Some Thoughts on Artificial Intelligence and Fiction Writing
Do novelists have anything to worry about?
Have you heard about ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot? It launched a few months ago, and since then, folks have had a lot of fun playing around with it online.
In basic terms, it’s a super-smart self-learning program that interacts with users. Among other things, it offers advice, provides simple answers to (even very complex) questions, and produces — upon request — research reports, creative content, and opinion-driven insight.
That latter factor, in addition to probably exciting a lot of essay-assigned college students, got the attention of a number of professional writers… some of whom may be mildly curious if AI, may one day, replace even them.
Believe it or not, ChatGPT even generates content in the “style” of inputted writers and artists.
So, for Daly Grind readers this week, I figured I’d give the AI chatbot a spin, and see if I, a writer of thriller fiction among other things, should be worried.
I went to the website’s input prompt and entered: “Write a short Sean Coleman story in the style of novelist John A. Daly”. I figured, if anything, that it would provide Sean Coleman fans with some pacifying content until the next novel. 😉
But as the program began generating a story in real-time, it was quickly apparent that Sean hadn’t been recognized as a preexisting protagonist. He was instead introduced as a “former enforcer for a powerful criminal organization.” The character description gave me a chuckle, but I cancelled the process and removed Sean from the equation.
I typed this next: “Write a short story in the style of ‘From a Dead Sleep’ novelist John A. Daly.”
I chose my first novel because it’s been around the longest, and probably has the largest number of excerpts available online. I figured this would help ChatGPT out (I’m generous that way). And with the character out of the way, we were off to the races!
Here’s the story, in my purported style, that ChatGPT came up with:
As soon as Ray woke up, he knew something was wrong. His head was throbbing, and his body felt heavy and sore. As he tried to push himself up, he realized that he was lying on the cold concrete floor of a strange room.
Ray had no idea how he had gotten there, or who had put him there. But he knew one thing for sure - he had to get out.
As he struggled to his feet, Ray took stock of his surroundings. The room was bare except for a small table and a single light bulb dangling from the ceiling. There were no windows, no doors, and no obvious way out.
Ray knew he had to stay calm and think things through. He couldn't panic or he might make things worse.
As he searched the room for any clues, Ray's eyes fell on the table. There was a note lying there, written in a scrawled, messy hand. It read: "You owe us. And we're going to make sure you pay."
Ray's heart raced as he realized that this was no accident. Someone had put him here on purpose, and they wanted revenge.
But Ray wasn't the type to sit around and wait for things to happen to him. He took a deep breath, steeled himself for what was to come, and started to look for a way out.
It took several hours of searching, but eventually, Ray found a loose brick in the wall. He dug at it with his fingers until it came free, revealing a small hole.
He peered through the hole and saw the street outside. Ray felt a glimmer of hope. He knew he was close to freedom.
With renewed energy, Ray worked on the hole, digging away at the bricks with his bare hands until it was big enough for him to squeeze through.
He crawled out of the hole and onto the street, gasping for breath. Ray had escaped from his captors, but he knew he was still in danger. He had to find out who had put him there and why.
But for now, he was just grateful to be alive.
So, what do you think? Does that sound like something I’d write? Does it feel like my style? (Let me know in an email or in the comment section below).
As the writer being emulated, I have some thoughts… and they may be more nuanced than you’d expect. I’ll break my analysis down into a couple categories.
Type of story
I recognize what the program did here. It pulled a scene from the first chapter of “From a Dead Sleep,” where Sean Colman wakes up at the bottom of a hill in the forest with a blistering headache, sore body, and groggy memory of the night before. This shouldn’t be surprising, being that the chapter is featured as a preview on Amazon and other book retail websites, thus it was readily available to ChatGPT’s algorithms.
I also suspect (and would be impressed if) a chapter from my second novel “Blood Trade” was borrowed from — the scene where Sean, after a brutal scuffle, awakens in a mostly bare basement-freezer of an old restaurant. He then, as depicted in ChatGPT’s story, methodically works to find a way out.
In broader terms, the story is told in third-person from a loner’s perspective — an individual who’s in over his head and short on information on his predicament, yet has the tenacity to work himself out of the tough situation. This is, of course, pretty consistent with my fiction writing.
Style of writing
I was less impressed with the impersonation of my writing style. It felt awfully dry, generic, and much less descriptive than how I write.
Still, I did recognize some common phrasing. I have, a number of times, described certain characters as having a “throbbing” headache. And I am indeed fond of the phrases and terms, “struggled to his feet”, “heart raced”, and “dangling”. I also do a lot of describing of bare rooms, since I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to interior settings.
I don’t think AI will be replacing me or my writing anytime soon.
That said, I’m a big fan of artificial intelligence. The technology is already playing a huge role in society, in productivity and knowledge, and it will play a much larger role in the future… including in how we deal with some of our planet’s most significant challenges.
I respect and understand the views of those who see AI as a threat to real-life workers’ livelihoods, and I even share some concerns of those who fret about an eventual Terminator-style takeover of our technology that leads us to an apocalyptic nuclear war. (I say “some concerns,” since I’m not quite ready to start digging a bunker in my backyard).
But seriously, taken as whole, I welcome the advancement of AI, while envisioning a future in which stories are still best-told by humans.
(Speaking of AI…)
Obligatory Dog Shot
Have you picked up your copy of RESTITUTION?
Interested in a signed copy? You can order one (or five) here.
Already read and enjoyed it? I’d love if you could leave a review for the book on Amazon.
Fun fact: this two-record vinyl compilation from RCA in 1973 is one of my favorites. “Get it Together!” (get it?) features original recordings of some of the greatest classic rock songs of the era, including:
“American Woman”, “Share the Land”, and “These Eyes” by The Guess Who
“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly
“Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf
“Baba O’Riley” by The Who
“Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane
“Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream
“All Day and All of the Night” by The Kinks
… and a ton more!
It’s a fantastic listen, and frequent occupier of my turntable.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!