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How (And Why) I Write For Text-To-Speech

If you’ve read all five of my series so far (you haven’t? Why not? Click here and get moving!), you might have noticed that the writing mechanics in the last three (“Pine Mountain Estates,” “Rock Star Husbands,” and “Little River Village Christmas”) are a little different from the first two (“Texas Hearts” and “Choices And Chances”). That’s because when I began to write the “Pine Mountain Estates” series, I decided to write for text-to-speech. Why?

Because I use text-to-speech.

In fact, unless I want to quickly skim over a section, I consume my Kindle books by listening, not reading. Why? Because my eyes strain easily, more easily with each passing year. When I was in my teens, I had to stop reading after an hour because I’d get tired. Nowadays, I have to stop reading after about ten minutes because I start to feel discomfort behind my eyeballs. And get tired.

So I listen to books, using text-to-speech. And that function hasn’t been programmed for every single nuance of punctuation or spelling possible.

For example, when it gets to a chapter heading, it doesn’t read, “Chapter One,” and then pause, like you do in your head before going on to read the actual story text. No, it reads the chapter heading and first sentence of the chapter as one sentence. For example:

Chapter one it was a dark and stormy night.

Chapter one the building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.

The only way text-to-speech knows to pause is if there’s a period or comma (or similar punctuation marks) after a word. This is why I started putting periods after the chapter headings in my novels. When you’re listening to a book, having headings run together with sentences is at best annoying, at worst jarring and distracting.

You might have noticed that I use a lot fewer hyphens in my latter books compared to my earlier ones. One reason is that authors tend to use hyphens because they’re too lazy to write a separate sentence, or to write more tightly. I am guilty of that sin in my earlier work.

When it comes to listening to books, the reason I don’t use them anymore is that text-to-speech often doesn’t “see” hyphens. So again, it doesn’t pause like you do in your head, or when you’re reading a sentence aloud that contains a hyphen. Take the following sentence:

She didn’t want to make the same mistake again – it would have been the third time in four days – so she was much more careful this time.

Text-to-speech would read it like this:

She didn’t want to make the same mistake again it would have been the third time in four days so she was much more careful this time.

Now, the chapter heading issue is easy to ignore. The hyphen issue? Downright befuddling. Thus I’ve trained myself to use hyphens only when absolutely necessary. Otherwise, if I feel the need to break up a sentence, I use the ellipsis (…) which text-to-speech generally sees as a period.

I’ve never written “C’mon” for “Come on” in any of my books, and I never will. Why? Kindle text-to-speech has been programmed that “mon” is the abbreviation for Monday. It therefore reads “C’mon” as “See Monday.”

Similarly, “Lemme” as a lazy way to say “let me”, it reads as “lem.” Pronouncing it as if it were a French word.

The absolute worst is dialect. I’m done listening to Jan Karon’s books, because they are full of her attempts to write a thick Southern accent. How do you think it sounds to listen to

Right on th’ money. Glad I asked you t’ think about it.

And that’s one of the milder examples from one of her novels. I’ve encountered several sentences in a row where “the” and “to” have been truncated to “th” and “t.”

CONFUSING!! Sometimes to the point of nonsensical. When authors try to exactly imitate a heavy dialect or an accent in writing, instead of being able to enjoy the story, I’m constantly having to translate the gibberish in my head. Or, look at the book. Which makes my eyes tired, then strained.

Now, in many of my books, I do have characters speaking Black English or in a Southern or Mexican accent. But I try to write out the differences in pronunciation so that they’ll make sense when read by text-to-speech.

There are a few other things I’ve begun to do to make my text-to-speech users have a more pleasant listening experience, but they simply won’t come to me right now. Just know that my writing mechanic quirks, and my refusal to use certain slang phrases that many other authors use liberally, are to help out my fellow book listeners.

You’re welcome. 😉

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