson unfold right before my eyes. Three days later, Hannah is back in my shop, buying chocolates and handing out campaign fliers for the candidate she prefers. It’s good to see her so excited about exercising her right to vote. Now, if I can only convince her to vote for someone else.

Conversational Elements:

After the story, we can engage the listener in a mini dialogue with Alexa. Alexa can make a comment about the story and ask a follow on question. For more insights on these conversational elements, see our blog post on What’s a Conversational Story?