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What’s a Conversational Story?

In this post we’ll describe the new art form of “conversational stories”, which are enabled by speech recognition technologies powering the latest generation of voice assistants.

Our Definition of a Conversational Story

We call ourselves a publisher of conversational stories. What do mean by conversational stories?

Conversational Storytelling is made possible by platforms such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The underlying technology allows a storyteller to pose questions to the listener and understand the listener’s spoken response.

For us, conversational stories are spoken narratives where the narrator interacts directly with the listener. This interaction can take many forms, but it generally involves drawing the listener into a conversation by asking a question related to the story. 

Based on how the listener chooses to respond to question, the narrator offers an appropriate follow-on comment. The comment lets the listener know that her response was understood and taken into account. 

Quick Example – A Fictional Conversational Story

(Based on our “My Box of Chocolates” voice app for Amazon Alexa)

Narrator: 

Yesterday I opened my chocolate shop much earlier than normal. Something woke me and I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I decided to head to the store and whip up a batch of truffles. The sun had barely cleared the horizon, when the front door chimes sounded. Who could be visiting the shop so early? I came out of the kitchen and looked up to see a school girl, weighed down by a heavy backpack. She had a big grin on her face. She seemed to be talking to herself, and I eventually understood that she was saying: “I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. I knew my wish would come true.” I said hello, and waited for her to respond. That’s when she told me she and a friend had both thrown pennies into a fountain the day before. She’d wished that the chocolate shop would open earlier, so she could buy candies on her way to school. I sold the lucky young lady two truffles, and gave her one extra for good measure. After she left, I kicked myself for not asking two pressing questions. What, I wondered, had been her little friend’s wish? And where was this fountain?

Comment:

That whole thing was either a really weird coincidence, or wishing wells are more powerful than I previously imagined.

Question:

I’m curious. Are you the type of person who believes that wishing well wishes can come true?

Narrator’s comment if the listener says yes:

I should be more like you. I’ve always been a skeptic, but after experiencing that story, it makes me wonder. I hope you’ve had many of your wishes come true. And if you haven’t, well, it only costs a penny to try again.

Narrator’s comment if the listener says no:

I’m like you. I’ve always been a skeptic. But I have to admit, that story makes me wonder.  Maybe one of these days we should try it for ourselves. It only costs a penny.

What’s the Point of a Conversational Story?

Can asking the listener questions enhance their enjoyment of a story? We believe the answer is yes.

When a story is followed by a question that sparks reflection, it helps the listener consider the story more deeply. Ideally, the listener will feel a deeper engagement with the story. In some cases, this mini conversation may even give listeners the sense that they’re sharing the story with a friend. 

There’s definitely an art to determining the right sort of question to ask. Not every question will provoke the type of reflection that makes the tale more enjoyable.

Once the question is posed, more thinking has to go into crafting a response to what the listener said. The best responses seem to be those that emphasize the tone of the original story, while acknowledging the listener’s perspective.

Is the Conversational Story Structure Exclusive to Fiction?

The art of the conversational story is well-suited for both fictional and non-fictional narratives. It’s not hard to imagine a factual story, such as a personal slice-of-life piece or a news item, that could benefit from a two-way conversation with the listener.

As with a fictional narrative, the goal is to find the right type of question. Successful questions help listeners think more deeply about what they’ve just heard, consider how they feel about it, and get a pleasant boost from the intellectual engagement.

Summary 

We consider conversational stories to be a new and exciting art form. In this post, we’ve only scratched the surface on a simple type of conversational engagement. In future posts, we’ll explore different types—or patterns—of conversations that authors can use to enhance their narratives.

If you want to give conversational stories a try, we hope you’ll consider submitting a story to our My Box of Chocolates voice app. For more details, visit our Author Tips page, and explore other posts on our blog. When you’re ready to submit a story, you’ll find the submission form at Chocolate Box Stories. Feel free to reach out with any questions to amy@tellables.com.

 

 

 

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