A few weeks ago, I decided to challenge Chat GPT to write a novel. With Amazon cracking down on AI generated content and writers bemoaning having their work stored in the cloud being scrubbed and stolen by data miners, it’s definitely a controversial tool. After hearing about entire AI generated stories, I wanted to see just how good Chat GPT was at generating creative content.
The short of it: it was terrible writing. I'm talking some of the most godawful, unreadable prose. It was trop-esque, boring, and just plain bad. The amount of time I spent revising and reworking it into something readable was equivalent to if I had just written it myself. On occasion, it would have a bright idea, but for every good detail it added there were about 10-15 terrible ones. After about 10,000 words, I gave up the project, as the AI appeared to reach the limits of its algorithm as far as faux-creativity was concerned and seemed to have nothing new to generate for me; it was just rehashing the same vague plot points in slightly different flavors, unable to progress the narrative in any meaningful way. Maybe the paid versions are better, but ChatGPT3.5, in my opinion, is useless for generating more than maybe 1,000 words of somewhat readable content.
That project eventually turned into my outline for this year’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and while I’m not using AI to attempt to do the writing for me anymore, I’m still using it in other capacities because I've found it still has its usefulness. Here is what I’ve learned through my experiment and through this year’s NaNoWriMo on what AI actually is good for.
Keeping track of details
What was the name of that random storekeeper again? Did I already detail Mr. Smith’s dog’s name yet? What color did I make Janette’s hair?
I may not remember, because I was writing in the moment and didn’t note these details down anywhere, but AI can search my manuscript for me and let me know. I just need to ask it what I’m looking for. This is hands down my absolute favorite use of AI when writing. I can never seem to remember precisely where I jotted down some little nitpicky details, but the AI can track it down for me a whole lot faster than I can, and with a lot less frustration on my part.
Fixing grammar mistakes
I am not sure why, but I am terrible at maintaining verb tense at times. I will start writing, get distracted by something in the real world, come back to my writing, and an hour later realize I completely messed up my verb tense.
Not to worry! I can plug it into AI and have it do most of that tedious editing for me. It often isn’t perfect and needs some fine tuning, but it’s much less labor intensive than fixing it all on my own, allowing me to focus on the more interesting parts sooner.
Become a slightly less random detail and name generator
Probably what I am using AI for most, after keeping track of details, is making up names of shops, characters, minor details, etcetera. While a random content generator can give you just that, random content, AI can play off prompts to get you something closer to what you are looking for.
For example, my story is set in an old coal mining town and I wanted to make a little diner with a name that played off the town’s history. With AI, I can ask it “hey, give me a list of a dozen options for a small diner in a coal mining town.” No random name generator can give targeted feedback like that.
Helping build a general outline
As long as you have an idea of what you want, AI can help you assemble a basic outline. Whether you are doing a three act structure, Hero’s Journey, or another style, AI has templates to help you build an outline fairly quickly. Just don’t ask it to come up with the plot itself unless you want something very boring, shallow, and rehashed.
This one will take a little back and forth with the bot, but I find for me it’s a lot easier to develop my ideas this way anyway. The dialogue with an AI can be a lot less intimidating than a blank page.
I am more of a “panster” when writing, meaning I don’t rely heavily on an outline if at all. When I realized the story had veered away from what I had planned, AI was able to help me reassemble what I had into a 3-act structure, which is what I wanted to try this year.
Get some inspiration from the terrible generated content
Sometimes, I’m just drawing a blank, so I go ahead and ask the AI to write the next chapter. Inevitably, it’s terrible, but I can often find one or two sentences that I can bounce off of for ideas to get my own writing momentum unstuck.
The AI did come up with a few points I am using in my current work. For some background, it’s a supernatural thriller about a writer who gains the attraction of a dark entity. This demonic being cures her writer’s block but at the expense of causing her great pain, and she must sacrifice her ability to write in order to exorcize the evil being.
Most of those details were actually generated by Chat GPT, which I honestly found very unnerving as a writer who has had writer’s block for over a solid year (a reason that is largely why I began my experiment in the first place). Maybe that’s the real reason that I am using AI to assist with my writing. Maybe I have been possessed by dark forces and am too scared to try and escape for fear of the consequences. Maybe I asked the robot overlords for a plot and was given something vaguely threatening, so now I am too scared to eschew it lest I somehow anger the algorithm.
Or maybe I just really keep forgetting how old my tritagonist is and need to keep asking the chatbot to remind me.
Author's Note: aside from screenshots taken from my work-in-progress chat, nothing in this article used AI generative content, as this author is too scared at this point to put writing critical of AI into an AI lest she make it upset and it stops organizing her grocery shopping lists for her.